Best Practices for Engaging Diverse College Students in Career Development
By Peggy Brady-Amoon and Marie S. Hammond
Career development, like most human growth, occurs in context – and those environments vary and change over time. For example, students with more privileged backgrounds are more likely to have formal and informal career preparation experiences, including access to career guidance prior to entering college than their less privileged peers (ASCA, 2019; Blustein et al., 2002; Diemer & Ali, 2009; Dodd et al., 2021; Juntunen et al., 2013; McWhirter et al., 2019). As such, some students enter college with significantly more career development advantages than others. Furthermore, underserved students (Withers, 2019) such as students of color, first-generation students (Albright, 2019), and other marginalized communities (Childs & Colozzi, 2021) are overrepresented in the groups that have not had sufficient career development opportunities. Unfortunately, too many people think career development “just happens” – and they may not consider currently available assistance relevant. This seems to be particularly true for people from underrepresented groups (Carter et al., 2003; Dodd et al., 2021; McWhirter et al., 2019).
The challenges of today’s society and workforce, which have been illuminated by COVID-19, make it even more imperative that individuals have the skills and knowledge to make effective decisions and plans for their careers. This brief article reviews evidence-based, practical techniques to assist diverse students to make informed decisions about their career trajectory. In particular, career professionals have an opportunity to promote student success by (1) recognizing and responding to the context and career development readiness of the students they serve, and (2) engaging in best practices in college career services.
Recognizing and Responding to Diverse Students’ Career Development Readiness
Researchers demonstrate that people vary in their levels of readiness to engage in career development activities (Curry & Milsom, 2021; Dodd et al., 2021; Hammond, 2017). To illustrate, Hammond’s (2017) analysis of diverse first-year college students identified seven distinct career preparation groups that would benefit most from different interventions that we organized into three meta-groups for the purpose of this article. They include the following:
- Students with career management skills who have clearly developed their vocational identities and the skills needed to manage their careers. This group includes career managers who are acting on their career plans and multi-potentialled deciders who are using their skills to decide among their options.
- Individuals who are at a developmentally appropriate stage of undecidedness (e.g., first-year college students) or would otherwise benefit from support to develop their vocational identities and/or career planning attitudes and skills.
- Students who are either deciding and lack sufficient skills to do so or who have yet to clarify a vocational identity and develop the related skills.
Effective interventions for the first group, for example, include mentoring, role modeling, and networking. Example interventions for those in the second group include career education activities and career support focused on their particular needs, while those in the third group would benefit from more intensive interventions and encouragement (Hammond, 2017).
Best Practices in College Career Services
In addition to recognizing students’ unique contexts and career development readiness (Colozzi & Thul-Sigler, 2016; Hammond, 2017), it is important to consider research evidence to select the best intervention approach for diverse students. The preponderance of this evidence shows that the most effective interventions are delivered in groups, classes, and individual support. In contrast, self-directed interventions have been shown to be less effective (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Brown et al., 2003; Whiston, et al., 2017). Whiston et al.’s meta-analysis confirmed Brown and colleagues’ (2000, 2003) major findings and confirmed that career services professional support, values clarification, and psychoeducation are also effective.
The type of activity also impacts the effectiveness of the intervention. For example, Brown and colleagues (Brown et al., 2003, Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Ryan Krane, 1999) identified five specific intervention types that were most effective and even more effective when used together, which were confirmed by Whiston et al.’s (2017) meta-analysis. These intervention types included:
- Written exercises
- Individualized interpretations and feedback
- Information about career options
- Opportunities for modeling, and
- Building support for choices within the student’s social network.
To illustrate, the use of assessments is ubiquitous in career planning courses and can be very effective. Career professionals can maximize the effectiveness of assessments by explaining the purpose and what can be learned from the assessment in a group setting. Career professionals can then follow-up with individual sessions to focus on the details and values important to the specific individual (Hammond, 2005).
Recognizing and Responding to Diverse Students’ Contexts
Culturally congruent practices tailored to specific groups are associated with increased career intervention effectiveness (Arthur & Collins, 2011; Byars-Winston & Fouad, 2006; Carter et al., 2003; Fouad & Bingham, 1996; McWhirter et al., 2017). Career professionals can also increase their effectiveness by identifying diverse role models who can share their stories and connect with participants (Brown et al., 2003). For example, career professionals can contact the campus or local chapter of professionally oriented sororities and/or fraternities, other professional groups, the campus career center, and alumni office to identify people who are interested in providing role modeling and mentorship to diverse students. Moreover, it is important to remember that a greater proportion of minoritized populations may be first-generation college students. Thus, it is often helpful to make explicit the unwritten rules for success (Hammond & Brady-Amoon, 2022), such as how to develop relationships with faculty. In addition, it is also effective to support students and help them connect with professional organizations and communities of practice as emerging professionals. Other helpful activities include developing and following an action plan, learning strategic skill sets, and facilitating the development of a positive mindsets associated with career and life success (Hammond & Brady-Amoon, 2022).
To maximize the impact of their work with diverse students, career professionals should aim to contextualize their practice and consider students’ intersecting identities. They must recognize and respect that who students are enriches the process, while also remembering that career development readiness is also important. Career professionals should consider the strengths and growth opportunities of their students. To achieve this objective, they should develop a series of programs or interventions targeted to the specific needs of their intended population so as to have maximum effectiveness. Finally, career professionals ground their programs and interventions in the research so that their practices are evidence-based and advance students’ career development.
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Peggy Brady-Amoon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor, in the Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy at Seton Hall University (https://www.shu.edu/profiles/margaretbrady-amoon.cfm). Her teaching, scholarship, and service builds on decades of experience focused on educational and career access and opportunity, with a particular focus on under-respected people. Peggy is President of the Alliance for Professional Counselors. She is licensed as both a psychologist (NY) and a professional counselor (LPC; NJ), and is certified as a school counselor (NJ). Peggy can be reached at Margaret.Brady-Amoon@shu.edu.
Marie S. Hammond, Ph.D., is currently a professor in the College of Education’s counseling psychology program (https://www.tnstate.edu/psychology/counfaculty.aspx) at Tennessee State University, having spent more than 25 years practicing, teaching, training, and conducting research related to career development She previously developed and directed career counsel services at four post-secondary institutions and has a private practice focused on adult career development. Marie has been a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Professional Counselor (Health Service Provider, LPC, HSP), and is currently licensed as a Psychologist, Health Service Provider. In addition, she continues to conduct research on African American and women STEM students, funded by the National Science Foundation. Marie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Marie Hamond and Peggy Brady-Amoon are also the co-authors of Building your career in psychology, recently published by Routledge.