If you're interested in working in higher education (HE) and want to help others plan for their future, consider work as an HE careers adviser

As a HE careers adviser you'll provide careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) to undergraduate and postgraduate students and graduates through individual interviews and group work.

You'll help clients to assess their values, interests, abilities and skills and relate these to opportunities for employment, further study and training. Your work will help clients to make informed decisions, develop strategies and career plans. You'll also advise on how clients can present themselves effectively at interviews and cope with the transition from HE to employment.

Careers advisers also work with academic colleagues to promote the employability of students, including careers education within the curriculum, and liaise with employers to help them recruit students and graduates.

Job titles vary and you may see adverts for career consultant, career counsellor or careers and employability adviser.

Responsibilities

As a HE careers adviser, you'll need to:

  • provide individual, face-to-face interviews to students and graduates
  • offer a drop-in service, where students and graduates can have a short interview about their career needs
  • provide email, telephone or Skype advice and guidance interviews
  • use a range of technology and social media, e.g. Twitter, Skype or webinars, to contact students and graduates
  • work with groups of students and graduates on specific topics such as preparing for interviews or choosing a career path
  • advise students on CVs, cover letters and interviews and hold mock interviews and application form reviews
  • deliver careers-related presentations
  • organise programmes of workshops featuring external speakers, such as employers or representatives from professional bodies.

The role of HE careers adviser is diverse and you'll also:

  • contribute to the curriculum, either through individual group sessions or accredited programmes, by designing career modules (or elements within them), delivering lectures and seminars, assessing accredited assignments, or acting as consultants to academics completing these tasks
  • research and write information on local and national career opportunities and produce publicity material, newsletters and vacancy bulletins
  • develop web-based materials for use by students, graduates, employers and academics
  • support the promotion of employability and work experience, e.g. volunteering opportunities, internships and job opportunities
  • administer and interpret psychometric tests and personality inventories
  • visit employers and professional bodies to get information about opportunities, recruitment procedures and policies, and labour market trends
  • organise programmes of employer-recruitment visits, careers fairs and other events
  • develop online career learning resources, e.g. via Moodle
  • provide information on graduate employment and training
  • advise on careers education programmes and the development of the skills required by employers
  • code, analyse and interpret data for Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) surveys
  • develop students' awareness of entrepreneurship and the possibilities of setting up a business
  • act as consultants to academic and other departments in relation to careers, employability and the current labour market
  • liaise with schools and colleges
  • carry out research related to the careers and employment of graduates.

Salary

  • Salaries start at around £23,000 to £28,000.
  • With experience your salary can rise to between £30,000 and £47,000, with salaries for careers managers falling between £47,000 and £55,000.
  • Directors of careers and employability services can earn in excess of £60,000.

Many universities follow a national pay agreement, providing a common pay spine for academic and non-academic staff.

Salaries vary depending on the institution you work for, your experience and qualifications, your level of responsibility and the nature of your role, e.g. adviser specialising in advice to MBA students, international students or postgraduate research students.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 9am to 5pm, although you may need to work evenings or weekends on occasion.

Part-time work is possible and you may choose to combine employment as a HE careers adviser with freelance careers work. There may also be opportunities for flexible working, job sharing, term-time work and career breaks.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work on campus in a careers information (or wider support services) centre. Work is usually office based, although you may visit employers at their place of work and attend conferences and events.
  • The work can be challenging, particularly at peak times of student use in the autumn and spring terms, but is also rewarding.
  • The role is attractive to career changers who have built up related work experience and gained appropriate qualifications.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, particularly in large cities.
  • Depending on the size of the service, your work may cover a specialist area of guidance, e.g. international students, or you may have responsibility for all careers activities, including information work, employer liaison activities and administration.

Qualifications

You need a degree to work as a higher education careers adviser. Your degree subject doesn't usually matter, as your skills and experience are considered more important. However, for roles with responsibility for particular student groups, for example MBAs or medicine, it may be useful to have a relevant degree subject or background. You may also find it useful to have a PhD when working with postdoctoral students.

