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Ball State Career Director Interview: 21st Century Workforce Differs From The Past

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 14, 2009

The following is the transcript of an interview with Mollie Starbuck Fout, Director of Career Services for Ball State University . Ball State, established in 1918, is located in Muncie, Indiana, with a campus spanning more than 1,000 acres. The university is recognized for its programs in architecture, exercise science, education, anthropology, entrepreneurship, and communications. Ball State offers 170 undergraduate majors and pre-professional programs and more than 100 master's and doctoral degrees. The athletic teams of Ball State compete in NCAA Division I and are part of the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

Many Ball State graduates have gone on to become famous, including David Letterman, the famous television host of The Late Show with David Letterman, and actor Anthony Montgomery.

Interview Transcript

CityTownInfo: What are the most common errors you believe students make during an interview?

Mollie Starbuck: The workforce of the 21st Century is going to be very different from the workforce in the past, and students have to be prepared differently. They have to take an entrepreneurial approach to their career, actively seek information and make good decisions based on information rather than just floating into whatever opportunity comes their way. It is much more important that they be intentional in where they are going in the future.

With that said, what we hear over and over from employers is that students are still thinking about themselves, they are still thinking about what the company can do for them instead of what they can do for the company. So they don't present themselves as a problem-solver or as a person who can come in and add value to the company. That's one of the areas that we try to address in our preparation program. Candidates need to know the company, they need to know what they do, what the job description says about adding value to the company and they need to be able to give examples of things that they have done that are similar or show the same skills that are required. That's the most common mistake, students don't research the company and they don't approach the interview as how can I help you instead of how can you help me.

Depending on how well they are prepared, a lot of students don't listen well enough. They are so anxious that they talk too much, don't ask good questions and don't listen as much as they should. An interview should be a conversation. They should have some questions of their own to make sure that the company is a good fit for them.

The only other thing would be dressing professionally. I think a lot of students still don't get that the working world is a very formal world. Now, some places are less than others, but they can't really expect to dress like students and work in the world of grownups.

CityTownInfo: Do you think that students trust what they see in the news? Do they actively seek information or do they not know what they can believe because there is so much conflicting information out there?

Mollie Starbuck: I haven't seen any particular cynicism in students that we see here at Ball State, but I am sure there are some pockets of that everywhere. But because this generation of students has been so well taken care of, they tend to believe more. A lot of things that I have read compare incoming students to my parent's generation who came of age after World War II, and these students are more like that. That they want to give back, they are very involved in volunteering. I think they believe in government, and that people ought to be taken care of. It's a shift from the GenX, who were very independent and very skeptical. This group that is coming in and that is just in college right now is a little different in that regard. So no, I don't think they are particularly cynical.

The multigenerational workforce is also going to be interesting, when these GenY students are working for GenX managers who report all the way back to the traditional generation CEOs, it's going to be a really interesting situation.

Related Study: Engaging the 21st Century Multi-Generational Workforce

A Study for the MetLife Mature Market Institute by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
March 2009

Research Highlights

- Older workers are more likely to have higher levels of engagement than younger workers.

- "One size does not fit all" when it comes to the steps that employers could take with regard to employee engagement. Employers might want to focus on specific drivers of engagement for employees in particular age/ generational groups and different drivers for those in other groups.

Read the complete study.

CityTownInfo: I think it's interesting too for the baby boomers because normally, companies have top-down management, but now they will have recent graduates who are so technologically-savvy that companies will have to give and take. It's not just top-down any more.

Mollie Starbuck: That's exactly right. Working in teams where maybe all four generations are represented on a team and seeing how that effects communication, questioning and finding solutions to problems is going to be really interesting.

CityTownInfo: I think that if the team is open to it, it's really beneficial because they have a wealth of information coming from all different perspectives and it can really help give a multifaceted solution to a problem.

Mollie Starbuck: That's right, I agree.

CityTownInfo: Do you feel that students today are better prepared then they were 10 or 15 years ago and that they are more well-connected because of things like Facebook, texting and different kinds of technology?

Mollie Starbuck: Over time I haven't seen many changes through GenX and GenY and I haven't seen many differences in students' thinking about careers as they come into college - it is the farthest thing on their mind for most of them. I think some students know that they want to be in business or they know they want to teach, and those are the two careers where the students are most likely to know exactly what they want to do as they come into the university. Accounting and teaching are the most career-directed majors that we have. However students generally have not done very much research into the millions of different things that they can be when they grow up. So they aren't any more ready because of technology. Just being able to email and being able to Google is not going to help them; it is like saying that anything students could want to learn is in the library, so all they have to do is study the contents of the library. However if students are not curious, if they are not intentionally looking for something, just being able to Twitter, email, and go on Facebook is not going to help them find that information. They are able to use technology, but they are not interested in using it for exploration related to careers and employment.

