Heather Tranen Explains How UPenn Career Services Mastered Student Outreach

UPenn Career Services

Sometimes the most difficult part of helping students with career development is getting them in the door. Career Services offices have to compete for students' time and attention, and many students are intimidated by the false notion that they have to know exactly what they want to do with their lives before they can ask for help.

The University of Pennsylvania's Office of Career Services launched its recent #myPennPath campaign to solve these problems. With a combination of social media and in-person outreach, they were able to deliver help to students who wouldn't have otherwise received it and assuage their fears about career planning.  

Heather Tranen is an Associate Director on UPenn Career Services' College of Arts & Sciences team. We asked her to talk to us about the #myPennPath campaign, the importance of alumni outreach, and the future of career services.

Student engagement is essential for delivering students the career services they need, but career services offices have to compete with other offices, events, and priorities in order to do so. What has worked best for your team when it comes to engaging students?

At Penn we are lucky that many of our students are already very career-focused. Oftentimes our issues are finding the time to meet the immediate needs of the students requesting our resources. However, we understand that student engagement requires a multidisciplinary approach. At Penn Career Services, staff strive to find innovative ways that will expand the department’s presence and engage students who feel intimidated by the career development process. Many think we only serve a niche group of students, or that they need a fully articulated career plan before they make an appointment with a career adviser. We do our best to creatively dispel these myths.

Putting the career services message in the voice of students and meeting students in spaces they feel comfortable in seem the most effective strategies for student engagement. This year, we leveraged both social media and in-person services to meet the ever-evolving needs of students. Through the #myPennPath social media campaign and Career Services Pop-Up Shops, we sent an inclusive and positive message to our students. The #myPennPath campaign incentivized students and alumni to share their career stories

Students posted themselves (or even their cats) searching for work on PennLink, our online job board, shared internship opportunities where they met the governor, and posted photos of themselves preparing for club meetings. By showcasing these stories, and by putting the message in the voice of their peers, students felt more comfortable coming to our office for support. We incentivized students to post by offering a grand prize raffled off at the end of the semester.

Anecdotally, students thought the campaign was a fun way to learn about the different pursuits of students and alumni. Quantitatively, 117 Instagram posts 73 tweets (not including re-tweets and not including us advertising the campaign) were posted during the first semester launch. The goal of the social media campaign was to send a message to students that Career Services is here for them, that we value all of their diverse work, and that we can support them in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue.

#myPennPath sign

In addition to being present in the social media space, Penn Career Services also became more visible in students’ physical space. We implemented Pop-Up Shops that took place at our Cultural Centers, College of Arts & Sciences building, and the library. During these monthly pop-ups, we engaged students in spaces where they felt more comfortable to share information about the valuable resources we offer. Students often come to our office for full length appointments as a result of meeting us at the pop-ups. We plan to expand the initiative’s scope during the fall semester to meet even more students than in its pilot year. We also set up lawn signs that provide compelling career-related information along with a call to action. They were present along the walk students take to classes, and further conveyed our office’s message.

Penn Career Services Pop Up Shop

How does your team work with the UPenn alumni network to help students find opportunities? What practices for networking with alumni do you find work best?

Penn alumni are an integral part of our work. Quakernet is our comprehensive alumni database. Students can search alumni based on different criteria (major, student involvement, geographic location, etc.) and reach out to them for informational interviews. This is absolutely one of our most powerful tools for career exploration and networking. Another useful digital resource is LinkedIn’s “Find an Alumni” tool.

Additionally, we conduct alumni outreach to join us for different industry-specific panels focusing on careers in non-profit, media, and other industries. We also profile alumni experiences via our Penn & Beyond blog. Their unique, and often times candid, perspectives impact our students in tremendous ways and make them feel confident in search.

How do you think career services will continue to change in the coming decades? How can career services offices adapt to and prepare themselves for those changes?

There are different points to consider when thinking about the future of career services. Employers are targeting talent earlier and earlier (I half expect my two-year-old to get recruited at daycare for his crayon sorting skills). We’ll have to deeply focus on preparing younger students for the high pressure demands placed on them. With early recruitment comes early offers. Since this is for niche industries like finance and consulting, it will also be crucial to communicate the different internship timelines for different industries.

Students must understand that they do not have to accept offers just because they receive one. As career services professionals, it will be important to have programming in place to support this preparation and to also reframe how we conduct our counseling appointments for younger students. The value of thoughtful career exploration gets lost in the shuffle when it feels like so much is on the line for students’ futures. We must encourage students to thoughtfully consider their skills, interests and values, while also helping them manage the stress they encounter when pursuing and accepting internship offers.


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