Career Advisors Career Development

The “P” Word

How did the word “place” creep into the profession of career advising to describe the activities of career professionals?  Is job placement what career advisors really do?

To place means:

  • To put or set in a particular place, position, situation, or relation
  • To appoint a person to a post or office
  • To assign a certain position or rank to

If career professionals truly “placed” people, their jobs would be so much easier. Of course, this would mean that somehow, they figured out how to bypass resume reviews, the interviewing process, background checks,drug-screens, skill assessments, personality tests, reference checks, competitors, and essentially, the decision of the employer.  Does this even sound possible?

Beyond the fact that the word “place,” is simply an innacurate description of what career professionals do, it is also deceptive and harming to the profession.  In my experience, one of the most difficult challenges to overcome when working with students is managing their unrealistic expectations.  Students tend to underestimate so many things such as how long it may take to find their first career-related job, how much work goes into developing their interviewing skills, or how important it is to network.  Unfortunately, many students also think college career advisors will “place” them.  Why shouldn’t they if that is the term used to describe what career advisors  do?

Development means:

  • The act or process of developing; growth; progress.

Career development is what career advisors faciliate through education and as the definition states, it is a process – and processes take time.  To allow students to think that building their career is as simple as being “placed,” is deceptive and harmful.  The “p” word perpetuates false expectations that professional development can be taken lightly, delayed, or even ignored; a harmful belief for young students who don’t know any better.  I find it ironic that career professionals teach the importance of choosing the most strategic words to use in a resume or to speak during an interview, yet we’ve somehow let this one invade our profession.  Let’s no longer use the “p” word and more accurately say we provide professional development training, career coaching, career strategizing, career counseling, career consulting, career advising, career development facilitation…my point is any of these would be more accurate than career placement.  Let’s make the “p” word taboo.


  • I love this article! I couldnt agree more…very well said! Thank you! I will be sharing it my associates!

  • I totally agree – I started my career in a career placement office that was such a misnomer. We did all kinds of things in that office, but not once did we “place” anybody. Now my office gets calls all the time from prospective student’s parents asking about our “placement rate”, as if that rate told them anything about their own child’s prospects. Getting a job after college is dependent so much on the individual’s effort and it’s hard to be judged based on something we don’t control.

    • Sue,
      Thanks for your comment. I have a feeling more Career Professionals agree but I still wonder why the word is used so often. What do you think? Please feel free to share this article if you feel others would enjoy it.

  • I added this on another discussion post, but here goes again. I think academia needs forward thinkers. Instead of sending students to the “Placement Office” , send them to the “Student Success Office”…now that is forward thinking! Yes, it is time to change old labels for new and improved. Do we want to send a message to students that we are “Placing” them or do we want to send a message that we are setting them up for “Success”…personally, as a student I would choose the latter.

  • Robert, great article and great points! I think most (like, 99%) of college career center professionals would be in total agreement, and most of us don’t use the “P word.” It’s a word mostly uttered by admissions and the administration. You are absolutely right that it sets up an unrealistic expectation from students and parents that we will assign jobs to them.

  • Well said… My sentiments, exactly… This is a challenge that I face daily in my role as Director of a Career Center in the academic world. We’ve got to do a better job of educating our colleagues/clients/constituents as to the true function of career development professionals.

  • I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment and appreciate the unique way you’ve approached this subject. Many times when coaches and counselors in career centers broach this subject with administration, faculty and students – it can come off as a conversation about semantics. However, as you point out, this is really a conversation about:

    1. Expectations – Using language that sets expectations of what a student can expect to gain from the services of a career management team is crucial to how they engage and what outcomes they accomplish.

    2. Process – Conveying what is really involved in terms of commitment from a person investing in a job search (and that the process simply cannot be “done for you”)is key for a person to understand from the beginning. No passengers allowed – only drivers!

