The Career Services team brings savvy new strategies to a sluggish job market.
No More Ramen.
Don’t Take the Last Donut.
Never Eat Alone.
Article by Erik Esckilsen
Photography by Kathleen Landwehrle
Illustrations by Julia Caminiti
The above bits of wisdom are the titles of three books among dozens lining the conference room shelves in Champlain College’s Career Services office in Durick Hall. As Career Services staffers can attest, the titles’ cheeky tone brings a touch of levity to what, over the past year or so, has become a grueling process: the job search.
As the go-to group for guidance on turning a Champlain College degree into rewarding work, the Career Services team offers comprehensive services for job-seeking Champlainers—soon-to-be graduates as well as alumni. Help in writing a killer resume is just the beginning. Career Services offers assistance in assessing marketable skills and understanding employment goals at the start of a job search, using such tools as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) and the Strong Interest Inventory (SII). When opportunity knocks, staffers are available to help job candidates prepare for interviews. The department also acts as a resource for job postings through its electronic job board, JobSpot; the online job resource CareerShift; and its active network of contacts in the job market. Among the most visible Career Services initiatives are on-campus recruiting visits by employers, which the office facilitates, and the popular job fair—a major community event bringing job seekers and employers together on campus.
Behind the scenes, Career Services staffers often visit Champlain College classrooms to share insights and strategies; each career advisor specializes in a College division, enabling her to develop expertise in the unique challenges and opportunities that students in specific majors encounter. The data that Career Services gathers includes such general information as job titles and average salaries, as well as more targeted information, such as local, regional, and national hiring trends; strengths of Champlain College programs in terms of career preparation; recent grads’ performance in the field; and the specific employers who hired them.
A rigorous approach to reaching out to employers to identify relevant career opportunities is a hallmark of Career Services, a quality that Champlain College President David F. Finney sees as complementing well the College’s newly launched LEAD program—short for the Life Experience & Action Dimension (see “Life Lessons” article in the spring 2009 issue). As LEAD helps students develop such life skills as financial sophistication and career management, Finney hopes that students will be inspired to connect with Career Services early in their Champlain careers. Such an intentional, integrated approach to career planning is, he says, “right on the edge of an exciting transformation in higher education.” While integrating LEAD with Career Services will be challenging, he’s convinced that it “will pay huge dividends for students.”
For now, job seekers are setting their sights on more modest goals, such as gainful employment. Those prospects, as Career Services sees them, are not necessarily gloomy. They are certainly dynamic, however, making the age-old problem of landing a dream job a task calling for all-new approaches.
Reframing the Job Picture
According to Daphne Walker, career advisor for the College’s Communication & Creative Media (CCM) division, one of the first changes a job seeker may have to make in today’s economy involves expectations. “Probably they won’t be making as much money as people have in the recent past,” she says. “People are going to be doing a lot of patching work together.”
This comes as a shock, she says, for some of CCM’s creative and tech-savvy students. “The usual jobs are just not there,” she adds, citing graphic design as a career niche that, at least locally, is saturated. Education is another field in which jobs are notably scarce in the greater Burlington area.
Jana Nixon, career advisor for the Information Technology & Sciences (ITS) division, points out that finding a job may also take substantially longer than in previous economies. This represents a shift in her work with the division; in the past, high demand for IT skills meant that students visited Career Services less often. “That’s not the case,” she says. “The available jobs are not there, so they’re accessing my services a lot more in person and online but in a different frame of mind. There’s more
Career Advisor Pat Boera, who focuses on the Division of Business, sees a similar trend in a field historically receptive to Champlain grads: “Accounting on the whole has been pretty strong,” she says, “but even this year there have been layoffs, so it’s not immune. That’s the first time I’ve ever had to say that in the time I’ve been here.”
Millennials in the Mix
One of the factors complicating a job search for today’s recent grads may be their inexperience in taking initiative. “There’s more of a reliance on the parents, who have done everything for them for years,” Boera says. Career Services Director Dolly Shaw concurs: “Parents have done so much for the students, and they’ve been so scheduled in their lives, that they have more difficulty making decisions for themselves,” she says. “Taking that responsibility for themselves is difficult, especially for the students who want to ‘fall out of bed and work around the block.’”
But even when millennials—roughly speaking, people born in the ’80s and ’90s—make their way into the workplace, their youthful cultural ways may clash with employers’. Walker recalls a student who was released from an internship for using company time to update her MySpace profile. Boera cites a casual attitude toward punctuality and workplace attire as other issues on which the new generation of employees and their employers may differ. “They need an awareness that that time belongs to the employer,” Walker says. And when a work situation doesn’t work out, Boera urges millennials to hold the impulse to quit in check. “Sometimes I think they don’t realize the impact that has on a reference,” she says. “They’re really burning bridges. They don’t think it’s any big deal, but, all of a sudden, they’re sitting back in our office wondering why they’re not getting job offers.”
Meg Sealey ’07, the Career Services front office manager and work-study coordinator, who is also a career advisor, understands the young mind-set. “Work often comes second to the millennials,” she says. “They might go into an interview or a job search with the salary they want, the corner office, the title—the expectations are very high.” Her advice: Shoot for the stars but be prepared to “meet the employer halfway.”
