Season 4 - Episode 418
Baylor University’s Career Center helps students navigate each step of the career journey. Amidst the challenges of COVID-19, Baylor’s placement rate grew in the last year, reflecting the hard work of students and staff in the face of job market headwinds. In this Baylor Connections, Ken Buckley, assistant vice provost in the Baylor University Career Center, analyzes that growth and shares how the Career Center provides tailored support for the individual student.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And our guest today is Ken Buckley. Ken serves as Assistant Vice Provost in the Baylor University Career Center. The mission of the Baylor University Career Center is to ensure that each student has the opportunity and support to achieve their career potential, and the Career Center offers a vast array of resources to help them each step of the way from numerous angles, including career assessments, job and internship navigation, interviewing resources, and more, as well as help through navigating the graduate school process, gap year ideas, and more. Even amidst the pandemic, the Career Center has helped 80% of students accept a job after last spring's fantastic numbers, a number that increases to 85% when military, graduate school, volunteer programs and part-time employment is included. Ken Buckley is a two-time Baylor graduate. He spent 24 years in the high-tech industry sector. He's the coauthor of the book College, The Career You Love, and he enjoys serving students and helping them realize their career dreams, and helping them take ownership of their career progression. He's also a member of Baylor's 1980 Southwest Conference champion football team. And, I know, a big Baylor sports fan. So Ken, congratulations. I know it's been an exciting time, whether it's seeing the great numbers of the work you and your team do, and helping students find placement in the midst of a pandemic, or in celebrating a national championship. We've got lots that we can celebrate together, here at Baylor this spring.
Ken Buckley:Oh, gosh, yeah. What a wonderful time to be a Bear.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, we appreciate you coming on today. And, we introduced you here a little bit, told a little bit about your background, but I am curious, when you joined the Career Center, you talk about each year having its own challenges. But who could have ever imagined a scenario like the one we've seen in COVID-19, where the guidance and support of you and your team has been even so much more valuable for students navigating something that we're all adjusting to together, on the fly.
Ken Buckley:Yeah, for sure. And I can't imagine anyone having any ability to forecast, or any awareness, that we were going to see something the magnitude of COVID. One of the things, my background in technology, certainly in the semiconductor side, it is rising and falling almost every two to three years. So it was almost a joke, through the '80s and '90s, that you just... It's a massive rollercoaster ride. And then also, I was running a company in Austin at 9/11, and the company's primary products were geared towards military and aerospace. And our new product launch, which was going to take place in October of that year, was for commercial aviation. So, you can imagine it was a real challenge to pivot in the midst of all that, and do something different. But despite that experience, and the experiences I've had, COVID was certainly something new and equally devastating really, across our nation.
Derek Smith:Well, when you talk about that background. What drew you from the tech sector to higher education, to help students navigate in their own way, some of these things? Where you've had to pivot, in the past?
Ken Buckley:Good question. So, I loved what I did. The speed of the treadmill, just the activities and problem-solving and things that we did professionally, but I always felt a little unfulfilled. And I knew, one of the things I love more than anything, was coaching and working with young people. And so my wife, Lynne, of 41 plus years... We were talking and she said, "You talk to students all the time, or in Sunday School or working with young people, working out and things. And you always ask them, what would they really like to do?" And so, she posed that question to me, and I realized that I truly wanted to coach and teach. And so, I started looking at that, and realizing that we'd have to sort of make a move out of a wonderful industry, into something totally different. A real career change, but it was fun. I mean, I really... When you make it together, as a family, and it's something that you both are willing to sort of put your heart and soul into, you know it's going to work out. And I also felt like, God had a hand in that, for sure. Because, making a change like that, where I was in my career was, it's not something that's very easy.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Ken Buckley, Assistant Vice Provost in the Baylor Career Center. And to help students navigate that environment you talked about, Ken, I know there's really a vast array of resources, as we said, that students... Whether you're a freshman, who hasn't really given a whole lot of thought to what comes after the four years you're on campus, or a senior, you think something's coming up, you know you've got to make something happen more quickly. You've got resources every step of the way. But I want to zoom out broadly, and just say, if I was a prospective parent coming to visit Baylor and I ran into you and just said, "What is the Career Center?" What would you tell me, as it would relate to, myself as a parent or to having a child coming here?