    3. Control – why on earth would an intelligent, hard-working, goal oriented person want to give up the control and direction of their career – and put it entirely in the hands of another person? Even on a theoretical level this should really turn your stomach. Do you really want someone else to decide how you spend 40-60 hours of your week for the next 20-40 years of your life? Blech!

  • Consider that the market prefers “placement” because that word best describes its greatest pain point. Nothing can manipulate the market’s greatest pain point – “it is what it is”. As such, embrace the word “placement” to attract the market then proceed down a path of vocational guidance, career education, and life design.

    Although it seems that career services professionals embedded in higher education do not feel the “heat” of competition I can’t stress enough that eliminating the word “placement” from a value proposition in this space increases the risk that a competitor will use that very word to increase their market share at the expense of those who do not.

    The word “placement” and an excellently managed “environment” to provide services will increase the sustainability of career services business models.

    • Kevin,

      The term “placement” is definitely used in the market but I don’t think its prevalence makes it preferred as evidenced in part to the comments in this blog. Gainful employment, a more recent hot buzz word, has more meaning than placement relative to the goal of assisting individuals in their transition to the workforce. No one places anyone by definition. I would argue that it is rather easy to communicate a value proposition using more meaningful and accurate language. Placement, in my opinion, is the old fashioned viewpoint that needs to die because it perpetuates myths about how one truly becomes successful in becoming gainfully employed and it actually hurts one’s value proposition when you compare the false idea and expectation of “placement” to the empowering, perpetual, and sustainable approach of personal development gainful employment necessitates.

      • Bob,

        The market isn’t commenting on this blog but rather career services professionals are, who comes from the viewpoint of educated adviser. We aren’t the market.

        It is risky to think we can position the market’s understanding of words or manipulate what it should want. In other words, if the market wants “placement” then it can’t be old-fashion but current, and it won’t die no matter how much we want it to.

        If a career services professional’s pay check comes from a source other than directly from the market (e.g. self-employed practitioner), they most likely won’t understand how powerful the market is. Instead, they will understand how powerful their employee-employer relationship is and will further objectives to protect that relationship and ignores the market.

        Embrace “placement” to attract the market introduce them to counseling, guidance and life design. Then, for gosh sakes get them placed! It’s what they want and need!

        The argument that career services professionals can not nor should not execute placements is the same argument that investment advisers can not and should not execute investment transactions. After all, it’s really the client’s money and they verbally give the order, not the investment adviser who just provides education and advice. This argument transfers accountability (i.e. risk) from the adviser to the client. Eventually, the market figures it out and races away from “solutions” that don’t alleviate it’s greatest pain point.

        This is just starting to played out in higher education with major disruption. Duly warned is duly armed!

        • Hello Kevin,

          This particular blog article was written for the target audience of career professionals which explains why this audience is discussing this issue. The placement model stems from a 19th century approach for assisting college graduates to transition to the workforce. I think most would agree the 21st century is drastically different than the 19th century. “Placement” was never developed by “the market,” it was developed by career professionals as was the matching career theory that guides this practice. I realize it is difficult for people to let go of tradition but the new economy requires those who want to hold on to the placement model to let go so they can evolve with “the market” as you say.

          It is dishonest to allow anyone to think that employment is as simple as being “placed” into a position – it’s simply not true. Perpetuating this belief is what is risky and harms those who want to be empowered to manage their careers. Many things must come together for employment (self-employment, contract, full-time, etc.) to happen and in the context of career advising, anyone who has had any experience in the profession knows that a partnership is required between the career professional and the client. This working alliance is what leads to success. It seems you may have missed the point of the article. If the placement model was so effective, why is there such overwhelming evidence that today’s graduates lack the skills necessary for the workforce according to employers? Why do college graduates, for the most part, not have a clue on how to manage their careers, conduct effective job searches or develop and manage their personal brands? “Placement” doesn’t address these real issues that “the market” demands as a requirement for long-term success. It’s time to grow and evolve the delivery of career services Kevin – not maintain the status quo – dully warned is dully armed! 🙂

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