Crowd-Pleasing Data Management for Career Services: Accessible, Instant, Meaningful, Easy

By Julia Panke Makela, Gaeun Seo, and Jessamyn G. Perlus

Career professionals are no strangers to data. We have collected numbers of participants, programs, employers, and interviews for years. We ask clients about satisfaction and request testimonials about successful experiences. Still, demands for data are ever-growing, as budgets tighten and our institutions face persistent calls from external constituents (e.g., accrediting associations, governments, funding sources, students, and families) who want to know that they will receive a “good return on their own and society’s educational investment” (Guskin, 1994, p. 22). Career Services must demonstrate our contributions to the educational mission of colleges and universities, and to do so, we need data to accurately show who we are reaching and the difference we make. Internally, we need to be able to nimbly assess areas for growth and improvement, and handle data in transparent and ethical ways.


While collecting tangible proof of effectiveness over the years, many career professionals have encountered a significant barrier: data are only powerful when we have strategies to put them to good use. Career professionals often have a limited amount of time to sift through data from multiple sources. Many are limited by technology resources or lack expertise on how to put data in the hands of decision makers who can tell relevant stories, communicate value, and identify areas of improvement. In order to use the data we collect, the challenge is to make the data accessible, instantaneous, meaningful, and easy to understand (see Table 1).


Table 1. Characteristics of strategies that improve effective use of data


Guiding Questions:


How are data organized and stored? Who has access to data, and in what format?


How can we put data at the fingertips of key decision makers and stakeholders?


How can we help users interpret data in trustworthy ways?


How can we display data and interpretations to make them easy to understand?


The Career Center (TCC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign addressed data needs through the use of interactive dashboards which provide at-a-glance views of key data points in service delivery. While we experimented with several dashboard styles, the type discussed in this article were developed in Microsoft Excel. In addition to addressing the needs outlined above, this choice allowed for easy sharing of demonstration dashboards, providing an immediate foundation for other career services offices to enhance the usability of their participation and satisfaction data.


Participation Data Dashboard with Pivot Table Visualizations

Our Participation Data Dashboard provides a tool for investigating student activity patterns in career services. By using a pivot table function in Excel, graphs create data visualizations that provide access to participation statistics at the click of a button (see Figure 1). Filters sort on key variables such as student demographics, staff type, and service time. The result is a customizable data analysis tool to answer specific questions. In our office, the dashboard is updated monthly, providing all career professionals with 24/7 access to aggregated statistics and visuals about students’ engagement with career services.


Figure 1 A Participation Data Dashboard Screenshot

  Figure 1. A Participation Data Dashboard Screenshot

Example Use: Making Scheduling Decisions. Using this dashboard, the team examined career appointment usage by time of day. We found that afternoon appointments were filled to capacity, while many morning appointments were unfilled. Recommendations were made to change the balance of when appointments were offered, shifting more to the afternoon hours. This schedule adjustment helps career professionals better manage their time, and better serves students by increasing availability when students are seeking appointments.

Download and customize an example Participation Data Dashboard at http://go.illinois.edu/NCDA2016-DataDashboard


Quotes Management Spreadsheet

Our Quotes Management Spreadsheet provides career professionals with 24/7 access to a database of student feedback or comments provided on surveys conducted by TCC over the past four years (see Figure 2). This database can be sorted by key variables such as student demographics and survey question type (e.g., satisfaction, learning outcomes, intended next steps). This dashboard is updated every semester and provides staff with students’ reflections on satisfaction and the impact of TCC on their career development experiences.


Figure 2 A Quotes Management Spreadsheet Screenshot





Figure 2. A Quotes Management Spreadsheet Screenshot


Example Use: Supporting Funding Proposals. TCC prepared a proposal to seek funding to continue to host networking programs for underrepresented student populations. The quotes management spreadsheet provided an efficient way to identify similar participants’ feedback from past networking events, demonstrating the impact of this type of career programming. The quotes (along with other data sources) were integrated into the grant proposal, which was successful in obtaining continued funding.

Download and customize an example Quotes Management Spreadsheet at http://go.illinois.edu/NCDA2016-QuotesSpreadsheet


Ethical Considerations

A variety of ethical issues are related to the way that career professionals collect, store, and use data. For example, transparency is important in communicating with clients regarding what data are collected and how data will be used. Such communication may be included in informed consent and/or confidentiality discussions and documents. The goals of such communications focus on why data are collected and how they will be used.