CityTownInfo: Do you think that it is just developmental or do you think maybe high school students aren't being pushed enough to think about their futures?

Mollie Starbuck: I think it is really developmental. You can't teach a four-year-old to read unless a four-year-old is ready to read. So it is developmental, they just aren't quite ready. However I think that because of the recent developments in the economy which are so well-publicized and which are affecting so many families directly, students coming in this fall are more likely to be open to figuring out how to get in and get out of the university as fast as they can because they know school is expensive. They may be more prepared than some of the previous classes were. We are adjusting our outreach to freshmen, to encourage them to focus on their end goals earlier in their college years.

Students tend to get more serious when they realize how much money is involved in their education. We have heard an awful lot about GenY feeling entitled; they have just never known anything except being able to have everything they wanted. Now they are going to be learning that they can't always get what they want when they want it, as the older generations like their parents and grandparents already knew. They may have to begin to prioritize, and have to begin to think more efficiently about working towards graduation.

CityTownInfo: What career advice would you give to someone entering college today?

Mollie Starbuck: I tell incoming freshmen that they need to really engage in their career decision making early, they need to take advantage of career service assessments and advising programs as they select majors and begin to think about their area of study and how it affects their career options later on. The more quickly students confirm a career path decision, the better off they will be. They will save time and money and will be able to get the needed experiences, such as internships or study abroad programs, worked into a four-year plan.

CityTownInfo: Which tools does your office have in place to help students with their decision making process?

Mollie Starbuck: Here at Ball State, there are actually three different offices that are involved in career advising. We have a career center and we have online tools as well, including a nationally award-winning program called Quest that we developed to help students explore Ball State majors, so it is specific to our university. We also have Type Focus, which is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator software. It is not the Myers-Briggs, but it is based on the Jungian Theory about personality, and it is designed to help students identify their own personality styles and then connect those to career options.

CityTownInfo: Do you have any career-related books or websites that you recommend to your students?

Mollie Starbuck: I had mentioned that we use the Myers-Briggs personality type to help students make career decisions, so we think "Do What You Are" is a very good source. There is also a book called "Strength Finder 2.0", by Tom Rath, "Ten Things Employers Want You to Learn in College", by Bill Coplin, and "Confessions of a Recruiting Director", by Brad Karsh. We also offer all of the guides about the federal government - the "Student's Federal Career Guide", by Kathryn and Emily Troutman is a good one.

CityTownInfo: What kind of online resources do you wish where available to help with your students' career selection?

Mollie Starbuck: We already offer our Quest program and the Type Focus. Also, our University College, which works with undecided freshmen, has an online program called Focus. Our Careers and Counseling Center does more formal assessments, the Strong Interest Inventory and they also use SIGI. So there are several online programs that students have access to, but they don't all come directly though the Career Center.

We have about 3,600 freshmen and our total enrolment is up to about 20,000; 17,000 are on-campus undergraduates. By having the three different offices that work together on career advising, we are able to better serve our large student body. I am fine with the online resources we have right now.

CityTownInfo: Do you recommend that students use bls.gov to investigate the potential growth and longevity of the career that they are considering going into?

Mollie Starbuck: Absolutely, we offer many links to those kinds of free online resources. If you visit the Ball State website, "Great Links to Explore" is the header for our list of career-related websites.

CityTownInfo: What are the three most important things students can do to prepare to find a job?

Mollie Starbuck: As I've suggested earlier, I think the most important thing that they can do is arrive at college with the intention of getting a good education so they can get a good job after graduation. We hope to help them understand that they have to be engaged in that process all the way through, not just show up to class and then hope there is the job at the end.

Students also need to develop really strong inquiry skills, to be able to ask good questions and to be able to use the internet to find relevant, helpful information. Practicing and perfecting interpersonal skills are important as well, such as communication, listening, being responsive, and learning to work in teams.

CityTownInfo: Do you think there is more of an emphasis now on soft skills with employers than in years past?

Mollie Starbuck: I think so. The world is changing so fast that people can no longer learn a finite set of skills and be prepared to go out and succeed in a job, because all jobs are changing so fast. Knowledge is being created so quickly that success now is really more about developing the right attitude and the right skills to be able to ask good questions to gather information and to be able to analyze that information in order to make good decisions.

CityTownInfo: Do you think that the stimulus package will have an impact on your students' ability to secure jobs?

