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How Do Higher Education Career Influencers Champion Student Career and Life Success? Critical Conversations #34

Career and Workforce Development Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services New Professionals and Graduate Students Student Career Development Faculty
July 16, 2023 Candy Ho Michael J. Stebleton

JCC Connexions, Vol. 9, No. 3, August 2023

In "Career Development Is Everyone’s Responsibility: Envisioning Educators as Career Influencers" (Journal of College & Character, vol. 24, no. 3, August 2023), Candy Ho and Michael Stebleton write that career influencers are student affairs educators, administrators, and faculty members who initiate meaningful career-related conversations with students—even if they do not hold career development expertise. The authors discuss the value of purpose narratives that students can construct to describe their experiences and help build resiliency during times of uncertainty. The conclusion provides recommendations for postsecondary educators to consider to effectively frame every student conversation as a career conversation.

The authors respond to questions posed by JCC co-editors relating to their research:

1. What is a “career influencer?” Why is this topic important now?

Today’s college students enter post-secondary environments with career on their minds. Recent survey findings report that the most common motivator for pursuing a college education is to improve future job and career outcome (see Gallup-Strada Education Group and most recent UCLA American Freshmen Survey for more information). As higher education professionals, irrespective of position (e.g., student affairs professional, faculty member, administrator), educators will likely engage in career-related conversations with our students, with topics ranging from the practical to the existential. Some of these questions include

  • What should I study if I want to pursue a career in [insert profession]?
  • How can I transfer what I am learning in class to future workplaces?
  • How will I discover my purpose? Am I doing what I am really meant to do? And am I doing the "right" things, and doing them right?

If students have posed these questions to you before, there is a good possibility that you are a career influencer, defined in Candy Ho’s doctoral dissertation as “individuals who informally provide career-related advice, guidance, and/or counselling” (Ho, 2019, p. 2).

2. What are the responsibilities of a "career influencer"?

The role of a career influencer is informal; the formality or formal responsibilities lie in higher education professionals performing their roles and tasks in their current professional roles AND seeing the ways their work contributes to student career development (Ho et al., 2023).

The awareness they have in how they influence students’ careers is of key importance here. For instance, Jacques (pseudonym), a faculty member with previous management experience in finance, deliberately shares their work experience and stories with students in their courses to illustrate course concepts while emphasizing the importance of strong work ethic and professionalism in the workplace. When higher education professionals such as faculty, student affairs professionals, and program supervisors are diligently performing their roles—and perceive themselves as career influencers—they will make connections between what they do in their day-to-day work with the big picture of student career and life success over the course of a lifetime marked by uncertainty (Blustein & Flores, 2023).

3.  What are some ways to frame conversations with students that relate to purpose and careers?

Co-author MIchael Stebleton has written extensively about the importance of exploring issues of purpose and meaning with undergraduate students. He noted that “Rather than focus solely on passion, career-related discussions with students should include authentic conversations about purpose, meaning, and the shifting future of work—and how students might best prepare for these changes” (Stebleton, 2019, p. 163). The world of work will continue to shift—and graduates need to be ready to enter new environments (Kellerman & Seligman, 2023).

We believe that every conversation with our students can be a career conversation. In our day-to-day professional lives, we constantly encounter opportunities to have these important conversations with a few notable examples:

  • For faculty members. Since instructors and faculty possess teaching knowledge and practice in their disciplines, they have the opportunity to help students identify transferable attributes, skills, and knowledge (ASKs) they develop as a result of the course, and articulate how it can transfer to future careers (e.g., workplaces, graduate studies). Additionally, due to their regular interactions with students, faculty members are also well-positioned to pose big questions and challenge students to consider how they can be of service to their communities, both locally and globally.

  •  For admission and academic and career advisors. They can engage students by hosting individual advising appointments and/or facilitating course and degree planning workshops. A common question they get often is “What can I do with a degree in [insert major or discipline]?” This is a wonderful opportunity to lean in and ask about their current interests and aspirations and explore how course and program offerings can help them lean in on these interests and aspirations and/or help them discover new ones. Academic advisors who see students at multiple checkpoints during their studies can also help students reflect on their learning and growth throughout their journey.