A second set of important ethical questions relates to data storage and protection. For example:

  • How long will data be stored?
  • When and how will it be destroyed?
  • How will access to data be limited to those who have permissions to view it?
  • How will data collection be limited to what is needed and used?

Finally, we often receive the question of when to seek human subjects research approval for assessment projects. There are varying approaches to this. Our approach has been to seek approval in any case where we would like to professionally present or publish findings. If assessment data are collected for only an internal audience for the purpose of program improvement, we do not seek approval. However, in all data collection, we do still communicate formally with students regarding the collection and use of data in order to demonstrate respect and value for our relationships and the information that they share.


More information, resources, and consultation on ethical matters related to program assessment in career services can be found in the NCDA Code of Ethics at http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/guidelines.You may also contact the NCDA Ethics Committee for assistance at ethics@ncda.org.


Closing Reflections


The power of Excel dashboards for The Career Center at Illinois has given every career professional the opportunity to be a data-informed story teller. Our office has tools to run tailored statistics or to find meaningful student quotes about programs, services, and resources. We communicate to stakeholder audiences about who we reach across campus and the difference that it makes. These portals have helped dispel myths (e.g., about who The Career Center does and does not serve, or the breadth of services), secure program funding, and market to new student audiences.


You can find more information on building Excel dashboards in our 2016 NCDA Career Development Conference presentation materials (http://go.illinois.edu/NCDA2016-ManageDataPresentation) or connect with the TCC assessment and research team by visiting our Scholarship and Innovation website at https://www.careercenter.illinois.edu/scholarship-and-innovation.



Guskin, A. E. (1994). Reducing student costs and enhancing student learning. Change, 26(4), 22-30.

Makela, J. P., Seo, G., & Perlus, J. (2016, June). Crowd-pleasing data management for career services: Easy, accessible, instant, and meaningful. Presentation at the 2016 National Career Development Association conference in Chicago, IL.



Julia Panke MakelaJulia Panke Makela, PhD, NCC, is the Associate Director for Assessment and Research of The Career Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Julia has more than 15 years of experience in career development and higher education, embracing counseling, research, assessment, and program evaluation roles. She specializes in leading practitioner-engaged assessment projects that gather evidence to inform and continually enhance career development practice, as well as to communicate the value of career services. Julia can be reached at jpmakela@illinois.edu.


Gaeun SeoGaeun Seo, MA, GCDF, is a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) and Doctoral Candidate in Human Resource Development at University of Illinois at Urbana and Champaign. Her research focuses on the role of career development in bridging the gap between student learning and professional development to build a diverse leadership pipeline. Since 2013, she has worked for The Career Center at Illinois as a graduate research assistant on the Assessment and Research team, focusing on assessing and demonstrating the learning outcomes that students’ gain from experiences with campus career services. Gaeun can be reached at gseo4@illinois.edu.


Jessamyn PerlusJessamyn G. Perlus, MS, is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jessamyn’s research focus is on vocational interests and job fit. At The Career Center, Jessamyn serves as a researcher and counseling intern, assisting students in their career decision-making and achieving their short and long-term career goals. In addition, Jessamyn serves as an instructor for a Career Theory and Practice course for undergraduate students where she provides an overview of different career theories and prepares students for internships and work after graduation. Jessamyn can be reached at perlus2@illinois.edu.



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Ron Elsdon   on Wednesday 02/01/2017 at 05:48 PM

Thank you to you and your colleagues on your interesting article. You may be interested in a book published by Praeger in 2010, "Building Workforce Strength: Creating Value through Workforce and Career Development." This includes a chapter on “Designing, Developing and Measuring Effective Career Development Processes and Systems.” We used an on-line system to collect, consolidate, and analyze information about career development delivery at various locations around the country, as well as to gather, and synthesize client feedback. Here is a link for the book: http://www.elsdon.com/building-workforce-strength.html

Julia Makela   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 02:47 PM

Hello Ron,
Thank you for your comments and for the additional reference. We look forward to exploring your work as well. Always appreciate the opportunity to connect with career services practitioners who enjoy exploring data to communicate the value of our work!
All the best,

Brian Montalvo   on Tuesday 02/07/2017 at 08:13 AM

Timely article! Well done.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.