There are many important skills for careers advisers to master – here's how to develop in three key areas: knowledge, listening and communication.
With 370 higher education providers and around 37,000 courses in the UK, how can advisers keep up-to-date? As these numbers prove, knowing every course requirement is impossible.
Your role is about helping students identify the right sources of information and ensuring they can understand, process and prioritise it in order to reach decisions.
- Advisers' section of ucas.com: an obvious place to start. Know what it offers, how to navigate it and keep abreast of new elements.
- Sign up for UCAS' adviser updates: are you on the mailing list? It carries crucial information to keep you up-to-date. For example, every May UCAS will update advisers on details of how Confirmation, Clearing and Adjustment will work at results time in August.
- Media: BBC, The Guardian and The Telegraph websites all have education sections covering new developments and topical issues. The Times Higher Education (THE) should also be on your regular reading list.
Networking is also essential to ensure you keep up-to-date. Attending events allows you to you have face-to-face contact with admissions staff and network with colleagues from other schools. Making good use of LinkedIn or Facebook is a good idea too.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- UCAS: bespoke topic events plus an annual national conference.
- CRAC (Careers Research and Advisory Centre): holds an annual ‘Decisions at 18’ event with a wide range of speakers on current key issues affecting students, whether they are planning to go to university or to follow another post-18 route.
- University conferences for teachers and advisers: you can't attend them all but ensure either you or colleagues go to a couple per year.
Beware: until you have high levels of knowledge about courses and careers you may not even realise that you are being directive and judgemental in your guidance. For example, you might be telling a student they are unable to do a particular course when in fact they can.
Andy Gardner - Careers Adviser
Top tip: Make sure whoever attends any conference or training feeds back to all relevant colleagues.
Students will only take on board advice if you have listened to them and demonstrated genuine empathy. This skill doesn't always come naturally, but luckily it can be developed.
Ask a student if you can record a one-to-one session to enable you to reflect on your guidance. Listen to it, and even ask colleagues to listen and feedback, too. Did you exhibit the following characteristics?
- Listening (lots!)
- Questioning/asking for clarifications
- Occasional summarising
- Challenging ideas if they are wrong or inconsistent
- Giving information based on what the student has said
- Agreeing actions to be taken.
Be patient and flexible — it can be frustrating when a student has no idea what they want to do. Don't be tempted to direct them based on your own experience or prejudices.
Be sensitive to cultural or other issues too - for example, some students applying for a university far from home is not feasible.
Try and attend events, seminars or workshops with your students. The questions they ask when there reveals the information that you need to know. They're also great for networking.
Jackie Silverstone, Careers Adviser
Take every opportunity to listen to what your students have to say – even when they are talking to others…
From students and parents to university admissions staff, there is a wide range of people you need to communicate with. Here's some ways to do this to best effect.
Communicating with colleagues, students, and governors:
- Send a regular careers 'newsletter' featuring UCAS issues, university and apprenticeship news, upcoming deadlines, and events.
- Plan into the calendar training to renew/refresh skills – on topics like UCAS reference writing or personal statement support.
- Keep governors informed of progression information and your analysis of student destination data.
- Besides 'traditional' formats such as assemblies, social media is an excellent means of ensuring everyone knows about deadlines, visits and events.
- Communicating with parents and guardians:
- A key audience which needs to be engaged and informed – think school website, newsletters, parents' events.
Nearby or partner schools:
- Network with neighbouring or partner schools through organising shared events. For example, few schools have many medicine applicants so a medical school's outreach or widening participation team is more likely to come to speak if you have 20 from the wider area. Find out who has the same role as you and get in touch with them.
Universities and other advisers:
- Attend as many university conferences and professional development events as you can to stay up-to-speed.