Mollie Starbuck: Well not directly, but certainly I think that the stimulus package is going to improve the economy. I hate the fact that it's going to take ages and ages to pay for, but I think we were in a really dire, critical position, so politically it had to be done. I do think it will help us bring the economy back into line, so in that regard, it will help students find jobs. I am concerned that the jobs incoming students target their majors towards may not exist in the future because careers are changing so quickly, so we are teaching our students to be inventive. We show them how to be resourceful and teach them that their skill sets are transferrable. As far as this May's graduates are concerned, depending on what they are willing to do, some of them may be able to find immediate employment related to the stimulus package and that's a good thing.

CityTownInfo: Do you hear about students or jobseekers trying creative methods to get their foot in the door at a company, such as volunteering or offering a work for free for a few months? Have you heard of any unusual ideas or do you advocate any unusual techniques to your students?

Mollie Starbuck: I haven't really heard of any actual situations about that this spring, but we do advocate that our students do a couple of things. We tell them that volunteering is always good, taking any position that they can get in the kind of company you want to work for is probably a good idea, even if it's under-employment. It helps them meet people within the company and network and get experience in the industry or the field in which they are interested. Students are never very happy to hear that advice, but we do give it to them anyway. We also educate them about the fact that there are postgraduate internships that can be bridging positions - to graduate school or that would lead to job opportunities down the road. We recently received a report from NACE about what students around the country have been thinking, and something like 74% of companies say that internships are the best way to get full time job offers.

Related Article: Internships Becoming More Difficult To Obtain And Afford

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
March 4, 2008

Despite widespread agreement that internships ultimately assist college graduates searching for jobs, many college newspapers are reporting that internships are increasingly becoming more difficult to find and harder to afford.

"Going into the process, I turned up my nose at unpaid internships. Now I've become desperate," Goldschmidt says. He points out that more students are enrolling in summer school or looking into studying abroad simply to avoid the daunting task of finding a credible internship.

At Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, "The Whitworthian" noted that while the school's internship program had not diminished, the vast majority of opportunities are unpaid, presenting a serious problem for many students.

Read the complete article.

CityTownInfo: I have heard from some of the other career directors that I have spoken with that internships either have been drastically reduced or cut altogether because it is unethical to bring in an intern to work for less money or to work for free if a full-time, permanent employee has been laid off. So there just aren't as many internship opportunities for students, even though I agree that would be a great way for student to cut their teeth and also for companies to try someone out with no strings attached. Have you heard that internships have been reduced from years past as well?

Mollie Starbuck: They are certainly fewer of them around. However, I think that students can talk themselves into something that would be the equivalent of an internship. They can do this by calling up and trying to get their foot in the door by offering to work for a short period of time for an employer on a project. Some industries are more conducive to that than others. For example, often in marketing and advertising, public relations, event management and some of those areas, part-time or temporary employment can be obtained, and the benefits of having one's foot in the door are similar to an internship.

CityTownInfo: When I was in school, a lot of internships were for-credit only. Do you think that this is still the case, or because times are tough students are really looking for something that pays? Or are students just looking for the experience and whatever they can get?

Mollie Starbuck: Once students graduate, internships can't be for-credit, but perhaps an internship can be their Plan-B while they are still working on Plan-A: full-time employment. Certainly we have been telling students that the traditional move out of college into a full time job with benefits is something that's probably not going to happen quickly in this market. So they've got to have more than one plan. They've got to have a short-term plan and a long-term plan and be doing two things at once. That might be selling shoes, or it might be going back to a summer job that they had in years past, lifeguarding or doing something like that while the student continues to look for the full-time positions. We help them understand that while that situation is not ideal, it's not giving up on their long-term goal.

CityTownInfo: Do you think it's a good idea for recent graduates accept internships that aren't for pay?

Mollie Starbuck: It can be either paid or unpaid. The main thing is that it's career-related and it's short-term.

CityTownInfo: Are any particular programs' graduates having an easier time finding jobs?

Mollie Starbuck: Certainly healthcare careers are in demand. Here at Ball State we offer nursing, exercise science, and some allied health careers. Biology majors may go on to some other kinds of medical careers as well. Our special education and secondary education programs, particularly in math, science and languages, are all in high demand right now also. Additionally, accounting never goes out of style, as there are always jobs for accountants. Also, IT is back in demand, particularly networking and emerging media careers.

CityTownInfo: Is your school making any program adjustments to deal with the current recession and if so, are the changes focused on certain programs or are they being made across the board?

Mollie Starbuck: I don't believe there are any major program adjustments being made as far as major offerings that are being discontinued or any of those kinds of things. There is some administrative belt tightening, the school is looking at adjusting schedules a little bit, and we are expecting to have a small budget reduction, but there is not anything that is really disabling in any way. The school is just becoming more efficient.


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