6 Questions to ask yourself when promoted to Director of Career Services

JP Michel

I’ve trained over 500 leaders as they transitioned to their first leadership role. I quickly learned that preparing the transition was a key to success. 

Here are my six key questions career advisors should be asking themselves to ensure a smooth transition to their new role. 

Warning: long post (5 minute read). Feel free to skip if: 

  • You aren’t a leader.
  • Don’t want to be a leader. 
  • Don’t want to know what it’s like to be a leader. 

Question 1 - How can I fill my heart? 

Many new directors of career services stop seeing students 1on1. This can cause heartache: shelving the special skills they’ve developed over the course of decades can leave them feeling empty. 

How can you keep nourishing that part of your heart?

  • Continue 1on1 work on a limited basis. 
  • Participate in student led workshops. 
  • Volunteer outside of work that provides an opportunity for direct help. 

Action: Keep track of what fills your heart. Missing 1on1 time with students? Find out a way to fold it in. 

Question 2 - How do I create an environment where my team can thrive?

Being a career advisor can be lonely. 

The work requires emotional labor, which needs processing. Career advisors also get asked tough questions, some of which they won’t have the answers for (yet). 

Finally, career advisors naturally love to learn and grow themselves, but often struggle to create the time for this. 

As a leader, you need to create a community of practice that addresses these needs. Try asking yourself…

  • What changes need to happen within the current culture, practices and mindsets? 
  • How can you make sure these changes are driven and owned by your team members, and not you?

Action: Ask your team for ideas about how to create this environment, and action out one idea that would move the needle forward. 

Question 3 - How do I want my peers to see me now? 

A classic concern when you get promoted is: how will my peers see me now

It’s neither the case that everything will change, nor that things will be exactly as they were. To manage expectations, leaders must create clarity about how the relationship will evolve. 

Action: Meet 1on1 with each team member to set the stage. Prepare your meeting by reflecting on the following.

What you want to share:

  • Your vision
  • Your leadership style
  • What you expect

What you will ask:

  • What’s working well for them
  • Their ideas for change
  • And most importantly: How can I help? 

Question 4 - How can I learn a new language?

Many first time leaders struggle in their first position of authority. 

Often this struggle is due to a problem in communication. 

Being a successful leader requires the utilization of a new special language that allows for powerful communication. 

Many career advisors have natural strengths in this space, but most will have blind spots to address. 

This new language requires being clear, purposeful and empathic. 

Action: There're many great books written on this topic Here’s 3 of my favorites to get you started;

  • Your First Leadership Job, Tacy M. Byham, Richard S. Wellins
  • Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, & Roger Fisher
  • Radical Candour, Kim Scott

Question 5 - How can I set the vision for my team?

It’s the leaders’ responsibility to set a clear vision for what the team wants to achieve, and how to measure results. 

Without truly understanding your vision and their role in it, your team will stall. It will be difficult for them to prioritize, innovate and feel satisfied with their work. 

The way you set that vision will be dictated by your environment. 

Scenario 1: 

You may work in a HEI with a clear vision that cascades clearly down to the mandate of career services.

In that case, you can articulate your vision for career services as it connects with the larger vision. 

For example: How does career services help drive the equity goals that were set by your institution’s president?

Scenario 2: 

Alternatively, you might work in an HEI in transition, without clear goals and with more ambiguity. 

This brings both challenges and opportunities. 

It gives you a chance to boldly articulate what career services can be on your campus, and how you support students goals.  

Action: Explain your vision for your team (the what), and the purpose behind it (the why). 

Question 6 - Who can help me? 

It can be lonely at the top. Which is why you need to surround yourself with the right people.

Leaders can create the support network they need by choosing mentors and guides that can help them. 

Here are different guides you can consider: 

  • A directory of career services, who is 1-3 years ahead of you. Their recent experience can help you overcome the immediate challenges in front of you. 
  • A director of career services, with 10-15 years of experience. Their ability to see the bigger picture, put things in perspective and navigate change will help you map out what your future will look like. 
  • A partner who works with dozens of career services departments. Their insights into how your peers operate and innovate will give you context and inspiration for your own strategy. 
  • A leader in another department, campus or industry. Their outsider perspective will help you identify alternative ways of looking at the problems you are facing. 

Action: Identify three potential guides that can guide you in your first year in the role. 

By reflecting on the questions above, directors of career services can set themselves up for success

Investing time in this preparation can yield powerful long term benefits. It will not only help you thrive as a leader, but it will help your team reach its full potential.

And, most importantly, it will help your students prepare for a meaningful career. 

#careerservices #careerdevelopment #highereducation

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Let's keep in touch