In this issue: Spring 2020

Feature

Designing Your Life

designing-your-life

Career Services helps students “design their lives” for a changing workplace

College and university career advising offices—charged with preparing students to enter an ever-evolving work world—must continually adapt to stay relevant. And up until recently, that hasn’t happened, said Bob Kumagai, executive director of Career Services at Daniels College of Business.

The old model of these offices as simply transactional—places that students visit only to find internships and brush up their resumes and interview skills—has gone by the wayside, noted Kumagai. 

“The characteristics of work and the market have probably changed more in the last decade than they have in the past 100 years,” he said. “There’s a lot of research showing that most millennials and Gen Z graduates will have somewhere between 12 to 18 different jobs in their lifetimes—and within those jobs, probably two to three distinct careers.”

Furthermore, about two-thirds of those jobs don’t exist yet. At the same time, most career advising offices are structured the same way they were 40 to 50 years ago—a model that neither appeals to students nor applies to today’s job market, Kumagai said.

Companies no longer need to visit campuses in person to hire graduates when they have the internet. And even in the accountancy field, where firms have a long-standing tradition of hiring Daniels’ School of Accountancy graduates, job recruiting has changed.

“Accounting firms are hiring fewer accountants because a lot of the work is being supplanted by automation,” Kumagai said. “Does that mean accountants are going to disappear? No, but it means that the skill sets, knowledge and the kind of intellectual flexibility and critical thinking that were not part of the field historically are what firms are looking for now.”

Kumagai added that many employers say they can train students about new technologies and processes on the job. Instead, what they’re seeking are people who are inquisitive and have the capacity to learn quickly. These and other changes in a dynamic workplace have prompted universities to reassess not only their curriculum, but also the content and approach of their career counseling.

Recognizing that the legacy model of career services has to change, Daniels has embarked on a new effort, called Designing Your Life, that is aimed at more closely meeting the demands of today’s job market. 

“Many employers say they can train students about new technologies and processes on the job. Instead, what they’re seeking are people who are inquisitive and have the capacity to learn quickly.”

Bob Kumagai

Daniels’ new program is based on a framework from the book “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life,” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The authors are Silicon Valley innovators and Stanford University design educators who teach a popular course on the subject. Their basic premise: “A well-designed life is a life that is generative—it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.”

Less than 20% of students under age 26 are highly self-directed and already have determined their goals and future career tracks. Most are still uncertain about what they want to do or how to go about job hunting. Nor are they engaged with Career Services. It’s this group that Kumagai and colleagues hope to reach with their new approach. Largely driven by career advisors, this approach is being adopted by other universities nationwide, ranging from elite business schools to state commuter colleges. This year at Daniels, it’s being piloted as a five-week workshop in the Denver MBA and Marketing and Management master’s degree programs. 

The prototype also is being tested with freshman and sophomore undergraduates, who will break into small-group sections and use the Designing Your Life model to tackle problems of interest to them.

“It’s a framework for decision-making that students will buy into if we’re making it about them.”

Bob Kumagai

Kumagai credits Daniels Adjunct Marketing Professor Lora Louise Broady with first bringing the book to his attention and championing staff and faculty to adopt the Designing Your Life model for Daniels students. 

Broady said she learned the power of design thinking methods to help students shape their lives through her day job as an academic strategist. 

“It’s a liberating structure—quite thrilling and a bit onerous actually—to take active ownership of your life design,” Broady said. “Equipping students with tools that enable them to assess their sources of energy and engagement, ideate on activities that create coherence between their work and life, and develop and prototype five-year plans, will allow them to pivot and grow thoughtfully throughout their careers.”

In the book, the authors detail how the same “design” concepts founded on curiosity and creativity that led to inventions like the lightbulb and the internet can be applied toward designing one’s own life plan. 

The book is packed with tools and exercises that can be applied at any stage of life, particularly during important transitions such as that first career, midcareer changes and retirement. 

One of their key points—contrary to many career counselors’ advice—is that people do not have to have a passion to plan their careers because, in fact, most people don’t have just one.

“In truth, most people are passionate about many different things, and the only way to know what they want to do is to prototype some potential lives, try them out and see what really resonates with them,” the authors write. 

Drawing upon those ideas, Kumagai also began to see that rather than gathering 100 students together in an auditorium and lecturing them about career planning, advisors need to engage in more individualized, interactive workshops designed to focus more intensely on students’ own interests and lives. 

Placing students at the center—and not even necessarily making the work overtly about careers—will help them develop the creative problem-solving skills they need to determine and tackle their career-planning goals. “It’s a framework for decision-making that students will buy into if we’re making it about them,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Daniels leaders and faculty continue to adapt their curriculum and Career Services to the many changes occurring in both the workplace and the world at large. Students are then prepared to factor these changes into their life designs:

New Interviewing Techniques

Companies are increasingly using automated and video-interviewing platforms that score prospective candidates based on parameters such as authenticity, energy or enthusiasm.

One of the reasons why companies are relying on these techniques is to remove bias from the process and improve diversity, Kumagai added, pointing out that research has shown people tend to hire workers who look like themselves. 

Impact of Social Movements

According to Department of Management Teaching Assistant Professor Bud Bilanich and Professor Cindi Fukami, “Today’s workplaces increasingly look like our society at large. There are more people of color at all levels of organizations, more women in leadership positions, and more LGBTQ people open about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Better and more creative decisions arise when diverse opinions are honored and discussed openly, and successful people embrace this level of diversity.”

Social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo arise because of abuses caused by lack of respect for the individual, they added. The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative principles emphasize the importance of countering such abuses. These core principles, Bilanich and Fukami noted, serve as a guide for ethical behavior that is both open and welcoming to diverse thoughts and opinions. 

Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability 

B Corporations—companies that value social and environmental performance factors in addition to profits—are becoming increasingly common, and many Daniels students are motivated by these values. 

They are particularly interested in disciplines like supply chain management because sustainability tends to be addressed on that level, Kumagai said. While these are still emerging trends, he thinks the focus on them will only continue to grow as millennials become the largest number of employees in the workforce—and design lives that are intentionally inclusive and respectful. 

Read about how mentorship is a crucial component of Daniels’ Career Services strategy.

Career advising is available as a free lifetime service to all Daniels alumni. For more information, visit daniels.du.edu/career-services

Read Articles by Category