Ken Buckley:Oh, that's a wonderful question. And I think I could sum it up in a sentence and just say, "It's a resource to help your son or daughter achieve their career dreams." So it's just, it's a place... Just to kind of expand on that, a little bit. It's a place where we start, whether you look at freshmen or you look at seniors or grad students, things like that. Everybody's in a different place with respect to their maturity, and what they think they'd like to do. They've probably been asked for, you know, 20 years or 18 years, "Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?" But then when you really start thinking about it, it becomes a challenge. And so, we start with self assessment and discovery and make sure that they have a clear picture of really, their interests and things that are unique about them. Their attributes, and even their experiences, how that shaped them and how that sort of pushed them into a certain areas of interest. And then, we help them build a brand. We help them understand why those experiences, even though they might think of it as being fairly trivial, why that's actually bringing transferrable value to an employer. What is it about what they've done, and just, how they worked through life, that's made them, that could make them a desirable candidate. We also work with the resume development tools, networking tools, interview prep, resources. And then, in the end, it's just, how do you not only have the ability of knowing enough about yourself, to be able to do research with those industry areas of interest, that you can go out and then have that picture. And then, try to create a brand such that you could be the most desirable candidate. And we always tease our students a little bit. We have an actual career class that we do, and it's about 1800 students each year. And one of the things that each of those students has to answer is, the three why's. And so, the first one is, "Why does this industry excite you?" And the other is, "What is it about the company that you really enjoy? Why would you want to go to work for them?" And then the last one, which is always what we say is the most important is, what it is about you, that would make you the best candidate. Why would they hire you over your peers? And oftentimes the students, we can help them through those first two questions pretty easily. It becomes a little bit of the common sense, and some research. But that last question is tough. And so, the more they know about themselves and the more they know about where they want to go, and the more they understand the value they bring, helps them to be able to answer that. So, that's one of those things that all of our staff do, with the students. Whether you're meeting... You're a music major. Whether you're a history major, journalism, finance, et cetera. Everyone's going to kind of get pulled through that, to help them develop the skills and the resources. And so, we would like to think of ourselves as that place that, if those students are willing to engage, and take some ownership of their careers, they can truly make their dreams happen.
Derek Smith:Can we talk about the Career Center? But it's not just a building on campus, it's not just one place. It's something that students can access, whether it's in their individual unit on campus, whether it's from their own computer. And, you offer a lot of resources that help students in a variety of ways, that they can interact with you guys. That they can get data, or that they can get questions answered. What are some of the resources that you offer to students, that they are able to take advantage of, in just so many different ways?
Ken Buckley:I guess I'd start from the beginning and just say, we offer a self assessment resource, and that's a tool that we use for career discovery. And it basically evaluates a student, it's a very in depth resource. It goes and basically pulls through the student's personality and interest areas and matches it to specific jobs and roles and areas, and even helps them link to that, to be able to say, "Based upon who I am, based upon the assessment, here's opportunities that may be of interest." The next piece of that, once they have the discoveries. So, how do you get yourself branded? How do you become a potential applicant for an opportunity, that you think you like? We've got resume development tools, very high end, very sophisticated resume development tools. We give you a template, a format, you plug and play information into that, and then it is compared and evaluated. And then the system itself, through artificial intelligence, helps you to expand that. And be wary of... Don't just list the tasks. List the impact, list the performance, list the things that you did that would truly create transferable value, create a perceived or applicable benefit to a company, if they're trying to hire you. And we have multiple versions of that resume development tool. So, it targets across different majors and different academic units. Once you get the resume piece put together, we have tools to help you with your social media presence. And one of those would be, a way that we help you with LinkedIn. So that everyone that's out there, whether they're a journalism major or whether you're in the science field, or engineering or business, you really need to have a professional platform which would be LinkedIn. And we've got resources to help you develop that. And then we have a resource that would help you when you apply. And that's one of the reasons I think, when you look at the performance of our students with job placement, that they do so well compared to the other universities that are out there. Now then, outside of that, once you get that call back and they say, "Hey, we want to see you, we'd love to interview you," we've got systems that the students go through that basically help them in the interview process. Things that would monitor your speech, your eye contact, your ability to answer the questions that are being asked. And the answers that you provide, do they carry weight or not? And it basically tracks your emotions and tracks your ability to, to look... Because so much of what's happening