How to become a director of career services

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Director of Career ServicesThe career services department at a community college, four-year college or university gets involved with the lives of current students and alumni. One of the key selling points universities use to attract applicants is exciting future job opportunities. The career services department is integral in making these connections. It is one of the most pivotal departments in higher education administration.

Colleges and universities of all sizes and specialties need career services departments staffed by enthusiastic, well-educated and resourceful professionals. Opportunities exist to become directors of career services, assuming ultimate responsibility for programs like on-campus job placement or alumni networking. These leaders can have a significant impact on individual student outcomes as well as on the direction of policies at their schools.

Professionals interested in educational administration may find career services to be a rewarding employment path. With strong work experience and educational backgrounds, applicants can pursue opportunities leading to a directorship of career services or similar role. They can build their expertise and preparedness for these positions by enrolling in an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree program.

What does a career services director do?

The director of career services job description is multifaceted and involves making connections between people at multiple levels of education. In general, the career services department is responsible for ensuring positive work outcomes for students and alumni. This means getting job placements for graduates, creating internship and work experience programs on campus, and organizing alumni networks.

Employment information resource PayScale reports working as a director of career services is fundamentally about managing people, programs and funds. To lead a career services department, a candidate should be a skilled multitasker and a strong and decisive employee manager. College and university career services are complex departments with numerous staff with diverse tasks. A good director will keep these projects on track while signing off on the budget and taking responsibility for reaching job placement benchmarks.

Interpersonal skills are essential for directors of career services. Colleges and universities need to have strong relationships with companies in their communities that may become key alumni employers or partners for internship programs. It’s up to the career services department to keep these connections active. Further, the leader of the career services team will be tasked with organizing job fairs and and ongoing placement programs. A candidate who knows how to keep such processes on track is well suited to a director of career services role.

Rather than keep programs and services at their present levels, directors of career services look for opportunities to get more students, alumni and employers involved in the placement process. The National Association of Colleges and Employers specifies that expanding the user base of employment programs is a fundamental part of career services leadership.

As part of their networking, directors of career services will have to reach out to corporate and alumni partners on a national or international level. Making these connections and strengthening the resulting bonds through the years can improve the institution’s placement rates. Those career statistics can, in turn, serve as a sign of prestige for the school.

In addition to communicating with alumni networks and employers, career services directors should form productive internal connections with educators and other administrative departments such as student affairs. As NACE indicates, the career services department depends on close contact with department chairs and deans to ensure its services are meeting the needs of the institution.

The scope of work handled by the director of career services will likely depend on the size of the college or university. Bigger schools with enrollment in the tens of thousands will have more complex alumni networks, corporate partnerships and internal programs. Larger career services departments at these schools will allow directors to delegate more tasks. At smaller institutions, the director of career services may take a direct hand in a larger portion of the department’s programs and services.

How do career service directors help students?

A director of career services is important because some of a college or university’s most helpful programs originate with the career services department. A student may seek these services at many points in their academic career, meaning the director of career services has played a repeated role in shaping that student’s experience throughout their time at an institution.

Undergraduates can take advantage of career workshops and skill training sessions organized by the career services department. Job fairs and recruiting events involving corporate representatives on campus may provide students with direct access to top companies in their area. Job listings and resume referral services allow both current students and alumni to perform self-directed job searches with help from the career services department.

Internships and placements for undergraduates seeking to accumulate credits, build their resumes or create pathways for future employment can be compelling reasons to choose a particular college or university. By organizing these programs, the director of career services plays a direct part in positively influencing the college experience. Especially strong programs in specific industries could even attract students to career opportunities they may not have otherwise considered.

Alumni may still rely on the career services department while pursuing their ongoing career paths. Along with providing advice and opportunities for current undergraduates, the department allows graduates to take advantage of institution-specific job listings and network with their fellow alumni. Relationships between students and the career services department can last a lifetime if the director is adept at communicating with people after they graduate and enter the professional ranks.

What is the hiring outlook for career services directors?

Colleges and universities’ hiring patterns for administrative roles tend to differ depending on the school. For example, the number of roles open at public institutions can fluctuate based on the state’s educational budget for the year. Both public and private colleges and universities tend to see increased demand for administrators when enrollment rises, as larger teams are required to keep the quality of services high for a larger student body.

In its most recent projections as of April 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests employment in higher education administration will rise 7% over the decade between 2018 and 2028. This represents modestly more growth than the 5% expansion projected for roles in all industries, demonstrating the resilience of college and university employment. The BLS notes, however, that leadership roles tend to be limited in number ― colleges and universities may add headcount in administrative departments while keeping roughly the same number of directors and assistant directors.

The BLS projects the growing population of college-age U.S. residents will keep university enrollment strong over the next decade. Many jobs today require at least an undergraduate level of education, which means the appeal of college is clear.

