Hiatt Career Center

Two Years Later, Has COVID Re-Shaped Career Services?

Jon Schlesinger, Director of the Hiatt Career Center, speaks with a student in the Hiatt lobby.

College is built on cycles and while many are predictable, some as we found are not. Students move from first-years to seasoned professionals. Staff and faculty plan programs and curricula around academic milestones from homecoming to graduation. However, the last two years have thrown us all off our expected cycles.

As we head into a summer of planning, now is a good time to stop and reflect on what we’ve learned. Has COVID re-shaped career services? Will we go back to the old ways of operating? Or will something new emerge?

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s not to make long-term predictions!

Pendulum Swings

Like many, Brandeis University quickly moved online and cautiously returned to in-person learning. As quickly as we shifted virtual, we slowly returned.

During the fall of 2021, the majority of students still continued to take advantage of remote appointments with the Hiatt Career Center even though we were fully back in person. For a while, it seemed like we were trying to put a square peg in a round hole with the return to “normal” work.

Then, just as we settled into a new routine, the pendulum once again swung quickly in the opposite direction. In the spring of 2022, we returned to remote work… then hybrid… and now have settled into more regular in-person work but with increased flexibility. It’s been whiplash for students and staff alike.

Alumni and employer partners also embraced the virtual environment. Online information sessions, networking and recruiting events eliminated many barriers. Employers started to widen recruiting strategies by moving virtual so they could reach many more students.

That shift saw its own benefits and drawbacks. And yet again, the pendulum might be starting to swing back in the other direction. Employers are now recalling the value they had in more targeted strategies and deeper relationships.

The labor market has seen dramatic expansions and contractions over the last two years, affecting employers in almost every sector. Compounding these changes are shifts in attitudes towards work. There’s a clear push and pull between employers and employees struggling to address concerns about going back to work. The pendulum feels to be in mid-air uncertain of the direction it’s going to go.

What Have We Learned

The pendulum swings, overcorrects, and comes back to center. This time, let’s try to do one better and assess what we’ve learned before the pendulum swings back and we keep repeating the cycle. Here are a few points we’ve learned from the last two years…

Online career counseling works

From brief interactions to in-depth conversations, staff can meet with students anywhere in the world and connect via video and audio chat. We’ve seen satisfaction and learning outcomes equal to or better than in-person scores.

Geographic location in recruiting matters less

No matter where a company is located, for the cost of a video chat, employers can build relationships with schools. Virtual recruiting is also eliminating many barriers for students and leading to increased return on investment for everyone.

Need to support employees even more

It’s always about the people, but COVID and the labor market changes highlighted the need for managers to support employees' professional development and stay attuned to personal issues. The labor market is giving everyone greater opportunities, and with opportunity comes greater expectations on supervisors and employers.

How we measure output

Remote work, adjusted schedules and flexible arrangements really do work, and holding onto office hours created after the industrial revolution no longer makes sense. We have the tools to measure employee performance and output in more meaningful ways than looking at a clock.

Flexibility and adaptability

We have all experienced the limitations of planning over the last two years. Embracing flexibility and adapting to changing circumstances is now a requirement not just at work, but in life. One offshoot of this is being flexible with each other and granting colleagues more space and time to embrace changes.

Technology solutions work until they don’t

QR codes exploded, and online ordering and chatbots solved simple tasks. Now delivery and transportation apps are burdened by increased fees to support higher wages and attract drivers. Technology and scale will not solve every problem, human interaction and one-on-one services remain important.

What’s Next?

Is going back to the old ways of operating just the “easy” response? Can we embrace the changes and adapt? Will we take what worked and leave the rest?

While we have gone through many monumental events in the last few years, the culmination of all that we’ve learned as a result of COVID suggests it’s time to adapt what we do and how we deliver services.

Traditionally higher education—like large companies or bureaucracies—is slower to respond to change. Re-shaping career services may be far off, but hopefully, we’re ready to adapt!