It seems that Graduate Fog is doing something right – my comments in last weekend’s Stella magazine (Sunday Telegraph) have ruffled a few feathers in the sleepy world of careers advice.

This morning, this (no-so) charming email – from an unidentified correspondent, who I assume is a careers professional – arrived in my inbox…

“Thought your comments on careers advisers being out of touch [were] interesting and wonder how much you really know about what a careers adviser actually does.”

It continues…

“Any good careers adviser worth their salt will spend time visiting employers, training providers, higher education institutions and using the internet to keep up to date with trends and entry requirements.  The availablity [sic] of excellent careers databases means that information is readily available and there is no excuse for any adviser to be “out of touch”.

“Perhaps you should check your facts before making such sweeping misinformed generalisations.”

Okay… It seems not everyone is a fan of my work.

; )

So, does my poison-pen pal have a point? Were my comments wide of the mark?

Decide for yourself.

For those who didn’t see the article, my first tip (of eight) was:

“Know yourself. Choosing a career is daunting at any age. Don’t seek advice from careers advisers – they are often out of touch.

“Go and do voluntary work and placements, soak it up and see what works for you. This builds your confidence and social skills.

“You should have and idea about your personality, what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Start with yourself and work outwards from there; don’t try to pin yourself to a career on a list.”

What do you think — good advice? Bad advice?

Okay, so I could have been a bit more polite. After all, careers advisers are generally well-meaning bods who are trying to help.

And there are pockets of them who are doing a good job.

(As Dude’s readers will know, when writing the book I worked with the fabulous team at  The Careers Group – part of the University of London – who were super-helpful and switched-on).

But, by and large, do I think careers advisers could be doing a better job?


And I stand by that.

Why? Because this is what YOU tell me.

Since writing Dude, I have received hundreds of emails from readers saying how helpful you’ve found my book – and how unhelpful you’ve found the advice you were given by your university careers advisers.

Your top four complaints are these:

1. You say that careers advisers can’t help you unless you go to them already having chosen your career (and no, those computer quizzes don’t help, you say). So instead, many of you spend months at home scratching your heads hoping it will “come to you” — or you go travelling, hoping to be “inspired”. Or — worse still — you get yourself even deeper into debt by doing an expensive MA, assuming it will boost your chances of whatever career you decide on eventually. (Often, sadly, it won’t).

2. You say that a very narrow selection of employers are presented to you – seriously skewing your ideas of what options are out there for you. You tell me that these must be the only employers hiring, because they’re the only ones on your radar. (You’re mistaken, but I can see why you’ve been given this impression).

3. You say that in general, the way careers advice is presented fails to engage or inspire you — or prompt you to take charge of your future. This triggers ‘ostrich syndrome’, where you leave it until after graduation to give your future any serious thought.

4. You say that you leave university completely unprepared for the reality of how tough job-hunting is going to be. You say that at no point are you warned that you might have to work unpaid or how much competition there will be when applying for graduate jobs during a recession.

As far as I’m concerned, all the complaints you raise are entirely legitimate.

If my careers adviser correspondent is surprised by them, s/he certainly shouldn’t be.

Hundreds of thousands of you feel this way.

Don’t these people do customer feedback?

As any businessperson will tell you, any service provider’s key concern should be understanding their customers’ needs.

Which is why my mystery correspondent listing the typical matters that keep a careers adviser busy during their day is not relevant.

The only thing that’s relevant is how useful YOU lot feel the end result is.

If you say the current model isn’t helpful to you, then that’s enough to seriously worry me. And it should worry careers advisers too.

If the people the service is supposed to be for say that it isn’t working – then it isn’t working.

In my opinion, the first thing the careers world needs to do is admit that they could be doing a better job.

Instead, their response to this mere suggestion – as demonstrated by this morning’s email – is always one of outrage, that I have dared to suggest they need to get their act together and innovate, sharpish.

With 300,000 students set to graduate in July 2010 – and tens of thousands of you still struggling to find decent jobs after graduating in 2009 and 2008 – I think the role of careers advisers has never been more important.

They need to be getting this right – but they aren’t getting it right.

Pretending there isn’t a problem is complete madness.

Careers advice is a crucial piece of the graduate unemployment puzzle – and I’m amazed at how it’s been completely ignored as headlines have continued to bring us weekly updates of the dire situation in which today’s job-seeking graduates find themselves.

Which is why I’m going to continue to speak up on this topic.

Most university careers advisers are out of touch.

(There, I said it again!)

But let’s look forward, shall we?

When the careers world finally accepts this is true (manage your expectations, people — from that email it looks unlikely to happen any time soon) — what should they do next?

Here are a few ideas I think would be a good start:

1. Re-package the whole idea of ‘careers’ and present it in a way that appeals to the age group and mindset that the bulk of their audience is in. Yes, there are mature students — and yes, some people know exactly what they want to do. But the bulk of their customers — and the people who need advice the most — are 19-22 years olds, who don’t yet know what career path you want to take. (Er, that’s why you’ve come — for advice, see?).

2. Stop pushing students / graduates to ‘choose your career’ if you don’t yet know what sort of path might be right for you. The message that many successful people never make this decision — instead of planning their career, they navigate their path as they go along — is not reaching you, and it needs to. Besides, jobs for life are over — and the world is spinning ever faster (more on this in a minute). So why are careers advisers so obsessed with coaxing you to make a decision, right now, to tie up the next 40 years of your life? Who says the career you choose now will even be there in 40 years’ time?

3. Involve a wide range of companies in careers events — not just the big accountancy, banking and management consultancy firms who have the cash to pay for expensive stands at recruitment fairs and cheap booze at employer presentations. Where are the SMEs (small to medium sized businesses)? Where are the inspirational entrepreneurs who are passionate about their work? (They do exist, I promise). Get them in!

And last — and I think this one is crucial —

4. Include discussion about the way that the world of work is constantly changing — and will continue to do this at a rapid rate — and how this will affect people’s chances of finding work in their chosen industry. I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve had from graduates saying “I’m finding it impossible to get into journalism / music / book publishing / TV — what am I doing wrong?” Of course, they aren’t doing anything ‘wrong’, it’s just that they’ve chosen an industry that is right in the middle of undergoing the greatest challenges it’s ever known — in the form of the digital revolution (and the recession hasn’t helped). If we have a new government later this year, public spending will be cut, which won’t just affect careers in the public sector, but also private companies that work with the public sector. My point is, graduates need to see their job hunt in the context of the wider world, to be trained to spot where the brightest futures are (and aren’t).

Is there any good news?

Yes, actually. I honestly believe that there’s a new breed of young, switched-on careers advisers out there who agree with me — and know that their industry needs to change.

At present, they are constrained by their old-fashioned bosses, who insist on continuing with the old model, “Because this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Within several institutions, I have personally witnessed this culture of fear. It’s a fear of challenging the old ways (that don’t work) and innovating to find new ones (that just might work).

To conclude (sorry, you know what I’m like when I get going)…

If we agree that the world of work has changed, then the advice we give to those entering it needs to change too.

Careers advisers have a crucial role to play in helping graduates at this notoriously tricky stage in their lives. Throw in the typical levels of graduate debt and the fact that leaving education to join the world of work requires a seismic shift in mindset and careers advisers have a big challenge ahead.

So perhaps, rather than sending me ranty emails, they would be better off spending their time asking themselves some tough questions about how they’re going to tackle this new challenge they’re facing?

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