PayScale notes some directors of career services may find employment with organizations other than colleges and universities; specifically, companies with a strong focus on student outplacement that creates internal career services departments. Furthermore, some trade and industrial arts schools may need directors of career services to help place students with skill sets existing outside of the standard undergraduate pipeline.

How much does a career services director make?

A professional who takes a role as a director of career services gains a chance to earn greater responsibility and a higher salary. According to PayScale, as of late April 2020 the median director of career services salary at U.S. colleges and universities is $61,037, with the possibility to increase significantly by serving in a related role for a long time.

The data shows salaries are relatively steady among institutions, with even the lowest-paying schools typically offering at least $50,000. The top 10% of career services directors earn $86,000 and higher annually. PayScale notes improving earning ability as a director of career services may come down to both location and tenure.

Positions in some locations, such as Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore, pay far more than the industry median, followed closely by Philadelphia and New York. Career services directors earn 30% above the countrywide average in Los Angeles, while New York offers salaries 24% higher than the base figure.

Directors of career services who are deep into their higher education administration careers, with 20 years or more, earn an average of $71,802, per PayScale (April 2020). Late-career professionals take home 19% more than the industry average, while experienced career services directors, with 10-19 years served, make 8% above the all-ages figure.

Top skills affecting salary potential include training development, leadership and strategic management. These represent the pillars of the career services director role. These professionals need to be able to coordinate the development of individuals’ skills and career potential while directing their own teams and keeping their institutions’ strategies on track regarding recruitment, skill-building and networking.

How do you become a career services director?

Career services directors may take a few different paths to their roles. Entry-level higher education administrators may join career services departments in positions responsible for the day-to-day running of recruitment and skill-building programs. People who build their experience and credentials at one institution may also apply for director positions at another school, assuming new responsibilities along with the change of scenery. Professors sometimes take on administrative duties and positions as their own careers develop, and career services roles are possibilities for them.

The two main measures of readiness to think about when preparing to apply for a career services director role are education and job experience. Due to the increasing prevalence of online doctoral programs, potential candidates can build both kinds of expertise simultaneously, studying part time while working in higher education administration on a full-time schedule.

What educational background should career service directors have?

The educational requirements for director of career services jobs will vary based on the size and description of the school in question. Some smaller institutions may be willing to hire candidates with an undergraduate diploma, and PayScale lists a bachelor’s degree as the accepted industry minimum for career services leadership. However, seeking out such a high-level role at a larger college or university will most likely call for a master’s degree, as NACE indicates. On top of these baseline qualifications, prospective career services leaders can bolster their credentials by earning a doctorate.

In today’s competitive hiring environment, it’s important for candidates seeking top roles in higher education administration to have résumés representing the depth of their commitment to the field and its related best practices. Factors such as learner preferences, the role of technology and changing relationships between universities and government are always changing. Applicants who have recently earned an advanced degree in education will be familiar with the latest concepts and will be more effective and influential in positions such as directors of career services. Online programs allow professionals already working at colleges or universities to add to their credentials and can make them stand out as applicants for a director role.

How much work experience does it take to become a career services director?

Many colleges and universities operate large career services departments, with roles stretching from entry-level to leadership. Professionals who aspire to be departmental directors can start their journeys into career services performing simpler day-to-day tasks or accumulate related experience in another section before seeking to change roles. The promotion path to directorship may lead through mid-level leadership roles such as assistant director of career services at schools large enough to have well-staffed departments.

The common thread behind attaining a directorship of career services is the need for many years of experience in a similar role, whether in higher education administration, human resources or both. A résumé showing a long pattern of recruitment and people management will demonstrate a candidate is capable of taking on such an important job.

NACE specifies candidates applying for jobs leading career services departments at large, private universities should have 10 years or more of experience working in either higher education, corporate recruitment or a combination of both. The minimum expected job experience changes when discussing other types of schools. Medium-sized private colleges and large public institutions, for instance, may consider applicants with five or more years of professional experience for open director of career services roles.

What skills and competencies should career services directors focus on?

When figuring out the exact combination of skills that makes a promising director of career services candidate, professionals should consider the specific knowledge they’ll need to complete day-to-day tasks and the interpersonal skills that will aid them in making the necessary connections with everyone from corporate leaders to the heads of other educational administration departments.

PayScale specifies from a technological perspective, the competencies that go into being a director of career services are straightforward. Working effectively with programs such as the Microsoft Office suite will play heavily into a director’s everyday tasks. The BLS adds any administrative role in higher education will involve accessing proprietary school documents such as student records. Directors of career services should be comfortable adapting to the information storage methods in place in their departments.

