Career talk with a low threshold 

Post-pandemic daily life created a need for a new type of community-based career guidance in which other students’ opinions and questions are part of the process. The career service staff of Hanken and the University of Helsinki have since learnt that an open invitation to coffee goes a long way. 

On that Thursday, the University of Helsinki team of career counsellors felt inspired as they closed their Zoom windows. It was March 2022, and the keynote speech given by Danish professor Rie Thomsen at the National Career Guidance Day had just ended. Society was still dealing with the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, and students returning to in-person education on campus was still more a dream than reality. Staff members were constantly voicing their concerns about a lacking feeling of community among students. Enabling informal get-togethers seemed more important than ever. 

Professor Thomsen had presented the intriguing idea of career guidance as a community-based practice. Based on her research (Thomsen 2017), this means that career guidance is no longer kept behind the closed doors of counsellors’ meeting rooms but is introduced to students’ daily environments, such as libraries and break rooms. Other members of the community, along with their experiences and questions, are also invited to join in the open dialogue.

This should be experimented with, but how? Should counsellors grab thermos flasks of tea and coffee and head for the university corridors?

Conversations easily in laid-back settings

Coincidence or not, a similar idea had already emerged in late 2021 in Hanken’s career services on the Helsinki campus. At the time, personal career guidance was available by email and even face-to-face by appointment, but it was difficult for the small team of experts to provide students with weekly drop-in hours. 

The need to find new ways and places for getting together was further underlined by the observation that, even though students often contemplate the same exact career questions, they may still feel alone in their struggle. Perhaps peer sharing would become more established if students were invited for coffee in the former staff room, where they could take it easy on the sofas and enjoy the rooftop views from the balcony? 

Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Hanken’s first Career Coffee session was held in the former staff room in January 2022, and the practice has continued ever since then on a monthly basis. The same idea was launched at the University of Helsinki in September 2022, when career counsellors and guidance counsellors, the latter secured with project funding, started holding Wednesday coffee sessions in public spaces on two campuses. At the beginning of autumn 2023, the operations were expanded to cover all four university campuses and career counsellors took full responsibility for the sessions, which were by then dubbed Campus Coffee sessions.

No topic too small 

Students start looking ahead to their careers and working life at different times, in varying ways and for countless different reasons. It is, therefore, understandable that the perhaps only working life course included in their degrees, or the biggest career event of the year does not necessary take place at a time when students are in the right frame of mind to examine their future.  

Even though the ‘career coffee’ sessions held by Hanken and the University of Helsinki differed from each other, they shared the same goal: to provide students with a regular, casual and easily approachable break where anyone can come to talk about even the vaguest ideas they have, without the need to book an appointment, or have a specific agenda in mind. Students are welcome to just have a quick cup of coffee or stay for the full 90 minutes and take part in the conversation as much or as little as they like. 

The number of visitors at the sessions varied from a couple of students to a few dozen. The range of topics discussed was also wide, and reflected, to some point, the phases of the academic year. At Hanken, the topics discussed included networking, applying for a (summer) job, mentoring and internships abroad. If someone requested for quick comments on their CV or LinkedIn profile or tips for filling in applications, help was available. Topics typically discussed at the University of Helsinki included employment opportunities in the students’ own fields, jobhunting for international students, mental health challenges, exchange opportunities, completing studies and changing majors. 

No themes were determined for the sessions; all questions and comments were equally welcome over a cup of coffee. Key was to give students the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and situations exactly as they are at that moment. 

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Getting together makes things real 

The coffee sessions were not intended for delving into long confidential conversions, and this was usually not possible anyway. Instead, getting together over a cup of coffee acted as an important opportunity for guidance on how to go forward: pinpointing together the next steps that the students can take if they so wish.

The next step might have been booking a personal guidance appointment, turning to other guidance services, or exploring a good website that the student was not aware of previously. At best, students recommended courses, networks, and events to each other based on their own experiences. 

One of the common challenges in university life is the fact that students are not aware of all the support services available to them and, and the same time, the staff has only limited means for targeted and timely student communications. However, when a student stops by and sits down for a moment to talk about their situation in their own words, it is easy – or at least possible – for a counsellor to tell them about the right service at the right time and in the right way. The dots connect, and the student’s face lights up: “Great, thanks so much for the tip! I’ll look into it.” 

Today’s students do not take it for granted that they can meet university staff face-to-face. Career services are no exception, since – apart from scheduled guidance and counselling appointments – most conversations take place by email. 

“So you are a real person after all, not just an email address!” This spontaneous comment from a student attending a Campus Coffee session last September confirmed that there is a true need for the physical presence of counsellors on campus. It is important for students to be able to see that the staff really exist, that they are there to help the students. 

Revision plans and observations 

Both universities launched the coffee sessions with an agile and experimental mindset, and the experiences gained, and lessons learnt over the last two years were used to further develop the service.

The University of Helsinki replaced their Campus Coffee sessions with a monthly opportunity to meet with career counsellors on all campuses without the need for a booked appointment. Career counsellors now have their doors open more often and for longer periods of time on each of the university’s four campuses. At Hanken, coffee sessions are continued, but they are now held on the career services’ own comfortable premises.  Although no major conclusions can be drawn from these experiments alone, those interested in the subject may find the following observations and thoughts useful.

  • It is not always easy to create an open and communal dialogue on themes related to career guidance, especially between students who do not know each other. It is therefore important that counsellors are prepared to facilitate the conversation with a sensitive ear, and that they remind students that they are welcome to just come and listen to the conversation. ‘Community-based career talk’ may require practice from all parties involved.
  • Sometimes one-to-one conversations work better than group settings, and that is okay too. The important thing is that everyone present has the opportunity to be heard. 
  • When opportunities for low-threshold meetings are offered regularly and often enough, the support provided by the university and the needs of the students are more likely to meet. Just knowing that support is available when you need it may be personally important to students. 

And perhaps the most important reminder to all of us who wholeheartedly design and offer student services: even the simplest way can be both functional and sufficient if it fits the daily life of the community. Today, bringing people together is particularly valuable, and it is therefore important to maintain as low a threshold for it as possible. Serving a variety of refreshments and providing fancy settings is not important – what counts is a warm atmosphere and counsellors who are truly present. 


Johanna Ruhanen, Career Counsellor, University of Helsinki

Henna Konsti, Manager, Hanken International Talent

Thomsen, R. (2017). Career Guidance in Communities: A Model for Reflexive Practice. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby. Available for download as a PDF file at:




Career Guidance