Career offices get creative in a slow economy
In face of a tough market for college graduates, career offices at our 17 institutions have ramped up their efforts to help the class of 2009 land jobs. Career services are available to alumni throughout their lives, but we were especially curious about how this year's grads are faring and what our campuses are doing. Here are some examples shared by staff members at four institutions.
"Making sure students are thoroughly prepared and informed is important, but in this challenging market we're emphasizing making connections with everybody in their circle and beyond," said Mike Hendel, associate director of the career center at Carleton College. "Engagement Wanted," a new program introduced this spring, helps students tap the power of networking. More than 1,200 alumni and parent volunteers have signed up to coach, refer and offer opportunities to the class of 2009. See article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Starting April 10, the alumni and parent volunteers began receiving weekly email messages with photos and 500-character profiles of five seniors. If they have any advice, contacts or opportunities to offer the students featured, they are encouraged to contact them. By August, all volunteers will have received all senior profiles.
Relationship-building is important — "it is 'who you can come to know,'" Hendel said. "Our alums have a strong affinity for supporting other Carls; this is one way they can help."
Finding other ways in
Rich Manke, Hamline University's director of career services, acknowledges that employers haven't come through like they have in the past. He uses this analogy to describe Hamline's response: "when the front door is locked, you need to find another way in." Graduates may have to keep an existing part-time job while looking for internships and other ways to gain experience in their major field, Manke said. "In the meantime we're emphasizing networking."
Manke's office involved academic departments in developing the "Preparing for World of Work" seminar. One workshop was aimed at Physics seniors and included assignments on developing an elevator speech and doing an informational interview. "One of our students was interested in aircraft propulsion and knew someone who knew someone at Boeing," Manke said. "He talked with the person, followed up on the connections he received and ended up with three solid referrals. Afterward he told me 'I had no idea this stuff worked like this.'"
Manke reports that the number of alumni his office serves has remained fairly steady this year. "There is a rhythm to a person's life — we see more alumni at transition points in their lives," he said. "During rough economic times we may see a few more."
Perseverance is the key
At Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, career services coordinator Mary Jo Starkson said that the graduating class is evenly divided between those who have jobs, have offers and are still looking. According to Starkson, eighty percent of companies no longer advertise because they've gotten so overwhelmed with applicants. "There are positions out there but competition is cutthroat," she said. "Students need to find a place they want to be and work and work to get hired."
One student Starkson assisted started applying last fall. "He's had 17 interviews. When he finally landed a job two weeks ago he said 'my hard work paid off.'" Starkson said that another student who complained about too few interviews discovered that the search has helped her refine what she's looking for. "As she works through the process, each job that comes up is a better fit."
A critical part of her job is to help students clarify what they are looking for, Starkson said. "Finding out what motivates them, what their work and life values are, what their passions are — this is important for students."
Seniors at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University (CSB/SJU) are receiving fewer job offers this year, but more companies are interested in students as interns, career services director Heidi Harlander said. "Employers are willing to make a temporary commitment and will consider hiring students from this year's pool in 2010 if the economy improves." A few more graduates than usual are also considering service opportunities such as Americorps, the Peace Corps, the St. John's Benedictine Volunteer Corps or Maryknoll China Service Project, Harlander said.
CSB/SJU also tapped its alumni this year to participate in about 20 programs where they shared their stories and advice with students. "We've had hundreds of alums involved in our Career Exploration Series," Harlander said. Topics ranged from careers for food lovers to working in Asia. "They help expose students to the spectrum of possibilities for different majors," she said.
A first-ever Career Expo in the fall offered 14 seminars on diverse topics including consulting careers, nonprofit careers and attending graduate school. "We had 52 students attend a session on using your liberal arts education in business," Harlander said. Good collaboration with faculty and support from the alumni office makes these programs work, she said.
Harlander said she is seeing more parents who are anxious about their students' career prospects. "They like that we are high-touch here. We get to know students, help them think about their interests and skills and we watch how they're progressing." Students see the value of this attention too. Responding to a senior survey, a Saint John's student who used the career centers extensively wrote "it gave me peace of mind that I was doing all I could to best position myself for potential job/career options."