A higher education (HE) careers adviser provides information, advice and guidance to undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates through individual interviews and group work.

They assist clients in assessing their values, interests, abilities and skills and relate these to opportunities for employment, further study and training.

They help clients make informed decisions, develop strategies and career plans as well as advising on how to 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.

In small services, careers advisers may take responsibility for information work, employer liaison activities and administration as well as guidance.

Alternative job titles may be career coach, career counsellor or careers and employability adviser.

Responsibilities

Most HE careers advisers are predominantly involved in providing careers advice and guidance, which are an important means of helping students and graduates explore their options and make plans.

The method of delivery of this guidance will vary depending on the institution and the type of students and graduates. For example, an institution with a large number of distance-learning students may provide guidance largely through email.

Guidance activities may include:

  • running in-depth individual, face-to-face interviews to students and graduates;
  • offering a drop-in service, where students and graduates can have a short interview about their career needs;
  • providing email or telephone advice and guidance interviews;
  • using a range of technology and social media, e.g. Skype or webinars, to contact students and graduates who may be part time or distance learning;
  • working with groups of students and graduates on specific topics such as preparing for interviews or choosing a career path;
  • advising students on CVs, cover letters and interviews and holding mock interviews and application form reviews;
  • delivering careers-related presentations;
  • organising programmes of workshops featuring external speakers, such as employers or representatives from professional bodies;
  • contributing 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.

The role of careers adviser is increasingly diverse and other duties can include:

  • researching and writing information on local and national career opportunities and producing publicity material, newsletters and vacancy bulletins;
  • developing web-based materials for use by students, graduates, employers and academics;
  • supporting the promotion of employability and work experience, e.g volunteering opportunities, internships and job opportunities;
  • administering and interpreting psychometric tests and personality inventories;
  • visiting employers and professional bodies to obtain information about opportunities, recruitment procedures and policies, and labour market trends;
  • organising programmes of employer-recruitment visits, careers fairs and other events;
  • liaising with academic staff to promote the use of the service by students;
  • providing information on graduate employment and training;
  • advising on careers education programmes and the development of the skills required by employers;
  • coding, analysing and interpreting data for Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) surveys;
  • developing students' awareness of entrepreneurship and the possibilities of setting up a business;
  • acting as consultants to academic and other departments in relation to careers, employability and the current labour market;
  • liaising with schools and colleges;
  • carrying out research related to the careers and employment of graduates.

Many careers advisers are actively involved in the professional body for HE careers staff, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

As members of AGCAS, they work alongside staff of other careers services, researching and writing information, carrying out surveys, running and participating in training courses and other activities, and developing relevant knowledge and skills.

Salary

  • Salaries typically start at around £23,000 to £28,000, rising to £29,500 with experience.
  • Senior career advisers with several years' experience and relevant qualifications can typically earn £30,000 to £40,000.
  • Salaries for careers managers can rise to £45,000. Directors of careers and employability services may earn in excess of this.
  • Many universities follow a national pay agreement, providing a common pay spine for academic and non-academic staff.
  • Salaries vary depending on the institution, experience, level of responsibility and nature of the role, e.g. adviser specialising in advice to MBA students or postgraduate research students. Consult the individual institution's terms and conditions for full details.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm, although some institutions offer flexible working. Evening work may be required at certain times of the year, and there may be occasional weekend work.

Part-time work is possible and some higher education (HE) careers advisers combine part-time work in HE, with self-employed or freelance work in another role. There are also occasional opportunities for temporary, fixed-term or consultancy posts usually through funding for specific projects. Some institutions offer flexible working options, job sharing and career breaks.

What to expect

  • Time is usually spent in an office, careers information centre or classroom delivering group sessions with occasional external visits to employers and conferences. The work can be stressful, especially at peak times of student use in the autumn and spring terms.
  • This role is attractive to career changers who have often built up related work experience and gained appropriate qualifications.
  • There are currently more women than men working as careers advisers.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, with greater availability in metropolitan areas and major cities.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home at night are occasional. Overseas work or travel is rare.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates. Careers advisers in higher education (HE) come from a wide variety of backgrounds in both degree subject and work experience.

For some posts, specific qualifications or background may be an advantage, especially if the post has specific responsibility for students and graduates in a certain area, e.g. medicine, MBAs or postgraduate research.

