Targeted Career Panels

By Allen Reynolds

The Old Format

As we celebrate the monumental changes in the career development field over the last 100 years, it’s important for us to continue to analyze our practices and look for new ways to deliver our services.


Remember the old traditional career fairs or career days when you were in school. Individuals or businesses came in to the school and set up displays. Students walked around, took whatever was free and left. The most popular careers were whoever had the most chocolate or best pens on their table. An alternate format was presentations made by individuals representing a small number of careers which all students were forced to attend regardless of interest. These arbitrarily determined careers only addressed the career interests of a small subset of students.


Using data from past career fairs and career days, a Southeastern Wisconsin high school is implementing a new approach which is drawing positive responses from students and parents as well as area businesses and colleges. The most common feedback from the old format was students expressing a lack of interest because their career area of interest was not represented, and business people commenting on the lack of interest and attention from many of the students. In response to both sets of concerns, Wilmot Union High School in Wilmot, Wisconsin offers monthly targeted career panels that focus on careers in a specific cluster of careers.


The New Format

The panels are structured using the National Career Clusters Framework. In addition to the 16 national career clusters, panels on the Skilled Trades and Non-traditional careers are held every other year. The panels are held in the school auditorium and range from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the size of the panel. The program involves each presenter giving a brief 5-7 minute overview of their career area or personal career pathway. Within that general framework, presenters are open to share whatever information they choose about their field (i.e. general overview of field, qualifications, opportunities, their personal career pathway, what they are looking for in people entering the field, things they wish they had done or not done to better prepare for the field, etc.). A concerted effort is made to have panel members represent entry level, mid-level, and professional level positions within the cluster. An example of a targeted panel would be a Finance Cluster Career Panel made up of the president of a wealth management firm, a certified public accountant, the branch manager of a local bank, the controller from an area manufacturing firm and a student enrolled in a Finance Degree Program at an area university. Time is allowed following the panel for students to interact and speak individually with presenters.


Who Participates

Panels are planned a year in advance giving students the opportunity to pre-register for the panels for which they have an interest. Panels are publicized throughout the year and interested students can register at any time to attend any or all of the programs. Some teachers will bring or require entire class sections to attend if the panel is directly related to the class content. While some students in attendance are in the career exploration phase, most are in attendance because they have an interest/aptitude in the area or are enrolled in directly related classes. The voluntary attendance/class relevance aspect of the programs tends to ensure that presenters have a more focused attentive audience. Data from the past five years show an average student attendance in the 50-100 range.


Program Evaluation

All students in attendance at one of the panels complete an Evaluation form. The Evaluation instrument is created in Survey Monkey and student feedback is entered giving measurable data regarding the effectiveness of the program. Presenters as well as the instructional staff at the school are also surveyed for their feedback regarding the value of the program. The Data Summary for the last full year of panels is as follows:

  • 90% of students returning evaluations indicated they found the career panels to be an overall positive learning experience.
  • 91% of instructional staff members completing the survey stated that the panels have educational value.
  • 94% of presenters stated they found their participation on the career panels to be worth their time and effort.
  • 88% of presenters identified other ways they would be willing to help and contribute to the school’s career development services.


In comparing the targeted career panels to the old career fair format, the business and professional participants frequently comment that this positive direct contact with a smaller but more focused group of students gives them more hope regarding the future of their businesses and professions. Another difference from the old format is the number of parents reporting their child coming home and talking about the career panels and career options. Instructional staff members are also noting information from the panels being brought up in content related discussions in their classrooms. At a time when schools are sometimes struggling to add relevance to their curriculum, targeted career panels seem to show promise in helping students make a better connection between the classroom and the workplace.



Targeted career panels are a documented positive addition to a school’s overall career development services. Benefits to students include:

  • A connection is made between what is being learned in school and the tools needed to be successful in the world of work
  • Presenters’ personal stories are a source of hope and inspiration
  • Opportunities are created for connecting/networking with professionals
  • Up-to-date information about the best ways to prepare for a specific career area help in developing both high school and post high school plans.



Allen Reynolds is a School Counselor at Wilmot Union High School in Wilmot, Wisconsin. Mr. Reynolds is a Global Career Development Facilitator and the K-12 Representative on the Board of the Wisconsin Career Development Association. He can be reached at reynoldsa@wilmoths.k12.wi.us.

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Ginny Ruder   on Friday 08/02/2013 at 08:30 AM

Allen this is great to see presented through NCDA. In 1999 I created a career day event with 15 clusters at our local HS with the PTA. We gave the 300 10th grade students 3 choices and all were able to attend their first or second choice sessions. We had 2, 45 minute sessions with 4-5 panelists presenting. We had 60 volunteers from our community presenting and we only took 2 hours out of the student's day.

I like your model, and for those schools who won't allow the counselors to take the time to set this up I would suggest you connect with your PTA as they are always looking for new projects. We also worked with the computer teachers who helped us develop a method to sort the student's requests. Once my son graduated from the HS the program was dropped, "because the teachers needed all that time to use for instruction". So good luck to all of you who can make the time for programs that will help our student's plan for their future.

Sharlene Redway   on Tuesday 08/06/2013 at 03:14 PM

Great article Allen, thank you for sharing your process and results. Puts some wheels in motion in my head now.

Can't wait to start implementing some new ideas.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.