The main reason why career services leaders should be adept with computer systems comes from the need to stay organized and keep clear lines of communication. Overseeing a project such as a recruitment drive or career development program is easier when a professional can monitor important information and react on the fly.

All types of communication with other people are vital and relevant in the career services space. Directors of departments must be adept at opening productive dialogues with executives, while showing empathy and support to students who use their services. Coordinating efforts with other administrative teams and reporting to university presidents and board members are also fundamental parts of keeping career services functions operating at peak effectiveness.

As head of the career services department, a professional should combine more general interpersonal skills with the ability to lead, direct and motivate team members. At larger colleges and universities, this competency will be especially important, with more employees reporting directly to the department leader and a greater number of projects active at any time. Schools need career services directors who are able to delegate and avoid taking on too many responsibilities by themselves.

Career services director candidates who earn an online Ed.D. degree will become familiar with many of the skills associated with higher education administration while completing the associated coursework. This combination of a résumé-building diploma with a relevant educational focus makes the Ed.D. a natural choice for people deciding to pursue an advanced degree.

What do Ed.D. courses teach about career services?

Online Ed.D. programs are distinct from other doctorates because of their focus on the trends and practices underlying the education field today. Enrollees in Bradley University’s online Doctor of Education program have the ability to gain knowledge that will serve them well in completing director of career services duties by taking courses including the following:

Boards and Educational Governance

Strong relationships between the board, faculty, administration, student body and surrounding community are essential for the success of a college or university in realizing its educational mission. Career services departments have an especially close connection with nearby companies, the board and the students, and administrators can learn about these bonds in this course.

Ethical and Political Foundations of Educational Policy

This course focuses on creating and revising educational policies in line with political priorities and community needs. The central tenet of the class is that all people deserve equitable treatment and meaningful educational reform is one way to achieve it. These priorities are highly applicable to running an effective career services department.

National Trends in Assessment, Data Analysis and Accountability

Accountability and continuous improvement in educational settings relies on the collection and analysis of accurate and comprehensive data. In career services, this may include placement rates and other numbers tied to student outcomes. This course is designed to ensure that participants’ views of data science are in line with the latest trends.

Leadership in Higher Education and Community College

All leaders in higher education settings should be aware of one another’s roles and responsibilities, as well as the best practices associated with ensuring excellence. This course uses real-world examples of scenarios at community colleges, four-year colleges and universities to examine what leaders can and should accomplish for their institutions.

Student and Academic Affairs

Effectively managing the relationship between college and university administration and students is a complex role for professionals. This course deals with the ethical challenges and decisions facing schools today, as well as the ways in which situations can be resolved. As heads of a department that directly intervenes in students’ on-campus and post-graduation lives, career services leaders should be familiar with these situations.

The Contemporary Learner

Students’ priorities, outlooks and expectations have changed relative to past generations. The experience of studying for a college degree today reflects the globally connected world in which millennial and Generation Z learners have grown up. By taking a course focused on contemporary students’ priorities, objectives and learning strategies, aspiring career services directors can become more effective in creating and running relevant programs.

Financial Affairs in Higher Education

The departmental budget is one of the areas career services directors have direct responsibility over. The processes behind college and university funding have complexities unique to the educational field, and participants in an online Ed.D. program can gain in-depth knowledge of these specialized practices. Even within the education field, there are vast differences administrators should internalize, such as the different ways private and public universities are funded.

What goes into enrolling in an online Ed.D. program?

Professionals currently working in higher education who want to move into a leadership role such as director of career services ― or people in similar roles outside of the college and university field seeking to move into it ― can build their knowledge, skills and résumé depth by completing an online Ed.D. program.

Online programs today are designed to support full-time workers through asynchronous learning schedules. Participants view lectures, complete classwork and network with their fellow classmates at times that make sense for them, from whatever location is most convenient. This model allows enrollees to build work experience while also gaining in-depth knowledge of the educational field from well-connected and insightful faculty members.

Bradley University’s online Doctor of Education degree program is designed to be a stepping stone in a rewarding higher education administration career. Students committed to continuing their engagement with academia while building their authority and influence within their respective institutions may find that the curriculum is in line with their needs and priorities.

Director of career services is a promising professional role for higher education administrators. Taking on the associated responsibilities means engaging directly with numerous parts of a community college, four-year college or university’s ecosystem and designing programs meant to have a positive impact on student and alumni experiences. Professionals who thrive in career services can also think about seeking more general leadership positions at colleges or universities as the next steps in their journeys.

To learn more about the Ed.D. curriculum and the way these courses reflect the present higher education administration landscape, visit the program page.

Recommended Readings:

5 Elements to Succeed in Education Leadership

The Higher Education Administration Career Path


PayScale – Average Director, Career Services Salary

National Association of Colleges and Employers – Career Services Director Job Descriptions

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Postsecondary Education Administrators