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9 Types of Career Exploration Offerings for Uncertain Students

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9 Types of Career Exploration Offerings for Uncertain Students

We hear it all the time these days: follow your passion.

Many students head into college knowing that they should pursue their passion, but one question inevitably forces them to reconsider their academic and professional decisions — how is my degree applicable in the real world?

Striking the right balance of a fulfilling college experience and a dependable career path is a challenge that many students face — especially liberal arts students. After all, will someone majoring in Philosophy actually be able to land a real job? To be sure, people on both sides of the argument of passion versus profit potential have fair points.

What the conversation misses, however, is the power of career exploration for uncertain underclassmen students early in their academic careers. Uncertain students should be given career exploration opportunities that empower them to turn passion versus profit potential into passion and profit potential.

Here are 9 different types of career exploration offerings your career services team should consider introducing for undergraduate students:

1. In-Class Assignment

There’s a new career exploration trend throughout higher ed: bringing career development to where students actually are — in the classroom. One example of this includes the University of Michigan Ross School of Business’ effort to integrate career exploration assignments into the curriculum. In a new course titled, “The Art and Science of Designing Your Life to Thrive in the New World of Work,” Professor Gretchen Spreitzer has 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 one another, uncovering unexpected areas of interest and helping students expand their networks. To complete the assignment, students report back what they learned about different career paths.

2. Career Advising Session

At colleges like Denison University, career advisors are becoming more specialized to better support student success. During the Cleveland Liberal Arts Leadership Summit in October, Hank Malin, AVP and Executive Director of Denison’s Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, highlighted the importance of industry specializations for career advisors, ensuring that they are in-the-know about potential employers (and whether alumni have had good or bad experiences with them), how to prepare for a specific employer’s interview process, and other information that a student wouldn’t have access to through online searches.

3. Career Fair

On-campus career fairs are a low-commitment, accessible way for students to begin building their professional networks while learning about different companies or lines of work. Career fairs are great for students early in their career exploration because they help establish a wide range of potential future employers. Career fairs are also beneficial for internship and job-seekers because attendance and relationship-building at these types of events are often important data points for hiring teams. There is one caveat with career fairs, however: without other career exploration opportunities, students will likely pursue the jobs that are most accessible to them (i.e., at the companies that come to campus for career fairs year after year), even if their interests are not closely aligned. The companies’ visibility boosts their on-campus brands, but the culture around on-campus recruiting — especially in undergraduate engineering and business schools — may entice students away from their interests in favor of jobs that they “should” pursue because “that’s what everyone else is doing.”

4. Large-Scale Career Exploration

At the June 2018 Philadelphia Liberal Arts Leadership Summit, Angela Armour, Director of Alumni & Parent Relations at St. Michael’s College, shared how she partners with career services to bring alumni and students together in a professional setting. They offer a few different types of large-scale career exploration events: the Annual Career Symposium gathers 50 alumni and more than 150 students for about a dozen different industry panels and a networking reception. Their regional career exploration events in Boston, New York, and Burlington involve alumni organizing round-table discussions about different industries and jobs. The notable difference between these types of large-scale career exploration events and career fairs is that students (and employers) do not attend them with the explicit purpose of finding an internship or job. The focus is truly on learning about different industries and jobs without the pressure of meeting a potential employer.

5. Informational Interview with an Employer

Meeting one-on-one, or even in a group setting, with a prospective employer is an excellent opportunity for a student to ask pointed questions about the company, its culture, entry-level positions, and other things they may not be able to find online. Because any two employees could have widely different experiences in the same role or at the same company, it’s a best practice for students seriously considering a company to talk to multiple employees. Encourage students to complement these conversations with offering #6.

6. Informational Interview with an Alum

Yes, this is different from offering #5. More so than any other on-campus advisor, alumni are uniquely positioned to offer guidance about how to connect a student’s specific degree program to the job, the on-the-job skills required for success after college, which classes will help cultivate those skills, and how best to prepare for interviews in the student’s field of interest. Now, why is this different from #5? When employers — even if they are alumni of your university — are matched with your students through an employer buddy program, they’re representing their employer. Because they’re representing their employer, they may not feel empowered to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, leaving students with a rosy-colored and unrealistic picture. On top of that, alumni mentorship relationships are often not one-and-done conversations: once a relationship has been established, alumni are typically delighted to offer ongoing advice.

7. Job Shadow

Young alumni generally aren’t ready to give back financially to your institution. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to help at all, though. Partner with alumni relations to create a program that invites recent grads (0–2 years out of college) to host a student for a day. Even better, make a campaign of it: Job Shadow January. If it’s a consistent program, students who participated in the program and found it beneficial will likely be more than happy to invite a student to shadow them once they become alumni.

8. Externship

Externships are the next level beyond a job shadow. Students get to visit a company, and they also get to experience what it’s like to work there for a short period of time (e.g., one week straight, or one day a week for a semester). Consider offering freshmen and sophomore students credit to spend their spring break with a company of interest.

9. Internship

Internships are a ubiquitous practice these days. For many, it feels like students are expected to have multiple internships on their resumes, and universities’ student success goals reflect that. It makes sense why colleges are placing such an important emphasis on internships: employers are increasingly focusing the majority of their recruitment efforts on internship candidates with the hopes that, after successful completion of the internship, the student receives and accepts a full-time offer to return upon graduation. It allows them to move away from splitting their time (and budget!) from recruiting both interns and full-time hires to just interns —with the added bonus of using the internship as an 8- or 10-week job interview. So, while this is clearly a priority for employers, students also have a lot to gain from an internship experience. What’s better than asking about a day in their life? Living it.

Career services teams play a highly impactful role in helping students explore career opportunities, but the best teams don’t do it alone. Rather, the most successful ones collaborate with partners across student affairs and alumni relations to ensure students receive career development nudges at every step in their journey.

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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