today is coming through video. And as a result of that, this system is becoming very, very popular with our students, because it allows them to dry run the interview, in a mock interview setting, and being really valuable because of the professional feedback it can provide. All of those things, coupled with the ability that we have just with our staff. So we talked about resources and systems, right? The thing that's really missing, and I think you can always have great resources, but it's the professional staff that goes across the board. And each of our staff is dedicated to specific majors and academic units. And they start with students, whether they're freshmen, all the way through seniors or graduate school, working with them. So not only do they understand each of the nuances of freshmen, sophomore, junior, et cetera, they also understand the major employers that exist, within that academic area or that major. They understand the ways to help positions those students for success. And they also understand the networking capital that they have, and the ability to connect to alums who can help support the students, as well. So I'd say, "Hey, we have," I would say without a doubt, "the top resources in the university career services world." Hands down, every time we go to different conferences and they evaluate what we have, everybody is very envious. And thanks to our donors and Baylor, for that. Don't feel that we're shorted in any way, by the personal coaching that our staff can provide.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. You said, you've got the high-tech, you've got the people who are those great Baylor missional fits, who can help students. And, worth noting that, students can access all of this... This isn't special outside fees, or anything like that, right? It's all part of what they get when they come here to Baylor?
Ken Buckley:Absolutely. It's available and accessible to the students when they become part of Baylor. And our goal is that every one of our students, the minute they come on campus, has access to that. And we track... I'm a little bit of a crazy guy, when it comes to tracking analytics, but I would tell you that our students that come in as freshmen have a significant increase in success, when they come to our office as freshmen as opposed to waiting until you're a senior.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Ken Buckley. Ken Buckley is Assistant Vice Provost in the Baylor University Career Center. And, I want to shift gears a little bit. We saw a couple of weeks ago, just great news that the Career Center saw some really great numbers, 80% of students from last spring to this spring accepted a job offer. And that number goes up, when you factor in things like grad school, or the military, or some other routes that help students get where they want to go. What stood out to you about navigating this last year? Maybe, what are some things you've learned, and maybe the students that you serve learning along with you as you reach those levels of success against some pretty strong headwinds?
Ken Buckley:Right. Gosh, it's incredible challenges and obstacles, not only for our staff, but obviously for our students. And even the employers that are out there, trying to go through this. It's new for everybody. So I'd say, some of the things that we did as a staff, and the people that work in our organization was, we did not focus inwardly, let's say on each other. We focused on, because of the unknowns and the uncertainty, we focused specifically on, "How can we help our students get success? How can we help them get to that next level? How can we keep going to them proactively, so that they know, and they can stay on point and on focus, with their careers?" Because, I can tell you, the majority of folks across the US and probably across the world, just did a stand down, wait and see, because they had no idea how it was going to play out. And then all the news that you hear, it was just terrible. So, and I would tell you that, although we have over 20,000 employers in our handshake system, our online recruiting piece, and in that, over 2,800 internships, in that. And we have probably 14,000 jobs in the system. That's half of what we had previously. So you think about that, and when you hear the numbers, it's 50% less, or 60% less. Or there' offers and things that are being pulled back, it's traumatic. Yet, when you look at, the reality is, there's still a significant number of opportunities and a significant number of exciting positions for our students to get engaged with. So if you hear the news, and the news consumes you, and you sit back and take it. And that's what I think most people did. And our students, hats off to them, for pushing themselves and working through that. And, although the opportunities were significantly less, our students I think, got more than their fair share. And our staff worked diligently, through that two-prong system. One was to actively support the career development needs of our students. Actively, and when I say active, I mean like, weekly activities. But then at the same time, to be just as engaged with employers, because even though we have 20,000 employers that are out there, when COVID hit in March, we outlined 3,500 that we were going to focus on. And those 3500, you took our entire staff and everybody took a number of those. And all we did was, trying to find those that were still actively recruiting, matching their needs with our students' interest. And so, that matchmaking process, that took place through the staff. And then, as we helped develop the students, allowed them to continually be engaged in the process. And that, I think, led to their success.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Ken Buckley, of the Baylor Career Center. And Ken, as we wind down, I want to ask, you talked about Baylor students having something different. Kind of a two-part question. What does it mean to you and your team, to help students find their calling? Particularly within that context of the Baylor mission. And, we've mentioned some things like placement rate, but what are the ways that you all measure success, in what you do?
