Cover Package: Education and Training: College Career Centers Create a Vital Link

Tech-savvy career center advisors are serving both students and employers.

By Tamara Lytle May 1, 2013

0413cover.gifTechnology and social media have changed the landscape of college career services.

When many corporate recruiters were students, the "placement" office was in charge of holding career fairs, scheduling formal information sessions by company representatives and setting up interviews.

These days, college career center staff members tweet job postings, teach students to interview via Skype, pick exactly the right candidates for recruiters and train students in how to create their brands on social media.

"The world has changed, and if you’re not changing with it, you’re doing the students a disservice," says Trudy Steinfeld, assistant vice president and executive director of New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development.

Take the case of one student who landed a dream internship with a professional sports league. After workshops and counseling, he took a career center advisor’s advice and started following league officials and making insightful comments on social media. He connected with an official who ended up hiring him.

Or take the communications major who worked on her LinkedIn profile with some coaching from Kevin Grubb, assistant director of the Villanova University Career Center. While a career center counselor from an earlier era might have simply helped the student craft a resume, Grubb advised her to find out what the companies she was interested in were posting on Twitter, Facebook and their websites. He also suggested that she study the words they were using and plug them into her online profile to attract recruiters conducting keyword searches. One recruiter subsequently asked her to interview.

One reason college career centers must offer broader menus: Student bodies are less homogeneous now, with more minorities and more international and part-time students, says Dan Black, director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young LLP.

A student who has a job, for instance, might not be able to get to a resume-writing session, but he or she can listen to a podcast on the topic, watch a video of a mock interview or glean tips on dressing for business from a college career center’s website.

"Career services is not just a place anymore; it’s a [virtual] space," agrees Manny Contomanolis, associate vice president and director of career services at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Steinfeld says Skype and other online services account for about 5 percent of interviews now, but the number is increasing. As a result, her staff members offer students space for conducting online interviews and workshops on how to do well in Skype interviews.

"The best career services centers have shifted from being a moderator or go-between [for] students and companies and into career development preparation around their students," explains Adam Ward, university recruiting manager at Facebook.

Innovative In-Person Connections 

Technology drives much of the creativity in the evolving relationships between recruiters and college career centers; yet career center advisors have also come up with new ways for recruiters and students to interact in person. Where career fairs and interview schedules once ruled, innovations such as case-study competitions, recruiter-in-residence programs and field trips now connect hiring managers and potential employees.

Manny Contomanolis, associate vice president and director of career services at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says the school’s problem-solving competitions (known as "hackathons") are a hit. His university hosts eight to 10 a year, with recruiters offering prizes to students for participating in the live on-campus events. Companies’ employees often run the competitions. The Rochester Institute of Technology has hosted competitions by American Greetings, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Toyota.

Jamie Belinne, SPHR, assistant dean at the University of Houston Bauer College of Business, says students like talking about their competition experiences in subsequent interviews they have with prospective employers. Employers like the visibility they get and the chance to identify talent. Oilfield services company Halliburton, for one, has built a following on campus through the competitions, she says. Her campus charges companies $5,000 for each competition, which draws as many as 200 students.

Competitions help "with branding and creating buzz," adds Karen Fox of financial services company Vanguard.

At New York University, about 150 employers come each semester for a recruiter-in-residence program. Companies’ employees conduct 20-minute counseling sessions with students. They don’t interview the students for jobs but do make personal connections as they offer advice.

Ernst & Young LLP hosts informal activities, such as "office hours" and scavenger hunts, on 200 campuses.

"If the student can feel at home and comfortable, you are going to have a better chance to understand the real person," says Dan Black, director of campus recruiting.

In addition, career center advisors are arranging off-campus student field trips to companies such as Facebook. For visits to some employers’ workplaces, recruiters line up speakers who include recent graduates from those campuses.

Challenging Agenda

College career center administrators face plenty of challenges, including:

Time-starved students.

Many students hold jobs, lead student groups and have family obligations, says Jamie Belinne, SPHR, assistant dean at the University of Houston Bauer College of Business. She must convince recruiters that the busiest—and often best—students don’t have time to sit through a PowerPoint presentation, but they might stop by a corporate-staffed table on campus that offers food as well as information.

A generation gap.

Technology widens the generation gap between many company officials and students. Belinne says her staff members educate recruiters on what technology is best for reaching students. Belinne’s recent survey of 700 sophomores at her school found that 80 percent are on Facebook every day, for instance, but only 11 percent want employers to contact them that way. In addition, only 55 percent of students listen to their voice mail, but 85 percent text. So when recruiters voice bewilderment about why students haven’t returned their calls, she asks "Have you tried texting?" Belinne’s staff members also train students on etiquette, such as leaving their phone numbers on voice messages, instead of assuming recruiters will use caller ID information, and avoiding text-message speak with recruiters and hiring managers. Staff members also press students to set up professional profiles on LinkedIn.

College career centers "are the bridge between the companies and the students," says Lisa Ashworth, director of campus recruiting for PepsiCo, whose recruiters work with 150 career centers.