You'll also need a recognised qualification in careers guidance or a proven track record of relevant work experience. The Qualification in Career Development is a QCF level 7 programme (SCQF Level 11 in Scotland) awarded by the Career Development Institute (CDI). Courses are available full or part time, or through a range of part-time and distance/blended learning options, and can usually be topped up to a full Masters degree within a year. (This course replaced the Qualification in Career Guidance (QCG), and Qualification in Career Guidance and Development (QCGD) in Scotland, in January 2017.)

There are also Masters courses in career guidance and related subjects offered by a number of universities. See the CDI website for a list of course providers.

There are also opportunities to train on the job, perhaps working as a careers assistant or trainee careers adviser. Relevant work-based courses include:

  • Level 4 NVQ Diploma in Advice and Guidance
  • QCF Level 4 Diploma in Career Information and Advice - for those providing career information and advice but not career guidance
  • QCF Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development - for those providing career guidance and development to clients.

Some HE advisers have experience of careers guidance in another sector, for example with prospective HE students or adults. Other common backgrounds include teaching, research, industry or commerce, and involvement in recruitment, selection or training.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent written, oral communication and interpersonal skills
  • strong presentation skills
  • organisational skills and good time management
  • IT literacy, including the ability to use email, various software packages, the internet and social media technologies
  • the ability to cope with a variety of tasks under pressure
  • awareness of current issues in HE and graduate employment
  • patience, empathy and resilience
  • the ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • negotiating skills.

Work experience

Relevant work experience is essential, so try and get some experience working with groups or interviewing, listening and advising people in a mentoring or coaching capacity. This can be through work or other activities such as community groups or volunteering.

Speak to your university careers service to see if you can arrange some time to speak to or work shadow a careers adviser. You could also volunteer to help out with university or student society careers fairs and with showing prospective new students around the university.

Employers

Higher education careers advisers are employed by:

  • universities or university colleges
  • colleges of higher education or specialist colleges in single subject areas of HE
  • colleges of further education with HE students.

You could be employed in a careers service or within a larger student services department that provides other services such as counselling, welfare and financial advice, or an academic support or external relations department.

There are also opportunities to work on a freelance or self-employed basis.

Look for job vacancies at:

You'll also find vacancies on institutions' own websites.

Professional development

You'll receive on-the-job training and attend short courses to develop and update your knowledge and skills. In-house training may be offered within the careers team and organised centrally by your institution.

External training events are provided by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). Topics are wide-ranging and may include:

  • career development theories
  • interviewing
  • group work
  • psychometric assessment
  • marketing
  • presentation skills
  • working with specific client groups (e.g. postgraduates or international students)
  • careers in particular employment sectors.

Most careers advisers are full members of AGCAS, providing opportunities to undertake continuing professional development (CPD), network with colleagues and exchange ideas and knowledge via conferences, events and training.

The most common CPD qualifications are the Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and Masters degrees in Career Education, Information and Guidance in Higher Education (CEIGHE). These level 7 qualifications are offered by AGCAS in partnership with The University of Warwick. Each course is completed via a blend of residential courses and distance learning/e-learning and is open to anyone working with HE clients in a careers context.

If you hold a careers qualification at QCF Level 6/SCQF Level 11 or above, you're eligible to join the UK Register of Career Development Professionals managed by the CDI. Entry on to the register entitles you to use the post nominal RCDP and means you must adhere to the CDI code of ethics and undertake a certain amount of CPD per year.

Career prospects

Opportunities to advance depend, to a certain extent, on the size of the service you work for, and you may need to move jobs to progress. You could choose to move to a different size or type of institution to get experience across the diversity of the HE sector.

There is limited opportunity for promotion to management level as the only senior grade in the majority of services is that of director or head of service. However, larger services may have senior careers adviser, deputy or assistant director or careers manager posts. At senior level, you'll be expected to have responsibility for a team of staff, as well as for strategy and meeting targets. You'll need to have budget management and administration skills.

There are opportunities to specialise with particular client groups, such as international students or postdoctoral research students, or within particular subject areas, such as medicine or science, engineering and maths (STEM).

There may also be funding available to take on particular projects in developing areas such as widening participation.

Occasionally, careers advisers transfer to academic posts focusing on careers education curriculum development or teaching on careers guidance courses. It's also possible to move into employer liaison work.