Ken Buckley:Okay. Wonderful question, and it's really a complicated question, at the same time. Because everybody thinks that your calling is like, there's that one spot, there's one unique pinpoint place out in the middle of the universe. And that's the only place that you're going to be able to find happiness. Right? We basically go against the grain on that, and we say, it's totally different. It is truly the value you find in the work itself. And, our annual report that we did this past year that Shelby and her team did a wonderful job on, we refer to Colossians 3:23, and that sort of sums up the way that we want to point students to, understanding the calling. It's, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though working for the Lord, and not for people." So that, that sense of value, that sense of purpose. And the reason we want them to focus on what they draw from the work is, no matter what job they do, no matter where they go. And I think I mentioned this previously, there's always constant change. And so, the minute that you think you found that perfect place, something could change and it may not be perfect any longer. Yet if all you care about, as far as finding that satisfaction, is fulfillment from the work that you do because you feel, not only that you give of yourself the best that you can while you're there, but people that see you and work with you, they sense that as well. It's almost as if it's your witness. And they see that you just kind of go at life a little different, than others. And I think that's one of those things that's kind of special about Baylor. I think it's one of those things where you might say, how do we look at this and how do we help students discover their calling? That's why I think we're different. And I think, not to say different in that nobody else is there, but just to say, we focus on that. And we're proud of that. And it's something that we feel like, maybe makes us at the end of the day, a more desirable employee because of the way we're going to work at things. The other piece is, how do you measure success? And that's a wonderful question. And I think for us, it's getting better. It's improving every day, and it's one of those things where I wake up like that. I think most of our staff wakes up like that. It's like, "How do we make things better today, than we did yesterday?" And in order to do that, you really have to know where you are. And part of that is the analytics and the tracking that we do, on everything from, how many appointments do we have? It might surprise you, but last year we had over 7,000 student appointments.
Ken Buckley:And that student appointment number was up, I want to say 150 to 160%, pre COVID. Okay? And so, that just shows the, "Hey, we know we can't meet with these students one-on-one, and we know that we can't necessarily do certain things. So let's amp up the virtual coaching piece." And that's what our staff did. So, we measure appointments, we measure student applications, student placement, student success, utilization of the resources we have. The engagement we have with employers, and with our students. So, almost every week, and I'd give credit to Drew Bowles and really, the other folks that we have in our staff that, they continually push that information together in a dashboard for them, so everybody knows. It's total transparency. And even beyond that, I'd say that's how we measure success. We provide that transparent data on placement and success, across the university, so that the deans and leadership within the university, they see. And department chairs and faculty and other staff members, they see exactly how their majors perform. They see the salaries, they see the placement, they see the percentages that go to grad school. They see the top employers, they see the top grad schools, everything is prepared. And the thing that's kind of exciting about that is, when we go get ready for the spring graduation, that's coming up in May. Already today, we have a 93%, if not 94%, knowledge rate. And the knowledge rate simply means that those students have proactively or responded to our request for information. And most universities, if you get 60%, you're excited. And I can tell you, for the last two years, we've been near 99% at the end of each of the graduation periods. And that's not 90 days, or 180 days after. That's at graduation, or before. And the reason that our placements are better, and certainly better at 90 days and 180, is because we know those students need assistance long before graduation, because we're engaged with them. The way we measure our success is, are we being effective and impactful with the students? And it doesn't matter how hard we work, if we're not being impactful with the students. So, one of the things we also try to do is, everything we do is laser-beam focused to help make them, or at least equip them, to be more successful in whatever their career endeavor could be.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, I know you have a great team along with you, doing a lot of great work and certainly the numbers bear that out. And it's exciting to see the ways you're helping students during this very challenging time. And I really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us today. And Ken Buckley, Assistant Vice Provost in the Baylor University Career Center. Our guest today, here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us, here on Baylor Connections.