Contextually Careers: Turning Data Into Action
By Alicia Monroe, Ed.D., Assistant Director, Office of Career Advancement, Rowan University
Data, data, everywhere, What do I look at? OR Where do I begin? OR What should I capture? OR How do I assess? Now, you fill in the blank. Depending on the day, time, moment and/or sense of urgency, I mull over these questions with a look of despair on my face, wondering if there is really a way out of the data maze. For many, the dreaded “D” word can oftentimes overwhelm us, as our questions rapidly surpass the responses.
In this, the digital age, data is increasingly used to drive decision-making. We can no longer depend solely on our intuitive sense. The millennium has ushered in a paradigm shift where data and metrics are used to assess and evaluate our activities and actions. Analyzing data, metrics, and trend development allows us, as career services professionals, to strategically shift priorities, tweak programs and reposition resources in order to get desired results and outcomes.
The need is for us to have quantifiables and meaningful metrics that can measure success and inform strategic planning efforts and decision-making. As we rethink the status quo and reframe traditional norms, our focus now rests on redefining what constitutes positive outcomes. As I muddle through key performance indicators, usability studies, reputation measures, surveys, focus groups, and other forms of evaluation and assessment, I have to first make meaning of this arduous task for myself.
The first step is to understand and commit to the “why” behind the work. As we collect, review, and analyze the data, our core value of having students find careers that reflect their gifts, talents, skills and interests should anchor the stories that we tell and the decisions that we make. Although it is important to collect data, what’s most valuable and vital to the decision-making process is the analysis of the data and the story that we are able to tell to provide insight and meaningful outcomes to students, recruiters, influential stakeholders, and career service organizations.
Next determine the “what.” In other words, are you asking the right questions to get the outcomes that you are looking for? The simplest definition of data-driven decision making is the use of data analysis to determine the courses of action to take to meet objectives and prescribed mandates. In addition to asking the “right” questions, it is imperative to understand “what” data- qualitative or quantitative- and “what” analyses inform our decision-making. Measurable learning outcomes, the effective use of assessment and evaluation methods, along with stakeholder demands for better career outcomes data, are forces that motivate us to slow the process down in order to make the right assumptions. Giving ourselves time to reexamine long-held beliefs and practices gives us the space to develop meaningful metrics that measure our actual performance. All in all, asking the right questions provides us the data that we need to engage in better analyses.
As we review our data collection methods, we must also revisit our tools and protocols. This is the “how.” How we collect our data must align with our objectives (the story we want to tell), the questions that we ask, and the type of data that we collect. Questions that engage student voice and insights from employers and other stakeholders should be evident in the assessments, as these responses afford us the opportunity to gain a clear picture of the expectations met, level of satisfaction achieved with career services delivery, and areas that require improvement.
Our career center stories inform our students and influential stakeholders. Looking at data through a purposed, well-focused, and intentional lens provides career services professionals the valuable insight needed to ground and promote their efficacy in the important work they do. To learn how to best tell your career center’s success story and dive deeper into multi-modal approaches for using data to frame an effective story line, attend the 2017 EACE Annual Conference, Pre- Conference Workshop- Shaping Your Career Center’s Success Story facilitated by Sam Ratcliffe, Ph.D. You can also view and contribute a number of resources in EACE’s Assessment Hub.
Collins, M. (2016) “#NACE2021: Trends and Predictions.” NACE. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/nace2021-trends-and-predictions/
Contomanolis, E., Cruzvergara, C., Dey, F., & Steinfeld, T. “The Future of Career Services is Now.” NACE Journal. November 2015. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/the-future-of-career-services-is-now/
Picciano, A. (2011) Educational leadership and planning for technology. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Dr. Monroe serves as Assistant Director, OCA at Rowan University. She has developed a number of notable programs designed to actively engage students in a college to career continuum of achievement. #itsALLaboutthestudents @amonroeedd