How do you get students to start thinking about careers from Day 1 at university when their minds are on sampling the local beer? Staff at Edinburgh University's Careers Service, one of two universities recently awarded a matrix excellence award at the Institute of Directors, think image is an important factor. "Our image was a bit staid," says Lynda Ali, director of the careers service, "even though the services we offered were attractive."
The careers service's first step towards transforming its image was extensive market research, focus groups and feedback from students and employers.
One thing students favoured was more contact through email, including emailed lists of career opportunities. "We used the web a lot, but we are exploring ways of using email more," Ali says. Other strategies include open mornings for departmental support staff and roadshows. "We get out to the draughty corners of the institution - to departments, to lecture theatres and outside the main library - to offer a drop-in service rather than waiting for students to come to us."
The matrix excellence award, which is supported by two independent accreditation bodies, is open to organisations that have gained a matrix standard award for meeting ten good practice targets for providing information, advice and guidance to customers.
Since Edinburgh got its award last year, it has moved up a gear. In its submission for the award, the service talked of how it makes use of a vacancy database that is accessible round the clock. It also regularly updates its information on new types of jobs, after requests from students.
It recently added conflict resolution to its list, for example.
The careers service also works closely with the student employment service, which finds jobs for students while they are at university. "Very often students don't realise that the work experience they do is vital for future careers," Ali says. "The earlier they start thinking about careers, the more they maximise their chances when they graduate."