As this bridge, career center advisors often try to help recruiters understand that students want more information about the career paths they might find at corporations. Members of the younger generation realize that they, not employers, are responsible for their future, so they want information about fitting in with a company’s culture and being promoted, says Michael F. Malone, managing director of the Kellogg Career Management Center at Northwestern University.

Funding woes.

Budget cuts have reduced the resources available for services while, at the same time, demands have increased. Malone says students and employers both want tailored services. So instead of conducting one workshop on interviewing, Malone’s staff might need to hold many sessions for different industries and different interview formats. Some college career centers tap volunteer recruiters to reduce the cost of tasks such as running seminars on resume writing or conducting mock interviews.

"They are being quite innovative on how to partner," says Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise Holdings Inc., a rental car company with 70,000 employees. Enterprise hires about 8,500 graduates and 1,600 interns each year from 800 campuses.

Recruiters say they love helping with seminars because it provides face time with students. "It helps us build our brand," explains Artim, a past president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Software’s Helping Hand

Technology has given career center advisors opportunities to expand the services they offer.

Virtual career fairs get mixed reviews but can be useful for recruiters looking for far-flung students or particular types of employees, such as minorities or those in special disciplines.

And while recruiters at companies such as Pepsi still care about in-person interaction with potential hires, career center advisors can help recruiters introduce their companies through webinars. Webinars allow students to get information when they have time, without getting dressed up and trudging across campus, and allow recruiters to reach campuses they don’t visit.

In addition, vendors are introducing offerings such as virtual resumes and virtual interviews. LikeLive, for instance, gives employers the chance to interview students over the Internet. "All you have to have is a computer with a webcam," says Bill Barnett, chief executive officer of LikeLive. Recruiters ask students two or three questions in an interview that takes about four minutes.

According to anecdotal feedback, recruiters whittle down the pool of resumes better after virtual interviews, Barnett says. He notes that recruiters at about 10,000 companies now use virtual interviewing, which is also offered by vendors such as HireVue, Interview-

Stream and Montage Talent.

ThePortfolium lets students put portfolios online to showcase extracurricular activities and school projects. Adam Markowitz, chief executive officer of thePortfolium LLC, says the service is free for students while employers pay to post jobs (10 postings for 60 days cost $850).

However, employers say that except for creative positions, virtual resumes aren’t always useful. They want resume information they can load into applicant tracking systems where they can search for keywords.

And keywords are not to be underestimated.

Keyword searching drives recruiters to demand more tailoring from college career centers. For instance, a pharmaceutical company recently asked Belinne for marketing MBAs with fluency in Asian languages and work authorization in Malaysia and Vietnam. She found 20 prospects.

"If they know they’ve got a bizarre request, they can pick up the phone and get the resumes," Belinne says. "The more we can take off their plate with technology, the more likely they are to hire our students."

Black says the ability to target students who focus on specific areas is what he loves most about college career services. If he wants accounting majors, career services can send postings just to them.

Now, Black says, "virtually all the applicants I get from the key campuses are at least minimally qualified. It saves time; it saves money."

Social Media Connections

At some schools, students can go onto the campus career network and comb for jobs they want. Once signed in, they can also watch mock interviews or connect with alumni.

Alumni connections represent one of the main benefits of social media. Villanova recently set up LinkedIn mentoring groups to connect alumni and students. Already, some students have gotten interviews that way.

The Rochester Institute of Technology’s LinkedIn group for Wall Street is a forum where students can ask alumni and recruiters questions such as how to break into investment banking and what classes to take. Other alumni groups focus on the entertainment, imaging science and gaming industries. Recruiters, in turn, can reach targeted groups of students online.

Northwestern’s Kellogg Center offers alumni a continuing connection by hosting a location for them to keep career-related information. Alumni then have professional discussions with one another and students, Malone says.

Social media also helps students understand job possibilities. Contomanolis says students can ask alumni to use blogs or Twitter to show them a day in the life of their jobs. Some recruiters post images on Pinterest of what it looks like to work at their companies.

College career centers offer students advice on how to bone up on industries that interest them, how to zero in on the best career fit and how to build their brands. These days, employers find students before students even go looking, Grubb says. So having the right image online is important.


Grubb, Contomanolis and others are driven to keep up with trends so that employers will spend scarce recruiting time and money at their schools. Karen Fox, talent acquisition manager for Vanguard, who oversees university relations, says the quality of college career centers remains a factor in choosing campuses to visit.

"If career services isn’t engaged and offering the latest and greatest … it’s hard for a Fortune 500 company to invest," Fox says. For each school, she looks at the number of employees hired from the school, the diversity of students at the school and the ability to retain graduates from the school. Vanguard, a financial services company, hires about 500 students each year.

Facebook recruiters study the way a school’s curriculum aligns with the products they build, the ability of students from that campus to relocate and the productivity of graduates from that school at Facebook over time.

Artim appreciates college career center staff members who spend time developing their students, not just finding them positions. Advisors at these centers have moved beyond just "placement."

So, in a landscape where information is easily available online, are college career centers still relevant?

More than ever, Contomanolis says. They help students and recruiters cut through information overload. A good college career center will provide students with "knowledge rather than information."

The author is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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