University Career Leaders Give Advice to Recent Graduates

06/26/2017 11:10 am ET Updated Jun 28, 2017
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The unsung heroes of any university, in my opinion, are the Career Services and Alumni Relations departments.

After all, students attend college to not only get an excellent education but to set themselves up for long-term success. It’s not often we get to hear from Universities on the advice they give their students, so, I decided to do something about it.

I interviewed 12 Directors and Assistant Directors from Career Services and Alumni Relations departments and asked them to let us in on their advice for success.

Victoria Sarjeant | Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, IPFW
Victoria Sarjeant | Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, IPFW

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

I have seen many students with different motivations, but the ones that stand out with the most traction came from a circumstance that they are trying to defy.

I have seen an incredible student go on to medical school all because she lost a family member to a curable disease that never should have taken a life. It is a matter of finding the matches to light your fire

No one can do that for you. If you are doing a job because your parents expect it of you, you will probably have a less than desirable life.

In the past three years, what has changed the most when it comes to job searching?

The channels that were popular to search for a job are different. I remember when I was just out of college, or a little before, I spent most of my time on Indeed or Monster. I feel like young people today are making smarter choices when looking for jobs.

They are joining groups and networking to connect with future employers. They are also using tools like LinkedIn, and seeking out mentors to make the jump from college to the workforce.

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Polly Matteson | Assistant Director, Truman State University Career Center
Polly Matteson | Assistant Director, Truman State University Career Center

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

It seems fear of failure or making a mistake may be part of what hampers some students. Additionally, they are focused on doing well in college classes and may not see how everything is interconnected.

What advice would you give to someone who finds out within six months that they don't enjoy their career? How would they go about making a change?

Think about aspects of your career you do like and the transferable skills you can take with you to a new role; possibly within the same organization. What is it you do not enjoy and are there ways to change that? Ultimately, if you change career paths entirely, do not burn bridges and realize you learn from each experience.

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Dr. Mary Spencer | Director Career Services, Milwaukee School of Engineering
Dr. Mary Spencer | Director Career Services, Milwaukee School of Engineering

What advice would you give to someone who finds out within six months that they don't enjoy their career? How would they go about making a change?

Use this time for reflection. Understand what drove you to this particular career choice in the first place. It's time to think about what are the things you like about what you do and what you don't. Maybe it's not the career; maybe it's the work environment.

Once you've completed a reflective exercise, consider contacting your alma mater's career services office to talk about possible options.

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

The reasons could be varied and very complex. However, those students today who engage in activities and internships have better outcomes than those that don't.

I think the passion and motivation for their career growth as a result of being involved in internships and career-related activities. They are much more knowledgeable and are informed about career expectations.

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Marina Dupler | Assistant Alumni Relations Director
Marina Dupler | Assistant Alumni Relations Director

In the past three years, what has changed the most when it comes to job searching?

So much is online these days, concerning job postings and how candidates apply. It is efficient to be sure, but I wonder how many talented candidates get missed because they don’t fit into a box? I tell students never underestimate the power of personal connections. There are available positions that aren’t posted on any job site, so don't be discouraged if your dream company doesn't list jobs that don't match your profile.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?

I definitely suffered from imposter syndrome and the feeling that I was not qualified. The fear that I would be found out at any moment was crippling and probably held me back from speaking up in meetings and voicing my opinions.

If I could go back, I would tell my 22-year-old self that I was hired because of my skills and my boss’s belief that I could do the job.

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Christiana Kapsner | Director of Alumni Relations, University of Minnesota Medical School (Duluth Campus)
Christiana Kapsner | Director of Alumni Relations, University of Minnesota Medical School (Duluth Campus)

What advice would you give to a recently graduated senior who is just starting a new career?

Cast a wide net when seeking career connections. I often see young alumni network only within their company or department. Branching out by meeting with people from other businesses is a great way to start.

Create a group that welcomes a variety of career backgrounds and meet once a month to hear about each other's work. Share the information learned from these meetings with colleagues and peers. It's amazing how often these conversations lead to potential projects and deeper connections within the new employee's field.

Down the road, those same people who met once a month could quickly become future references for the next career step for the new graduate.

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

Career motivation is usually derived from a desire to succeed. When a student is considering their first job after graduation, motivated students tend to begin applying early on while less motivated students might hold off until the summer after graduation.

Finding that first job is a challenging transition for some students. It could mean that they will have to move and leave behind their circle of friends, say goodbye to their families and possibly a secure network that they could rely on during college.

It's also possible that less motivated students assume that applying for a job is a no-brainer and they're guaranteed work once they do apply. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.

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Ryan Brechbill | Director, Center for Career & Professional Development, Otterbein University
Ryan Brechbill | Director, Center for Career & Professional Development, Otterbein University

What is the biggest mistake college students make when it comes to looking for a job?

College students have a vast and diverse network of aspiring and established professionals, and I've found that they tend not to use that network to their advantage.

Many students share that they feel they're 'bothering' their contacts by asking for insight and advice. We need to do a better job of coaching students on how and when to effectively activate their network.

What advice would you give to someone who finds out within 6 months that they don't enjoy their career? How would they go about making a change?

I would encourage someone in this situation to have a very open and honest dialogue with their supervisor. More often than not, dissatisfaction in the role is reflected in performance.

Perhaps that conversation can lead to other opportunities within the organization or realignment of projects and priorities within the current role. Additionally, reflection and further occupational exploration could help identify other opportunities that may better align.

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Marsha McMunn | Assistant Director, Alumni Engagement, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Marsha McMunn | Assistant Director, Alumni Engagement, University of Michigan-Dearborn

What is one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?

