Building meaningful connections is innate to human interaction. Even the most introverted people require some level of healthy social interaction. We build networks, make friends, and develop a support system throughout our lives. Unfortunately, some milestones can obstruct or create distance in these relationships. College is no exception.
Students commonly start at a new college where everything is unfamiliar. They’ve chosen your school to help them down their chosen career path. Who better to build a strong connection with than their career counselor?
Your list of responsibilities is long as a career counselor, but there are a few things you can do to help build better connections with college students that don’t require too much extra effort or time. Check it out:
Let’s get the one tip that does require a bit more of your time out of the way right off the bat. Get to know students outside of the career services center. Instead of sitting in your office researching ways to get students to come to you, get out and attend student events.
Just be present on campus. Have fun. Strike up conversations and offer advice in real-time when a student bumps into you at the cafe or a pep rally. It can be tempting to ask them to block a time to come to see you in your office, but the truth is, they may not show up. So give them some valuable information whenever, wherever, and gain their trust.
College students are busy. They have full class schedules, homework, extracurriculars, social lives, and often, jobs. As much as you’d prefer they come by your office so you can spend quality time assessing their needs and providing them with resources, they just may not have time today — or tomorrow. And suddenly, it’s the end of another semester.
Be as flexible as you can for students to schedule one-on-one meetings. Provide a link to your calendar on your social profiles, email signature, and career services page. Make it possible for students to put themselves onto your calendar and select an in-person meeting or a virtual call.
Offer different blocks of time, so they don’t feel pressured to spend 30 to 60 minutes. If all they have is 15 minutes between classes, you can plan to provide the most critical information they need to jumpstart their job search in that time.
Share stories students can relate to. You walked down their path before. You have made mistakes, perhaps, from which they can learn. You may even have some funny stories you can share to break the ice.
Students hear a lot of “do this, not that” from parents, professors, and their well-intended peers. Break down barriers by being vulnerable. Share tips from personal experience so students can develop a personal connection between your advice and their journey.
Loose that top collar button, figuratively, of course. This is so critical when building connections with college students. You have to be conversational and personable — you can even be fun and funny. Life changes a lot at 18, 21, 24… and you know, it doesn’t get much easier to make hard decisions on your own no matter how much experience you gain.
Connecting with a counselor or mentor who can lighten the mood and help guide you through challenges feeling more comfortable about making choices can be a game-changer for your whole outlook on life.
Like it. LOL. Do whatever the “kids” are doing these days on social media to show engagement and approval. Students share their experiences and feelings on social media to connect with friends and followers.
This is a great place to work in affirmations, share motivational quotes, or just lift students up publically when they share an achievement or concern. Being active on social media also allows you to see where students are struggling with areas of their job search, such as their personal branding or online portfolio. This insight is invaluable.
It can be easy to get caught up in being fun. After all, that makes your job more enjoyable as well. But students need you to get to know them well enough to read them when they are stressed.
Get to know the students you interact with. When you see nuances in how they engage on social media, at student events, or in your meetings, check in to see if you can help with whatever they are struggling to overcome. Being aware of college students’ personality quirks can behaviors feels more personal and reassuring.
Always assume the best of students. If you’ve instructed them to update their resume so you can review it at your next meeting, be sure a friendly reminder comes off as supportive and not condescending.
For example, rather than saying, “Hey John, I just wanted to remind you to get your resume updated before Thursday. Let me know if you have questions.” You could say, “Hey John, just wanted to see if you had any questions about your resume updates before we meet later this week. Looking forward to our chat.”
The first version implies you don’t suspect they’ve worked on it. The second simply offers your time to help if they have questions before the deadline. When students don’t feel you believe in their work ethics or commitment, they are less likely to exercise them.
This likely goes without saying, but one of the best ways to build connections with students is to be a reliable resource. The more organized you are with your support materials, and the better you can engage students with your resources, the more likely students will turn to you when they have a question.
Look for gaps in your resources by asking students to answer a brief survey. Find out if they have questions they can’t find the information to answer quickly, how, and where they are looking. College students will feel more connected to career services by contributing to improving it for everyone, and you will develop the experience students need to see the value in career services immediately.