From Career Advisor to Career Connector: Best Practices in College Career Service Delivery Models at Madison Area Technical College and Letters and Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison

In May 2013, Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, delivered a trailblazing TED Talk titled, “‘Career Services Must Die.” Chan’s TED talk addressed many of the challenges faced by traditional college career services advisors-especially those serving students majoring in the liberal arts. Liberal arts students tended to wait until late in their college career to engage with career services. They also had difficulty connecting how their majors could lead to a career. One of Chan’s solutions included liberal arts students interacting with potential employers, career mentors and alumni from the beginning of their college experience. In doing so, they could understand how their skills, interests, personality, strengths, and values fit into career opportunities.

Last fall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Letters & Science (L&S) Career Services office, joined the national trend identified in Chan’s TED Talk by transitioning to a Career and Internship Community Specialist model. In the past, career advisors were generalists who met with students in one-on-one appointments and discussed a broad range of career opportunities. The new career and internship community model allows for career advisors to specialize in a “career community” (e.g., Healthcare and Wellness, Government, Nonprofits, or Science & Research).

The career community specialist model allows advisors to develop expertise in a specific career area by dedicating time to connecting with employers and alumni from a focus area. Part of the goal of this approach is to connect students early in their college careers to people who can serve as career mentors, especially alumni. The central advantage of the Career Community Specialist model is that career advisors build networks in their specific career communities. Then, advisors serve more students in deeper ways by connecting students directly to career mentors.

As career advisors’ duties shift away from counseling and move toward being connectors, they will spend significantly less time in one-on-one appointments with students. One of the challenges UW-Madison L&S Career Services staff encounter is serving 16,000 undergraduates (along with graduate students, and alumni) with a small staff.  Advisors can meet with a relatively limited number of students in one-on-one appointments. However, the Career Community Specialist model addresses this challenge by creating one-on-one career advising on a much larger scale by tapping the resources of alumni and employers and offering more group programming. Andrea Lowe, Director of Career Advising & Communities for the Letters and Science Career Initiative and Career Services, raised an important point that students have the ability to engage with more than one Career Community, encouraging exploration across career communities. With this new model, students won’t be “boxed in” to a specific major or career community.

Another advantage of the Career Community Specialist model is the movement of career advisors from generalists to specialists. As entry-level jobs become increasingly specialized, this new model will allow career advisors to help students navigate recruiting timelines for their desired career path. Further, students can tailor industry-specific resumes and cover letters with guidance from a career advisor who knows the field and people in it. Career advisors will have a small group of professional mentors from their field of specialization keeping them apprised of industry trends and needs. An incidental benefit of this model is that the university will be more visible to potential employers as the role of “employee relations” will extend beyond a few people.

Madison Area Technical College/Madison College also offers a Career Connector model.  Trish Carringi, Career Advisor at Madison College, explains that Career and Employment Services has also transitioned to an “industry liaison” model from a generalist advising model. This model has allowed students to expand their connections with employers and faculty who work within specific industries. In the Technical College System a clear and direct connection exists for school-to-career transitions. Carringi contends that the Industry Liaison model serves as a best practice, because it keeps career advisors well aware of employer needs in the community and in turn more fully serves students because advisors are able to provide the latest employment information in specific industries.

More career development and earlier interventions in students’ college careers is the emphasis of these programs. These models connect students with a network of people in their field of interest as soon as possible. Further, through informational interviews, internship opportunities and career connections, students’ careers can be launched well before the final few weeks of their academic career. When it comes to networking, the sooner the better, and these programs encourage career engagement early on. As networking becomes increasingly important for students to launch and land in the world of work, the shift to Career Community Specialists and Career Pathways models allow career advisors to help students build their career network while still in school. These tightly woven networks will support students in school and beyond.

Authored by:

Abby Lemke is a Senior Career Advisor in the Career Exploration Center at UW-Madison. Abby currently serves as the four-year college and university representative for the WCDA Board.


Trish Carringi PhotoTrish Carringi works at Madison College as an advisor in the Career and Employment Center.  She holds a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and has worked as a career counselor in both the public and private sector.  Trish currently serves as the VP of Communications for the WCDA Board and also chairs the Website Committee.

About Julie Hau

Dr. Julie Hau has a doctorate from the UW-Madison in Counseling Psychology. She has worked as a career counselor, professor, and academic advisor. She works at the Center on Education and Work, UW-Madison. Currently, she is on the WCDA board as Outreach and chair of the Social Media Committee.