With the right attitude, Walker adds, millennials might find themselves welcome indeed in the 21st-century workplace. “I’ve heard that employers are bending over backwards to accommodate the millennials,” she says, because they’re capable of “teaching the old dogs some new tricks.”
The Networking Necessity
Not only do millennial employees add something new to the workplace mix, they’re also driving new trends in how job seekers—across generations—find and land jobs. It’s networking with a digital twist.
Career Services staffers now advise clients to use social networking media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to make career connections. These tools offer job seekers ways to track online discussions and news about companies and industries. By posting questions and comments, the prospective candidate can establish a presence—a “personal brand,” as Grace Boyle ’08, a network-savvy job hunter, puts it. The Public Relations major from Fairfield, Iowa, leveraged her fluency with social networking media to earn a position with a technology firm in Boulder, Colorado—her dream location for her first post-Champlain job (see “The Contact Person,”). In turn, employers are increasingly seeking candidates through social media—an argument, Sealey says, for crafting a professional online presence.
Job seekers who entered the workforce in a pre-Internet economy may be less comfortable with what Walker calls the “new tools in the hunt.” That’s why she and her colleagues recommend that alumni open a LinkedIn account first, a “safe route” for building a network of contacts. The College’s Alumni Relations team has set the process in motion by creating a Champlain College alumni group on LinkedIn, along with providing job-search tools and career-related content on the alumni page of the Career Services Web site.
Walker and her colleagues also champion internships as a way of getting a foot in the proverbial door. When that door could one day open into a desirable job, an unpaid internship can be invaluable. According to Career Services, older job seekers are also more receptive to internships in the current tight job market. This brings to light a startling situation for millennial job hunters: competition with older, more experienced applicants. Walker recalls a student who visited a job fair on campus and saw someone her grandmother’s age strolling the employer booths. “It was a real eye-opener,” she says. “Students saw men and women in suits, clearly professional people. It was really shocking to them.”
Without question, the stakes in finding employment are higher for job seekers with dependents. Lynn Banach ’08, a Business Management and Marketing major, remembers well the dread she felt after being laid off in February 2009 as an event coordinator with the sales and training firm where she had been working since shortly after graduation. As early as summer 2008, Banach, the single mother of a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, recalls feeling as though she could be a little choosy in her first post-graduation job search. It helped that she had retained a few clients from her 11-year period of self-employment as a house cleaner to get her through the transition. When the recession worsened in early 2009, she found herself more exposed. “I knew I had nothing to fall back on,” she says. “I didn’t have that cushion.”
The day after she lost her job, she called Pat Boera in Career Services, and the two set about reworking Banach’s resume from scratch. Banach then dived headlong into her job search, hitting every relevant job fair, attending career workshops, posting her resume on www.jobsinvt.com and other employment search engines, and letting people in her social circle know that she was looking for work. “A lot of putting-on-the-business-suit-and- carrying-the-briefcase scenario and a lot of networking” is how Banach recalls that period. Four months later, she was back in business: in a position as a project intake coordinator with the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.
What makes Banach’s story exemplary in these tense times for job hunters is how she focused her search. “I was very aware of what I wanted as an outcome,” she says. For one thing, she knew she was looking for a career, not just a job—“not just a building block, but a foundation,” as she puts it. “To me, a career meant something that I could see myself doing long-term,” she says, “and learning, having opportunities within the company as well as outside the company to move forward.”
Geography was another important consideration. “I wanted to make sure that, wherever I landed, I didn’t have to drive an hour each way,” she says. “Family priority was just as high on my list.”
In the end, Banach’s patience paid off (see “Tips for a Sane, Successful Job Search,”). She admits, however, that there were dark days on her quest. “Sometimes it seems bleak because you’re seeing all these not-so-wonderful options out there, and you’re wondering if you’re going to have settle for less than what you’re worth,” she says, adding that depression kicked in for her at around months two and three. But she managed to stay focused on the goal ahead. Even on a day when she didn’t get the job for which she had applied, she remembers asking the Human Resources staffer what she might have done differently to have improved her employability. “I thought of that a lot when I was applying for various positions,” she says.
A Touchstone in Tough Times
Banach credits Career Services with helping her with the nuts and bolts of her job search but also for “a sense of comfort” in this trying time—“crucial,” she adds, “to the person who feels very anxious about their situation. They handled it very professionally and very sensitively. They were always available. They made time for me even when they were on a tight schedule.”
This level of support has always been central to Career Services, but Nixon acknowledges “an elevated sense of tension and anxiety” among her clients. The upside, Walker adds, is that people in desperate straits may be more open to suggestions and self-assessment. This matches her vision of her work as a career advisor. “We’re really solution finders,” she says, “being creative and helping clients find creative ways to get in.”
Boera echoes her colleagues’ sentiments when she describes the satisfaction she derives from providing people with resources that they might otherwise not have discovered, giving them hope. As Boyle’s and Banach’s experiences illustrate, Champlain College graduates are navigating the job market with the right tools—and attitudes—for the scarce openings.
In fact, success stories are not rare at Career Services, not even in these troubled times. “We continue to put people out who are attractive in the marketplace,” Finney says. “If there’s a report card on Champlain, that’s it.”
Such recognition of the department’s work is not rare among job seekers either, a consolation in tough times. “People are saying thank you more often,” Walker says.