The Career Center of the Future

By Sue Harbour and Laura Lane

Where will Career Centers be in 10 years? We are living in a digital age and the population of digital natives is increasing. How will Career Centers keep up? What will Career Centers look like? How will companies recruit students and how will students utilize their career offices?


All of these questions were addressed as part of three conference presentations during the 2012-2013 academic year: the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Employers (NCACE) in Wilmington, NC, the Southern Association of Colleges and Employers (SoACE) in St. Pete’s Beach, FL, and the National Career Development Association (NCDA) in Boston. The geographic delivery of this presentation was deliberate in that we wanted to obtain perspectives from a variety of Career Services Personnel (colleges and employers at the state, regional, and national levels) and compare results. The fortune-telling Magic 8 Ball was the theme incorporated into the presentation, representing the somewhat uncertain future of Career Services delivery.


Participants in each session were active players in designing the Career Center of the Future through the use of “polling” technology. Each audience was electronically polled to analyze multiple tenets of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Benchmarking, including recruitment, employer engagement, facilities, staffing, salaries, budget, space, standards for professional practice and social media. Results of the live polls were immediately delivered in a “snapshot” of the Career Center of the Future.


Gaining insight from professionals who work in career services on a daily basis was paramount. In each conference session, participants engaged in an open discussion, in both small and large group format, to examine and prepare for changes projected over the next 10 years. Combing all three presentations, audience size ranged in number from 60 to 110 and participants represented public colleges and universities (55%), private colleges and universities (31%), Employers/Recruiters (13%), and “other” (1%). Participants varied in experience levels, though the majority had spent over 21 years in their current profession. Having experienced career services professionals in the audience was beneficial due to their knowledge of past trends. Conversely, having newer professionals in the audience was helpful in obtaining a “fresh eyed” perspective. When new staff members ask “Why do we do it that way?” more seasoned employees are prompted to explain the status quo. This generates a dialogue, especially if there may be an innovative, more efficient and effective way of operating. As we reflect upon how society has changed over the last 100 years, we can certainly identify changes in our lives, including our jobs. For example, a technology called Job Lines (an automated phone recording of opportunities) was once state-of-the-art, but it is now obsolete. The Internet has changed so much of how we do our jobs, and this drives the need to reconsider how we will operate in the next 10 years and beyond.


Specific Results

Based on audience participation at NCACE, SoACE and NCDA, the Career Center of the Future may look something like this…

  • Decentralized or hybrid, requiring 50-75 % of online work, in an office that uses space differently and serves all students.

  • Staff size will grow slightly, and the overall budget will increase by at least 10% to accommodate the rising cost of providing on-line services and tools to students.

  • Director salaries will increase for those who don’t retire, but the average salary will decrease as newer directors are hired to replace seasoned professionals.

  • Counselor salaries will remain the same.

  • Career fairs will decrease in popularity and the need for on-campus recruitment will decrease due to the increased use of technology (e.g., virtual interviews and students making professional connections via social networking sites). However, neither will disappear completely since technology is not forecasted to replace the human component of personal networking and making connections.

  • Use of social media will increase, but it may look different as new platforms and applications are created.

  • Standards of professional practice will change dramatically as a result of technology, budget, staffing, and space. Accountability for what we do will increase significantly and it will be more difficult to measure given the increase in on-line service delivery.


Participant Dialogue

The most interesting discoveries through the presentations were the insightful discussions that resulted from the topic areas. For instance, it was overwhelmingly clear that technology usage is increasing, which impacts what Career Counselors do and how services are delivered. Surprisingly, participants did not believe that counselors would be replaced by technology, and that staff sizes will actually grow. However, staff members will need to be open to using social media and a variety of applications to effectively assist students. In the future, Career Centers may not need as much physical space, as technology makes it possible to engage virtually and remotely with our populations. Audiences agreed that Career Centers should continue to offer a variety of services to all students vs. an “opt-in model” where students only pay for the services they plan to use. There was also consensus that even though there are currently more centralized offices around the country, there will be a rise in the number of offices transitioning to a hybrid model in which career staff will spend part of their week in different locations, such as a particular school/college or department within the larger institution.


The Career Center of the Future is a topic that participants wanted to discuss at length, and this is just the beginning of the conversation. We can only guess at what the future holds, much like a Magic 8 Ball. However, we know that change is inevitable, and for now we may have to be content with an “8 Ball” answer—“Outlook good”, “Reply hazy, try again.” or “Ask later”.





Sue HarbourSue Harbour serves as the Senior Assistant Director for Undergraduate Business and liaison between University Career Services and Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC. She works closely with companies recruiting undergraduate business students for both internships and full-time jobs. Sue has a great interest in digital media and its usage among millennial students and seeks to incorporate this technology into Career Services delivery. Sue has presented at numerous conferences including: NCACE, SoACE, NCCA and NCDA. She has sat on the Executive Board of NCACE and she is currently the Past President of NCCDA having served as President during 2012-2013 year. She can be reached at sue_harbour@unc.edu


Laura LaneLaura Lane is the Associate Program Director for the Master of Management Studies (MMS) program at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. She provides career services to students in both group and one-on-one settings, creates and delivers programming, and acts as liaison to employers in the consulting industry. Previously she worked at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with students in journalism and communications. Laura is a dynamic presenter and has had the opportunity to present at a variety of conferences including:  NCACE, NCCDA, NCCA and NCDA. She is Past President of NCCDA. She can be reached at laura.lane@duke.edu

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1 Comment

Lynn Friedman   on Thursday 11/06/2014 at 10:08 AM

This was a very interesting study and article. I found the results with regard to salary very troubling in that schools still seem to be underestimating the importance of career development and the need to hire and retain talented career development professionals.

I hope that one day, universities will recognize:

1. that happy (employed) alumni who credit the school's help with their employed status are more likely to be donors.

2. career development should start in tandem with the admissions process and freshman year.... it shouldn't just be something that people are thinking about during their senior year.

Of course, such an approach would require a much more robust career services staff.

Thank you for this great article.

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