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Students & Youth

The target market for career centres may not be (just) students

Career centres are generally viewed as a staple within standard student services at any post-secondary institution in North America, as it should be. If we ask many centres who their target market is, the most obvious and immediate response is: students, of course! However, while this is a true representation of the clientele who come through our (virtual) doors, ongoing research into post-secondary student career development is emerging with a consistent theme: students have a preference to seek career advice first from those they are in regular contact with, such as faculty members, academic advisors and volunteer program managers, before they even consider setting foot in a career centre – if they do at all (Brainstorm Strategy Group, 2017; Dey & Cruzvergara, 2014, Ho, 2019).

In the first article in this four-part series on the role of different stakeholder groups in advancing career education and development in post-secondary institutions, we discussed the term “functional fixedness”: a cognitive bias where an individual engages in tunnel vision and only sees traditional, limited ways to use a tool, instead of exercising creative problem solving. We advocated for career professionals to work with students and clients to overcome functional fixedness by identifying transferable skills and ways they can leverage their talents across multiple contexts.

Functional fixedness takes place not only on an individual basis, but also at an organizational level. In setting up roles and responsibilities for departments and units, if we are too structured, we also tend to engage in tunnel vision. We may come to believe that we are the only solution or the only service provider that can address students’ issues, but their challenges are much more complicated these days. For instance, while on paper an academic advisor’s responsibility is to help students plan their academic journey, in conversations about course planning, topics related to career development come up: “My goal after graduation is to become a food scientist. What electives should I take to strengthen my graduate school application?” or the infamous “What jobs can I get with my major?” (The latter will need to be another article for another time …)

This simple example demonstrates how much career topics permeate into the work of many post-secondary professionals. This isn’t surprising considering that students’ major reason in pursuing post-secondary education is to attain gainful employment or to enhance their career prospects.

Consequently, in career services, we owe it to ourselves and our students to overcome this functional fixedness at an organizational level by considering who else in our institutions can help students with their career development (or are already doing so). How do they help students? How might we work with them to enhance their role as career influencers: individuals who informally provide career advice, guidance and/or counselling without a background in career development?

Many institutions are already doing some phenomenal work engaging career influencers at their institutions. The following is just a small listing of the many I have come across in my research:

Why is this important?

We know that students typically will not set foot into a career centre without already having had some form of career development conversation with someone else within our institutions. This raises larger questions about how well equipped our broader post-secondary colleagues are to facilitate career conversations, and when to best guide students toward a career centre for expert advice. If they are handling a significant volume of student career development conversations, then might they in fact be our first target market along with our students?

Career influencers can help us advance our mission to promote student career development and success. While students are the most important stakeholder, career influencers are critical in helping us help students. They can become our biggest ambassadors in ensuring students get the career support they need.

Watch out for our next blog, which will explore the role of employers and community partners in facilitating student career success.


Brainstorm Strategy Group. (2017). 2017 student career interests benchmark report. Toronto, Canada: Author.

Candy Ho Author
Dr. Candy Ho is honoured to serve as Vice-Chair of CERIC. Her background as a Hong Kong-born Canadian motivated her to be involved with the Asia-Pacific Career Development Association – Western North American Region Committee. She is the inaugural Assistant Professor, Integrative Career and Capstone Learning in the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. She also holds teaching positions in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Educational Studies department and in Douglas College’s Career Development Practitioner Program.
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Candy Ho Author
Dr. Candy Ho is honoured to serve as Vice-Chair of CERIC. Her background as a Hong Kong-born Canadian motivated her to be involved with the Asia-Pacific Career Development Association – Western North American Region Committee. She is the inaugural Assistant Professor, Integrative Career and Capstone Learning in the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. She also holds teaching positions in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Educational Studies department and in Douglas College’s Career Development Practitioner Program.
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