Preparing Students for Career Success

February 19, 2009
By Randy Fiedler

As Baylor students prepare for the day when they must look for jobs in challenging economic conditions, faculty and staff can aid students in the job search by making them aware of the excellent career-finding services available on campus.

Located in the Paul L. Foster Success Center in the middle of campus, two offices provide expert help to students at all stages of the job search -- the Office of Career Counseling and Baylor Career Services.

Career counseling

The first stop for students planning their post-Baylor lives is the Office of Career Counseling, located on the first floor of the Success Center in the Sid Richardson Building. Here, students will discover which careers they might do best in, based on their personality traits, interests, strengths, skills and values.

"Although we serve more freshmen, any student can come and use our services during their time at Baylor," said Pat Weaver, director of career counseling. "We never close the door."

Weaver said the typical clients of career counseling fall evenly into two groups -- those who have almost no idea of what career they'd like to pursue, and those who have one or more careers in mind.

"The students who have something in mind may be looking at two or three different things, and they just need more information to help them choose," Weaver said. "Sometimes, students don't have enough information about what a certain career entails, so they want to know whether they are capable of doing it. And then there are some students who have multiple talents and are interested in numerous things, and we help them determine the ones they might want to focus on."

The first step in the career counseling process is to schedule an appointment with one of the office's four counselors. The recommended plan includes attending three one-on-one sessions with a counselor. During the first session, the student discusses their interests, values and calling, and receives instructions on how to complete two online assessment tools offered through Baylor -- the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

"The Strong Interest Inventory compares a student's interests to men and women in 122 different occupations, and Myers-Briggs is a personality inventory," Weaver said. "We also look at the student's results on the Strength Finder, the test that they took during Orientation."

During the second counseling session, the student's results on all those assessments are reviewed, and discussions begin about what academic majors and careers might be most compatible with the results.

"We will try to get the student to choose different career titles they would like to research and find out more about," Weaver said. "Then we show them how to use online sites such as O-Net and the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which are linked to our website. These sites contain things such as videos on different careers, salary information arranged by average salaries and state-by-state, the educational requirements for certain careers, what skills are needed and what people in those careers actually do all day."

Weaver said this information proves invaluable to students trying to decide what career to pursue.

"Many students come in without really understanding everything that's behind a career field," she said. "They don't realize, for example, that a certain career will require a lot more math ability than they have, or that it requires more science or writing skills than they want to develop. The websites we use help students see exactly what it takes to do a particular job."

With a list of possible compatible careers completed, the student at their third counseling session works to narrow the list to careers that best suit their personality, values and goals. They then work with the counselor to form an action plan detailing the next steps in their career decision-making process.

Most students visit the Office of Career Counseling because they have heard about it from a friend who has used the services, but Weaver said that faculty and staff who act as mentors to students can also play an important role in referring a student who is trying to decide what to do after graduation.

"We have a number of faculty members across campus who have realized that certain students are struggling because they're in the wrong major, and those faculty talk to the students about realistic choices and end up referring them to us," Weaver said.

Weaver predicts that the uncertain economy will result in more students coming by for career counseling in 2009.

"Because of the economy, parents are going to be pushing harder than ever for students to graduate in four years," she said.

And the economy will also make flexibility in career choice even more important.

"In a tight job market, students need to have the flexibility to consider more than one option. If they get out and find that there are no jobs in their particular field, they need to be prepared to do other things," Weaver said.

Career services

When students have decided on the career they want to pursue after graduation, Baylor Career Services is ready to help them make themselves attractive to employers and secure a good job.

Dr. John Boyd, director of career services, said he and his colleagues strive to do whatever it takes to help a student prepare for the job market.

"Our main purpose is to serve students such that they are best prepared to be able to acquire either internships or full-time employment," he said.

One way Boyd and his staff help students prepare for the job hunt is through one-on-one counseling.

"We have a full-time career advisor on staff who can do a number of things for students," Boyd said. "One thing is to review a student's r�sum�. They can bring in their r�sum� and we'll critique it and give it back to them quickly with suggested improvements. In addition, we can talk about employment opportunities, make the student familiar with a number of helpful websites and, in general, try to direct students into areas where they might find jobs they'd want."

Baylor Career Services sponsors a number of campus events designed to aid in the job search. Each semester they provide workshops on topics such as r�sum� writing, interviewing, networking and job initiation skills.

"We also bring employers on campus to a series of job fairs to interview students for internships or full-time positions," Boyd said. The specialized job fairs Baylor sponsors each year includes ones aimed at student athletes, future teachers, science, engineering and math students, and students interested in working for nonprofit organizations or considering employment in Waco.

Boyd advises students to begin attending Baylor job fairs early, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, even if a student is not ready to pursue a full-time job, many of the employers represented at job fairs are seeking student interns.

"Baylor students should start this process as freshmen. From day one when they matriculate, students begin creating a r�sum�, whether that's written down on paper or not," Boyd said. "And since more than 60 percent of full-time employment is now preceded by internships, if students wait until their junior or senior year to begin the process, their options are more limited. If, by contrast, they start as freshmen and have two, three or even four internships completed by the time they graduate, that is pure gold on a r�sum�."

A second reason Boyd gives for students to visit job fairs early is to develop ongoing relationships with employers.

"If a freshman or sophomore goes to a job fair and finds a company they're very intrigued by, they can develop a relationship with that employer so that when they return the next year and visit them again, the employer sees that the student has a sincere interest in them," Boyd said. "By attending the job fairs and talking with employers, students can also practice what we call the elevator speech -- a speech they could deliver during a short elevator ride outlining what about them is of special interest to an employer."

Boyd stressed that current economic conditions will require students to work actively toward increasing the breadth of their work experience.

"With this economy, there are still going to be jobs, but they will be fewer, and that means the competition will be stiffer," he said. "As a result, students will need to show themselves as distinctly competent above and beyond their peers. One way to do that is through internships. Another way is to have an international experience by studying abroad. There are few companies that aren't somehow connected internationally today, and they look for employees who've been abroad and have that added experience."

To market themselves more widely, students can put their r�sum� on file with Baylor Career Services, allowing potential employers to go online and check them out.

"In what we call our Hire a Bear r�sum� referral system, companies and organizations call us and tell us what kind of employee they are looking for, and what the requirements are for the job they have open," Boyd said. "We'll then go into our electronic database and the computer will ferret out the r�sum� of every student that meets the criteria. We'll then transfer those r�sum�s to the company so they can look through them, cull the ones they want and then contact the students directly."

Boyd said it's important for faculty and staff to encourage students to take advantage of the valuable services offered through Baylor Career Services.

"When students look for credible advice about their futures, they often turn first to their professors and mentors," he said. "We encourage faculty and staff to let students know the value of the services we offer."

For more information, contact the Office of Career Counseling or Baylor Career Services.
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