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North Hills Monthly

Career Counselors Help Students Prepare for Employment

Sep 30, 2018 05:54PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Clarion University students

Return on investment is a key concern in higher education today. Students and parents want to see that a college education will translate into a job after graduation. College career centers exist to help students be work force-ready, and career counselors have a consistent message for students—start early.

Work force readiness in 2018 requires significantly more than a cover letter and resume. Josh Domitrovich, Clarion University’s coordinator for career mentoring and internships, explained that preparing to enter the job market is a developmental process that begins the student’s first year in college and continues until graduation. 

“We want them to graduate in four years with a degree in one hand and a job in the other,” Domitrovich said. Toward that end, Clarion has created a comprehensive program that focuses on personal, professional and academic development. Career counselors offer workshops on financial responsibility that cover everything from creating a budget to negotiating salaries and the importance of investing. They assist students in discerning majors and then in finding potential career paths. And of course, they help students in the job search process.

Domitrovich suggested that the first year of college is a good time for goal-setting, developing or updating a resume, and career exploration. During a student’s sophomore year, the focus is on practical preparations such as resume writing, cover letters and job/internship strategies. Juniors concentrate on networking and securing internships or other experiential placements. At Clarion, the career center connects students with alumni working in their potential fields and with employers who can help students understand the industry. As seniors, students focus on polishing their resumes, cover letters and intensive job searches.

According to Domitrovich, practical learning experience is important to employers. Whether it comes in the form of an internship, part-time employment, a co-op, a clinical rotation or an experiential learning course, employers appreciate graduates who have concrete skills they can apply on the job. 

Michelle Talbert-Horsey, director of career services at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), also highlighted the importance of practical experience.

“Participating in internships is extremely important in the educational process,” she said, adding that courses that give students hands-on experience and that teach students to write well also provide valuable preparation.

Talbert-Horsey recommended a number of concrete steps for students to take to make sure that they are prepared for the job search process and ultimately for the work force. In addition to taking advantage of the many workshops that career centers offer on everything from resume writing to interviewing to networking, she said students should consider joining a student organization, setting up a LinkedIn account and registering for a membership with the professional association in their field of interest.

The latter two steps can help students begin networking with employers and other seasoned professionals. Participating in a student club or organization helps students develop the soft skills—such as leadership, ability to work as a team and ability to communicate well—that appeal to employers. 

Like Domitrovich, Talbert-Horsey said that students should start to utilize the career center early in their academic journey. She often has one-on-one sessions with first-year students to discuss their skills, abilities and interests and how those elements might translate into a particular field of study, a major, a career path and a job. 

Those early conversations go a long way toward ensuring that students find a major and ultimately a career path that fits. They also allow Talbert-Horsey to develop relationships with students in order to help them continually develop their skills. Students who visit the office for the first time just prior to graduation miss out on a wealth of available resources along the way.

Scott Kane, vice president and dean of student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh Bradford, said that connecting with the career center early has three specific benefits for students. First, the staff can assist them with career exploration and potential majors that they may never have considered. Career counselors can also advise students about how a particular major translates into jobs in various fields, and assist students with preparing for and securing internships and jobs.

In order to acquire the skills employers seek, Kane suggested that students look for anything experiential; lab courses, computer and technology classes, a research opportunity with a faculty member or a field placement will provide experiences that students can talk about when meeting with potential employers.

He added that developing relationships with faculty members can also help students in the job search process. Faculty often have connections to individuals in the industry who are either hiring or could provide valuable insight about the kinds of things employers seek in that particular field.

Martin Black, associate dean of the career development center at Thiel College, said that the school’s faculty serves as a key partner in preparing students for the work force.

“Faculty lean in and work with every student,” Black explained. “The students are known by name, and many departments have 100 percent placement after graduation. Our faculty is connected in the community, and they help students network and find good opportunities.”

Alumni partners also play an important role in helping students prepare to enter the work force. Thiel’s career center sponsors frequent alumni speakers and weekly alumni dinners to help students network with successful professionals. The college has invested significant resources into developing alumni-student relationships, and it will be opening a state-of-the-art alumni relations/career center facility in the fall of 2019 to support this endeavor.

Being a competitive applicant in the work force of 2018 requires ongoing preparation. Savvy students are taking advantage of the many resources available through their college career centers to help them be ready when the time comes, and the earlier a student walks through the career center doors, the better. For more information, visit www.clarion.edu  www.ccac.edu  www.thiel.edu or www.upb.pitt.edu.