However, for most posts, a degree in any subject is acceptable. Relevant pre-entry experience and appropriate skills and qualities are generally more important than the class of degree gained.

Entry without a degree or with a HND/foundation degree only is possible but less common.

Although not essential, a pre-entry postgraduate (Level 7) qualification in the support of career development may increase your chances of gaining a post. Many entrants hold qualifications accredited by the Career Development Institute (CDI).

The CDI runs training programmes, which cover topics such as career coaching, public speaking and supporting youth mental health and wellbeing. Such programmes are available at a number of universities across the UK. Study may be full time or by a range of part-time and distance/blended learning options.

Some employers accept lower-level qualifications, including the QCF Level 4 Diploma in Career Information and Advice and Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development.

It may be possible at some institutions to work as a careers assistant or trainee and then train to become a careers adviser by undertaking relevant qualifications.

Although not essential, a PhD may be useful when working with PhD and postdoctoral students as it can help understand their career motivations and concerns.

A qualification in the support of career development is useful and pre-entry experience usually essential. It may be helpful to gain some experience in 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.

Some HE advisers have experience of careers guidance in another sector, especially 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.

A driving licence may be useful.

Employers

There are more than 150 higher education (HE) institutions in the UK, almost all of which employ careers advisers.

Employment may be within an independent careers service or within a student services department that provides other services such as counselling, welfare and financial advice, or an academic support or external relations department.

HE careers advisers may be employed at:

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

Universities vary in mission, size, culture and ethos, range of subjects taught, and mix of students. With the expansion of HE, access and participation rates have increased and student intake reflects the diversity of institutions.

Some universities will draw students from a local or regional area, while others will have a high percentage of international students. Courses may be highly vocational or traditional academic disciplines.

The nature of the student population will affect the work and demands on the careers service and careers advisers.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are usually advertised on an institution's website and occasionally in local newspapers.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Most entrants receive on-the-job training and attend short courses to develop and update knowledge and skills.

Training will vary according to the individual's professional and personal development objectives, the specific role and the needs of the service.

In-house training may be offered within the careers team and organised centrally by the institution. Large employers and professional bodies provide training opportunities for careers advisers related to their organisation and profession.

Training events, both national and regional, covering specific occupational areas, innovations within the guidance process, and professional issues are regularly provided by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). There are courses at all levels, suitable for both new entrants and experienced staff. Topics are wide-ranging and may include:

  • career development theories;
  • interviewing;
  • group work;
  • psychometric assessment;
  • marketing;
  • presentation skills;
  • working with postgraduates or international students;
  • careers in particular employment sectors.

The most common continuing professional development (CPD) qualification is a Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma or Masters degree 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. They are aimed at all career development and employability staff in HE and comprise a range of modules that can be obtained by attending short residential courses, completing project work and distance learning. Entry to courses is open to all staff in a relevant HE role, based on experience and previous professional training.

The Postgraduate Certificate CEIGHE is for those without a relevant professional qualification or less than three years' experience. The Postgraduate Diploma CEIGHE is for those with the Postgraduate Certificate, other relevant professional qualifications or three years' HE careers work experience.

The MA CEIGHE is for those with the Postgraduate Diploma and involves completion of a further dissertation module or, for those without the Postgraduate Diploma, completion of core and optional modules and a longer dissertation.

Smaller postgraduate awards are also available and can be used towards a longer qualification and are also open to candidates without a first degree.

Career prospects

There is limited opportunity for management promotion since 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 head of service posts.

In order to gain promotion, it may be necessary to relocate to another university as opportunities within the same service will be limited.

Advisers may seek professional development by moving to a different size or type of institution and careers service to gain experience across the diversity of the higher education (HE) sector.

New initiatives, often funded by regional or national government, can result in opportunities to undertake project work, developing areas such as careers education materials or modules, work experience activities or web-based initiatives.

It may be possible to specialise in working with particular client groups, such as prospective students (including those from non-traditional backgrounds), international students or those on postgraduate programmes.

Personal and professional development is also available through active involvement in the professional body for HE careers staff - Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

Occasionally, careers advisers transfer to academic posts focusing on careers education curriculum development or teaching on careers guidance courses. Another possible role within education is that of employer liaison.

Careers advisers may leave education for work in industry, commerce or the public sector, where they may take on responsibility for graduate recruitment, development and retention.