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5 Ways to Bring Career Exploration for College Students to the Classroom

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5 Ways to Bring Career Exploration for College Students to the Classroom

Finding the right employee is one of the most important tasks for employers. Yet, 61 percent of top executives surveyed in the Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey don’t believe their companies do it well. This challenge is exacerbated by a recent trend whereby the positions of today are shifting away from static “jobs” to “roles,” with much more of a hybrid nature. These new “hybrid jobs” don’t lend themselves well to one-size-fits-all job titles and descriptions. Since these roles often require a blend of technical, industry, managerial, and integrated thinking skills – not to mention deep communication and interpersonal abilities – companies are beginning to re-evaluate the way they identify and recruit the best students on campus.

One trend in on-campus recruiting is reaching students where they are required to be: in the classroom. To do this, employers are partnering with universities, their departments, and faculty members in new ways. It’s not just a win for companies, either. College upperclassmen benefit from having more frequent opportunities to engage with a prospective employer and build relationships with their team members. This can be just as helpful for freshmen and sophomores in the career discovery phase as for juniors and seniors looking to lock down internships and jobs. Career services professionals have an opportunity to boost their university’s image with employers. Alumni relations leaders can engage both young and experienced alumni volunteers. Done with the shared purpose of helping employers facilitate college student career exploration, this can be a win-win-win-win initiative.

Start Fostering Career Exploration for College Students in the Classroom

Here are five innovative ways you can partner with companies to bring career exploration for college students into the classroom:

1. Curriculum: Add Informational Interviews
At the November 2017 Cleveland Liberal Arts Leadership Summit, Kalamazoo College’s Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development, Joan Hawxhurst, introduced a new program to better prepare students for life beyond college. The Shared Passages Program is a curricular thread that is required in the freshman, sophomore, and seniors years. The senior seminar, “Crafting a Life” is very popular among students and is based on the liberal arts idea of educating the whole person. Conducting informational interviews with alumni professionals is required for the class. One student shared that, “The most impactful learning came from the alumni interviews. Reaching out cold to a stranger was pretty intimidating, and I was skeptical that it would come to anything meaningful. However, I was gladly proven wrong.” This past year, Wisr was integrated directly into the curricula, creating a frictionless connection process for all participating students.

Another such example of adding informational interviews to the curriculum is taking place at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. In a new course titled, “The Art and Science of Designing Your Life to Thrive in the New World of Work,” students conduct five 1-hour interviews with alumni, friends, and personal and professional contacts. Students are invited to open their networks and make introductions for their peers, uncovering unexpected areas of interest and helping each other expand their networks. To complete the assignment, students report back what they learned about different career paths.

2. Curriculum: Introduce an Organizational Research Project
For students more advanced (i.e., juniors and seniors) in their career exploration, an organizational research project is a fantastic opportunity to apply skills while developing a deep knowledge of one organization. This type of project is well-suited for liberal arts majors, especially in psychology, sociology, economics, and communications programs, because it allows students to expand their abilities to conceptualize, design, implement, report, present, and critique research. Consider introducing a team-based research project where students pick an organization of interest, align on a research subject, deploy various methods to conduct their research (e.g., surveys interviews, participant observation/ethnography, archival research, social network analysis, experiments, etc.), and present their findings. This type of project isn’t employer-driven – students pick the organizations they’d like to study, allowing students who don’t want to pursue traditional employers to conduct research with any organization type (e.g., non-profit, NGO, government organization, for-profit across various industries, etc.).

3. Curriculum: Action Learning Project
If the goal is to build a closer relationship with employers, an action learning project is an appropriate in-classroom (and beyond!) initiative. Action-based learning experiences allow students to apply course content to real-life situations directly. Invite active campus recruiters to sponsor a corporate partnership, where they’ll have the opportunity to challenge students to complete mini-consulting projects and present innovative ideas and solutions to actual problems the company is trying to solve. From an employer’s perspective, there is no better way to meet students and evaluate their skills than by actually experiencing how they approach a problem, team with others, and execute on an assignment. It’s also an incredible chance for students to demonstrate their skills to an employer in a way that they could never accomplish through a behavioral interview. Plus, for students whose resumes would ordinarily get tossed aside due to “poor data points,” like low GPA or sparse extracurricular activity, this could be the only chance they get to prove their value to an employer. And if there already weren’t enough good reasons to introduce this kind of assignment into your curriculum, consider that the next time your students are asked, “Can you tell me a time when you’ve applied X skill?” or “What experience do you have managing a project from start to finish?”, you’ll guarantee that they have a meaningful response.

4. Classroom Presentation
This is a traditional approach, but it works. Employers get 30-60 minutes to share a high-level overview of their company, why it’s great to work there, and how to apply. Consider revamping the classroom presentation by doing speed rounds: invite 3-4 companies to participate in a Meet the Employer Day, give each presenter 10 minutes to share the top ten things students need to know about their company and leave time at the end of class for students to connect with and ask presenters questions one-on-one. It’s a convenient way for students to learn just enough about a company to either pique their interest or convince them that it’s not a good fit.

5. Alumni Q&A
Partner with faculty and alumni relations colleagues to invite a few alumni working in relevant fields for a Q&A session during class. This exposes students to companies they may not have otherwise been aware of, expands understanding of the connection between a specific field of interest / degree and career pathways, and introduces students to engaged alumni ready to share what they’ve learned with the next generation of students.

Students at any stage of the lifecycle may feel uncertain about their future career paths. Ultimately, it’s about meeting them where they’re at and offering tailored exploration opportunities based on their needs.

Co-founder & President

John Knific is co-founder and President of Wisr. An entrepreneur who is passionate about what education technology can do for students, John's on a mission to tackle the big challenge of getting students connected with jobs after college by engaging alumni.

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