When I first started my career, I wish I knew practices for financial wellness including managing student debt and creating healthy savings.

What advice would you give to someone who finds out within six months that they don't enjoy their career? How would they go about making a change?

If in six months you find that you don't enjoy your career, I would suggest you express your dissatisfaction with your boss or someone you consider a mentor.

Perhaps you can come up with solutions to your woes, and you may find you do enjoy your work! But, before you throw in the towel, I would at least give it a year.

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Kristen Liesen | Director of Career Services, Quincy University
Kristen Liesen | Director of Career Services, Quincy University

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

I have been working with college students for almost 20 years. In recent years, I have noticed students who are less motivated are not willing to engage in the preparation work needed for a successful career.

By neglecting to take advantage of networking and internship opportunities, students don't get exposed to significant career-building milestones.

Students who participate in part-time employment, job shadowing, or an internship experience are often more successful in their job search because they have already developed confidence in their abilities, the soft skills needed for success, and a support system.

What advice would you give to a recently graduated senior who is just starting a new career?

Listen and observe, always be kind and smile at those around you, be intentional, demonstrate an urgency in getting your work completed, be on time, meet your deadlines, ask for clarification and feedback, and stay off your phone.

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Melissa Velez-Luce | Director of Alumni Relations, North Park University
Melissa Velez-Luce | Director of Alumni Relations, North Park University

What advice would you give to a recently graduated senior who is just starting a new career?

Network, network, network. One of North Park's signature annual events is a networking night, which is attended by alumni from a variety of generations and career paths.

We offer our newest graduates a discounted price and give everyone the opportunity to have a professional headshot taken at the event, which is helpful for updating one's LinkedIn profile, online portfolio, etc. It's a great experience for our young professionals. See if your alma mater's career or alumni office offer any professional services or resources for alums.

Another opportunity we offer our young alumni is the chance to get involved in our GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) program. Several other schools have programs like these, or offer alumni chapter clubs in different cities throughout the country, and I would encourage new graduates to look into this type of opportunity. It's a great way to stay connected to your peers, build new relationships, and build a post-collegiate social network.

What is the biggest mistake college students make when it comes to looking for a job?

I often hear from new graduates that they know what their long-term goals are for their career. It's remarkable when someone is that driven, and I encourage students to consider where they want to be five or ten years down the road.

It's important to remember, though, that ambition and hard work go hand-in-hand. Bear in mind that it takes time to build a good reputation and cultivate professional relationships. Be willing to take on small projects, volunteer to assist colleagues, and invest in the people around you. While you're working toward your goals, be patient with the process. No one becomes a CEO overnight.

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Corey Wilson | Associate Vice President, Professional Edge Center, University of Indianapolis
Corey Wilson | Associate Vice President, Professional Edge Center, University of Indianapolis

In the past 3 years, what has changed the most when it comes to job searching?

Students should consider a strategic approach to their job search. More specifically, students now have to consider multiple channels by which they engage prospective employers. Students must think first about the content of their resume and cover letter, and then be intentional in utilizing the various digital and analog vehicles available to them to maximize exposure and reach. The most successful students will no longer just apply to a role via an employer's website and await a call for an interview.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?

In some cases, students may miss finding the best opportunities because they have not networked with their ideal employers. More specifically, if their preferred prospective organization is aware of a student's skill set they might create something specifically for them.

I also see many students downplay their collegiate experience on their resume and cover letter. For example, if a student was in a leadership position with a student organization on campus, some students will simply say 'President of XYZ Campus Group" instead of saying that as the President of said group they were responsible for the execution of 10 events each year with a total impact of 750 students over the course of four years.

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Cathy Siler | Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement, Marian University
Cathy Siler | Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement, Marian University

Some students are more motivated than others when it comes to their career. Why do you think that is? What separates the motivated from the un-motivated?

Motivation is part personality and part preparation. Some people live life like they are in an inner tube floating where the current of the river takes them, some prefer a kayak where they can paddle themselves where they want to go.

If students have been required to do internships during school, they will be better prepared for the job search process. Even if they attend an institution that has a good career services organization, they cannot be forced to take advantage of its services.

In the past 3 years, what has changed the most when it comes to job searching?

Online presence makes the application process so much easier, which increases the number of applicants competing for each job. It also increases the ease with which employers can find additional information about applicants.

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Kari Moody | Director of Alumni Relations, University of Wisconsin Green Bay
Kari Moody | Director of Alumni Relations, University of Wisconsin Green Bay

What advice would you give to someone who finds out within 6 months that they don't enjoy their career? How would they go about making a change?

I would suggest reaching out to the UW-Green Bay Career Services Office or Alumni Relations Office. We will work with this person to help them with next steps to find what they are looking for.

Otherwise, take the time to write the resume for the job they want and then look to see what jobs are out there. That's some of the best advice I've personally been given.

What is the biggest mistake college students make when it comes to looking for a job?

Students often don't realize the importance of looking for a job until the end of their university experience. Some don't take advantage of their on-campus job fairs that take place in February in March.

They don't utilize LinkedIn until just before or even after graduation. Just like everything else in life, individuals need to prepare in advance for what they want.

When students are looking for a job, we suggest they attend job fairs, seminars on how to use LinkedIn to their benefit, meet with alumni in their field, etc.

Even before this, students should look for internship opportunities, as many times organizations utilize their internship program as a tool to determine if they'd like to hire that person. The more prepared students are, the better chances they have.

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I want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated, and took time out of their day to spread the good word. I learned quite a bit, and I hope you did as well!

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