When the whole Frankfurt School moved to home offices in March, it meant also for Career Services a complete shift from offline to online. All internal meetings changed into Zoom calls and the career coaching went through a complete digitalization process. All career talks and meetings with students turned into Zoom calls. Now we have done online counselling for eleven weeks, and online sessions have become a natural part of our workweeks.
In the beginning, my biggest concern in online career coaching was that maybe the meetings would not feel as personal as face-to-face meetings. Would there be something missing? During my first online career counselling sessions some personal touch was actually lost due to some technical troubles. It was not always possible to use camera or the connection would break. Without camera on, a session was more like a phone call than a personal meeting. However, the students as well as we in Career Services overcame the technical challenges fast.
When everyone had got used to Zoom, the online sessions started to feel more like the personal sessions. In fact, when everyone was staying at home, online counselling brought a different kind of personal aspect to the meetings. When the student and I were both at our own homes, we saw each other in a much more informal setting than we normally would in a face-to-face counselling meeting on campus.
Career coaching online has some challenges as well. I find interpreting non-verbal communication and body language the most challenging aspect of online meetings. In a face-to-face meeting I can really see all the expressions and gestures of the student. It is easier to interpret the situation face to face than in an online meeting. The student and I are both looking at the camera but we are not able to have a real eye contact. In an online session, it is sometimes not quite clear, if a sudden silence in a conversation is due to an interruption in the internet connection or if the student needs a moment to think what to say.
Despite the few challenges, I could not have imagined how normal it would feel now, to have counselling online. I talk now with the students as naturally as in a face-to-face meeting. We also go through their application documents through screen sharing without any extra effort. Zoom’s whiteboard function has made it possible to do some exercises together as well. We can write or even draw something together and save the whiteboard then afterwards. I was surprised how small the difference between a face-to-face meeting and Zoom call has become. After so many weeks of online counselling, I hardly notice that I am not in the same room with the student.
How will the career-counselling then look in the future? The feedback from the students on the online sessions has been very positive. In my experience, it will be a valuable addition to our services in the future as well. When we are all back on campus, we will definitely want to offer personal face-to-face meetings again, since there are many situations, in which meeting personally is still the best option.
However, the opportunity to have online counselling makes the schedules more flexible for students. Students spending their summer break in somewhere else than Frankfurt could easily book an online appointment without taking the time to come personally to Frankfurt. Later, when there are again semesters and internships abroad, online counselling makes it possible to get career advice while abroad. Overall, I see the online career coaching as a step forward towards more digitalized service package that we want to offer to the FS students.