Faculty & Staff Career Conversation FAQs

It is reported that 88 percent of graduates received at least some career advice from either faculty or career services. Graduates are often more likely to have received career advice from faculty or staff members than from the career services office (Mentoring Students to College Success, 2018 Strada Gallup Alumni Survey).

You are an integral part of a student’s career development, and we are excited that you’re having meaningful conversations about their values, interests, skills and career goals. For additional support, consider referring to the information in these frequently asked questions as you approach these crucial career conversations.

Career Conversations

Asking open-ended, reflective questions is a great way to better understand their goals and determine how you might be a resource. Framing questions around short-term needs can help students feel supported in the present moment and inquiring about long-term goals can help them to be intentional about future decisions. While you can provide expertise, resources or contacts that would be helpful, you can also support students by teaching them about the Career Development Process, where/how to get information, weigh multiple perspectives and then make decisions that best align with their values, interests, skills and goals. You also might find this list of conversation starters helpful.

We recommend asking questions that can help them articulate aspects of their self-awareness. What are their values, interests, skills and goals? What problems do they want to solve? What issues do they want to work with? What do they enjoy doing? What have they experienced so far that they did not like?  What energizes them? Depletes them? What do they do well and excel in? How might their family, culture or financial circumstances impact their choices? Students are less likely to feel overwhelmed by researching and exploring different industries if they spend time reflecting on questions like this beforehand. It also gives them a better sense of clarity and motivates them to find out more information.

Students are often looking for a place to start in a sea of opportunities and resources. Help them identify what part of their exploration feels the most pressing, what they would like to prioritize in their search or break down the process into smaller goals. Determine what resources or connections you might be able to provide based on their interests. Offer them specific names of people to talk to or, better yet, introduce them to a connection. When in doubt, refer them to the Career Center and other resources on campus (Academic Advising, Campus Life Centers, Interdisciplinary Departments, etc.) who are experts in that area to ensure they are getting the most accurate information.

You likely have advice on useful resources and perhaps even contacts at other institutions, companies, professional organizations or former students you’ve mentored that would be a welcome first connection. We encourage students to follow their curiosity and reach out to faculty, alumni and other professionals in order to build relationships, learn about their career journeys and ask questions. Our Networking and Informational Interviewing guides can help them get started in finding the right people and framing the questions they’d like to ask or advice they’re seeking.

Asking open-ended or “why” questions or how the experiences connect with their values, interests, skills and goals can help them to process. Consider paraphrasing or summarizing what students are sharing. This allows them to hear their experience through someone else’s lens, provides additional descriptive language that previously may not have been considered, and reaffirms how the experience may or may not connect with their values, interests, skills and goals. These types of prompts can also help students who are involved with too many co-curricular activities evaluate quality over quantity as well as students who are struggling to find experiences beyond their coursework or research.

There are many careers that could fit a student’s interests, skills, and values and they will have more than one career throughout their lifetime. Discussing this fact can be reassuring and normalize their change and transition. This is an example of how staying open and being adaptable can actually get you closer to your goals even when it feels like a big shift to your plans. We encourage students to trust their decision and give themselves a chance to succeed on this new path. It takes courage to try something new and get outside of their comfort zone. Ask what would help them make this transition more seamless? What do they need to feel more confident on this new path? If you have changed your major/career path this might also be a great time for self-disclosure. If not, sharing other professional or student anecdotes can help normalize career transition.

It can be helpful to ask students what type of decision-maker they generally are (i.e., do they tend to make an analytical pro/con list or do they follow their “gut” or instincts more often) and also how they have made important decisions in the past. How has this worked or not worked for them? What internal and external factors are at play? What information do they still need to find out to help make this decision? Who else might they want to talk to? You can also engage them in a conversation about their short and long-term career goals, priorities and values to see how different options fit those. We’ve found that’s important for students to have agency in their decision-making rather than trying to solve decisions for them or offer what we think would be best.

When exploring career options, students often ask about the jobs and paths of alumni from their major/program or similar ones. You can view that data in our employment outcomes section, on many of the departmental admissions webpages, and also use the Duke Alumni Directory and LinkedIn to filter by major or program. You may want to remind them, though, that seeing where others have gone is just one data point to consider and not representative of all options. They should also think about how their own unique values, interests, skills and goals could lead to satisfying career paths.

Since desired skills and competencies may differ depending on the industry, role and even by organization, conducting thorough research (both online and with people) is the best way to learn which ones are valued most. Since students are already building these skills in the classroom and through their co-curricular experiences, you can help them reflect on how they are gaining these skills, which new ones they want to develop, and how to communicate them effectively. The Top 10 Skills Employers Are Seeking might be a useful starting point (notice how many of the essential skills are not technical).

Linear, well-known paths are very appealing to Duke students. They are often afraid to stray from these paths for fear of not knowing how other career trajectories work or recruit, or they might face familial pressure. It is important for students to know a liberal arts education can provide a wide variety of skills such as writing, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and cultural awareness. Liberal arts majors have the flexibility to use the Duke curriculum to design and configure the type of academic experience they want and select co-curricular experiences that broaden their interests. The versatile skills students will gain are highly marketable and make them qualified for a variety of jobs, industries, and fields.

Choosing a major should not limit or dictate a student’s career options. While there are a few fields that will require a particular major (i.e., an engineer), more often than not, employers and graduate/professional schools actually appreciate a wide range of majors. Students can major in music and go into data science or they can major in history and decide to pursue marketing. The most important factors are their interests and the transferable skills that they can take to an employer. Watch this video to see how Greg Victory, Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Career Center, answers the question, Does My Major Really Matter? and learn about the connections between major and career.

Networking and conducting informational interviews with alumni/professionals of interest is a very useful way to learn about and explore career options
–Refer to the response above on How can I look up where alumni have gone from certain majors/minors/departments/programs?
–Encourage students to utilize our guides and mini courses to help them develop greater self-awareness and find careers that align with their values and interests, explore different industries, transform their CV to a resume and more.
–Attend panels and workshops in our Careers Beyond Academia Series including new Alum/HR Zooms and our Accelerate to Industry or A2i programming.
–Get experience and develop skills through student organizations, internships and other opportunities beyond their coursework or research
VersatilePhD helps PhDs explore and prepare for a variety of professional careers
ImaginePhD is another great career exploration and planning tool for grad students   

Students seeking academic positions can often use extra support in creating a plan to build necessary skills, communicating their research or work effectively, reviewing job application materials, interviewing, negotiating and more. Students can reference our extensive Academic Job Search Prep Guide and attend sessions in our Academic Job Search Series. Since the academic job market is especially difficult right now we encourage students to have multiple backup plans. They may need some guidance on thinking through different career options, both inside and outside of academia.

Master’s students do not have as much time to explore careers or find internships/jobs, and they can benefit greatly from being intentional and prioritizing what is most important to them. We recommend these students utilize our services and resources even over the summer before they arrive so they can be informed, prioritize their goals and feel supported.