The Career Curator: New Year, New Operating System

Friends and family know that I am passionate about careers. So, during the holiday break, it’s not a surprise that conversations at every family gathering, on the yoga mat, or even in line at Starbucks, all had a common refrain—the career search. The overwhelming question was “my son or daughter needs to find an internship or job and doesn’t know how, what do you suggest?” As the leader of university-wide career programs at Bentley University, I, of course, start with the advice that I give our students: seek out your school’s career services office and make an appointment with your career advisor.

Of course, we all know it’s much more complicated than that. According to Gallup research, many schools do not have the resources for individual appointments or the advice they are giving is not all that helpful. And, for many students, the idea of coming to Career Services is intimidating and overwhelming. Questions begin to swirl in their minds, such as: How do I know I can trust these people? How do I know it will be worth my time? How do I talk about careers when I have no idea what I want to do?

At Bentley, we understand these tensions and the stresses it places on students. We want students who come to our office to feel like it is a space where they can unwind and feel comfortable so that they can have honest, meaningful career conversations. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to create this welcoming space, starting with a few practical “How’s.” First, we expanded our student Career Colleague program to provide talented student leaders an opportunity to share career advice and resources with fellow students through daily drop-ins, blog posts, and events. In addition, our colleagues now work side-by-side with more experienced career professionals in the classroom and within their career communities. With this model, we can scale our resources so that all first and second year students can transition into career conversations with knowledgeable and welcoming peers early on in their college careers. To do so, we also had to transform our physical space to create an open, collaborative waiting area where students can begin their career journey with informal conversation and practical connections.

These steps certainly helped. But, it was not until we dug deeper and defined, as Simon Sinek preaches, the “Why” behind the work we do, that we have seen radical transformation. As a career services leader, I have always encouraged our team to think deeply about our beliefs and values and how they shape our work culture. Several years ago, I was inspired by my colleague, Christian Garcia at University of Miami, who worked with brilliant workplace culture consultants at GapingVoid to visually represent their office culture through art . Last summer, after meeting GapingVoid CEO Jason Korman at a conference, we kicked off the design process at Bentley. Together, our team and student leaders worked with GapingVoid to define 20 words or phrases that embody the “why” behind our work. Essentially, we defined our values and cultural beliefs that we want our students, employers, and our entire community to be aware of.

Thus, the Culture Wall was born.

Now, when students enter our office, after a friendly welcome from our amazing assistant, Gayle, they see dozens of students working side-by-side with Career Colleagues and beginning conversations that may shape a lifetime of career decisions. Behind them, they see our bold and inspiring Culture Wall, a physical representation of the messages we hope to impart to students as they embark upon meaningful careers. The Culture Wall is meant to spark conversation. What does it mean to fall in love with your work? How will you find a career that allows you to Love Mondays? How can you reframe your internship and think about it as an explore-ship? And if you are feeling stressed out, can you just breathe and remember it is supposed to be scary?

Thinking back to the many conversations I had over the holidays, I realize that many of my peers, parents of college students, never had an opportunity to stop and ask “why”. When I graduated college thirty years (yes, I said it!) ago, it was about getting a job, not necessarily the right job. We didn’t have an opportunity to ask questions like, what is a work culture that aligns with my beliefs? Or, can I have an impact on the world? So, for all of those parents wondering what advice to give their kids as they embark upon this journey, my advice is still to start those conversations with your school’s career services office. And if they haven’t started by asking these “why” questions about culture, then take it upon yourself to start there. As my hero, author Tasha Eurich, explains in her new book, Insight, it starts with self-awareness. You need to understand yourself, how others see you, and how you fit into the world. Self-awareness feeds culture, the operating system of your career, and your life.

By Susan Sandler Brennan
Susan Sandler Brennan Associate Vice President, University Career Services Susan Sandler Brennan