  •  For student engagement directors, residential life staff, orientation leaders, and student affairs professionals. Involvement in co-curricular activities play an integral role towards promoting and fostering student engagement and sense of belonging (Astin, 1999; Tinto, 2017). Professionals can take this initiative one step further by helping students consider how their engagement and service can help them with their careers—and help others. Ask students, What is it about participating in the student life program/volunteering as a peer mentor/conducting service learning activities that gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment? How might their service be making a difference in the lives of others? Co-author Candy Ho still draws from her former orientation leader role into her teaching and encourages these professionals to consider the WHAT, SO WHAT, and NOW WHAT model (Ho, 2022).

These examples all speak to the idea of holistic student development, which aligns with the early foundational work in both student development and career development. Student affairs practitioners and faculty occupy important roles that include educating students as whole persons, and this includes their spiritual and moral development (Stebleton, 2023).

4. Don't faculty have enough to do? How will they find time to be "career influencers"?

Arguably, faculty members and student affairs professionals are overextended. Getting faculty members to change their practices can be challenging. Earlier, we discussed the role of career influencer as an informal one. We contend that faculty members, by virtue of performing their professional roles, are already serving as career influencers. 

Faculty members play pivotal roles in student career development, decision making, and student success (Strayhorn, 2022). Other than peers, students likely spend the most time with faculty members. The credibility and rapport established by faculty members make them natural career influencers students can trust and respect. Faculty members need to be aware of this informal role so that they can connect their work and responsibilities to student career development in order that they can amplify their influence. Furthermore, Newsom (2021) and Toor (2022) described some excellent practices on how faculty members can collaborate with career services at their institutions, from starting classes with brief career talks, making career competencies explicit in course activities, to participating in faculty-specific training offered by career services (or, advocating for such training to happen), and incorporating peer education into career content. It should go without saying that these initiatives should be inclusive and equity-minded.

If faculty members and instructional staff truly do not believe they have the time to be career influencers, then they should refer students to their institution’s career services office for the experts there to provide career support. Yet, we conclude with one more plea: Serving as career influencers can not only help students, but for faculty members, helping students discover and realize their aspirations and purpose can cultivate a renewed sense of engagement and satisfaction. Students experiencing success in their life and careers serve as excellent reminders of why we do what we do—our professional purpose—resulting in full circle moments.


Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development 40(5), 518–29.

Blustein, D. L., & Flores, L. Y. (Eds.). (2023). Rethinking work: Essays on building a better workplace. Routledge.

Ho, C. (2019). Professionals in post-secondary education: Conceptions of career influence. (Doctoral dissertation, Simon Fraser University, Surrey, Canada). http://summit.sfu.ca/item/18827

Ho, C. (2022). Skills transfer: The implicit value of student leadership experiences. Academica Forum. https://forum.academica.ca/forum/skills-transfer-the-implicit-value-of-student-leadership-experiences

Ho, C., Stewart-Smith, C., & Gunaratne, D. (2023). How career Influencers can promote sustainable careers and the wellbeing of underrepresented students. In W. E. Donald (Ed.), Handbook of research on sustainable career ecosystems for university students and graduates (pp. 407-427). IGI Global.

Kellerman, G. R., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2023). Tomorrowmind: Thriving at work with resilience, creativity, and connection—Now and in an uncertain future. Atria Books.

Newsom, J. (2021). Bringing career counseling into the classroom. Work Shift. https://workshift.opencampusmedia.org/bringing-career-counseling-into-the-classroom/

Stebleton, M. (2019) Moving beyond passion: Why “Do What You Love” advice for college students needs reexamination, Journal of College and Character, 20(2), 163-171. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2019.1591289

Stebleton, M. (2023). New spaces & roles for student affairs: An ongoing column of JCC Connexions. JCC Connexions, 9(2). https://www.naspa.org/blog/living-in-the-now-spirituality-and-the-impact-of-the-pandemic-on-undergraduate-students

Strayhorn, T. L. (2022). Rearticulating “cultural navigators”: An equity-minded framework for student success. New Directions for Higher Education, 2022, 23– 34. https://doi.org/10.1002/he.20424

Tinto, V. (2017). Through the eyes of students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 19(3), 254–269.https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025115621917

Toor, R. (2022, January 17). Rethinking the faculty role in students’ career readiness. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2022/01/18/faculty-should-do-more-help-students-prepare-careers-opinion