By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 5, 2009
The following is a transcript of an interview with Lindsey Bradsher, East Carolina University's Assistant Director for Job Development. Ms. Bradsher has her undergraduate degree as well as a master's in communication from ECU. She began her post-graduate career as an Assistant Director for Marketing and Job Development at their Career Center. Additionally, Ms. Bradsher has taught courses at the university on business and professional communication, as well as a senior seminar in The School of Communication, a class devoted to helping students develop their portfolios and resumes, in addition to helping them prepare for the transition from students to young professionals.
Founded in 1907, East Carolina University is a public university located in Greenville, North Carolina. It is the largest institution of higher learning in eastern North Carolina and the third largest university in the state. East Carolina comprises three campuses: Main, Health Sciences and West Research Campus. The Princeton Review (2008) has ranked the University as one of the "Best Value Colleges". ECU offers more than 100 degrees in different areas of study.
ECU's enrollment has quickly grown from 20,600 in 2002 to 26,000 last year and is planned to hit 28,500 in 2012, a 38 percent growth in students.
CityTownInfo: What kind of career advice would you give to someone entering college today?
Lindsey Bradsher: I think that incoming freshmen are in a unique situation. First, I advise them to explore their opportunities. I want students to think about what makes them happy, not just their specified skills. They need to discover what they need to get involved with in order to have career satisfaction because the workforce is changing. I read an article in the New York Times recently about how jobs are going to be more globalized in the next decade, and how there are going to be more opportunities for students to collaborate and be able to do what they enjoy. For instance, I recently met with a student who loved surfing. He is from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and he was an accounting major. He realized that he wasn't going to be a professional surfer, but I asked him why not be an accountant for Billabong or for a major surfing company? That way he could have a job where he would have an opportunity to be around the sport he loves. The key is to get students thinking outside of the box in terms of their career search so they can find something in which they will thrive.
I also advise students to visit the career center as freshmen and to not wait until they are upperclassmen. We have an amazing staff led by interim director Jim McAtee, and we are really about student-centered involvement at East Carolina. I recommend that students make contact with career counselors as soon as they get to school, as that provides them with a competitive edge in terms of their job development resources. That includes resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, non-verbal and verbal communication skills. I think most freshmen think of four years as a really long time, but in actuality it goes by very quickly. Upon arriving as freshmen, we encourage our students to start to think of their plan throughout those four years. Maybe they want to start their first internship sophomore year, or maybe they'd like to do their main networking with different professionals during their third or fourth years. That is all then going to assist them in finding employment within their first six months after graduation, so thinking ahead is the second thing I would advise our freshmen to do. It's very important for students to visit their career services office at the beginning of their collegiate career.
The third thing I advise is to take advantage of the free resources that are available to them and to utilize interpersonal communication. I think that this generation is very reliant on computer-mediated communication, whether it's text messaging, social networking or just exploring the internet as a dominant means of information seeking. When it comes to training in resume development and interviewing skills, there really is an interpersonal dynamic with our counselors that's necessary for career success in terms of finding and securing a job. We have those resources available and I think that it's important for students to understand that they need to take a proactive approach and show up in person to make appointments with their counselors. I also recommend that students utilize the online services that are available to them, even if it might feel a little uncomfortable at first. In my opinion it is really important for them to take advantage of all resources.
CityTownInfo: What kind of differences do you see in students of today versus in years past?
Lindsey Bradsher: At conferences I hear the Millennial pitch from career counselors about how to be more communicatively confident with this generation so that they'll take advantage of the resources available to them. I have career-related job development and counseling experience from East Carolina. I don't think that Milennials are less passionate about seeking out job opportunities, but I think there is an inclination for students today to feel that a four-year degree is going to be the green light for instant job attainment after graduation. Some students really don't understand the importance and value of an internship, paid or unpaid, or the importance of learning the skills from career coaches at career centers, which can give them a competitive edge. I think that is something students probably need to focus on a little bit more, understanding there is a holistic level of development as a college student, and career development falls into that as well. I also noticed that students are more inclined to seek information using the web. The most important thing is actually going on-campus and seeking out physical buildings and resources, but instead students want to do that from the comfort of their own living room. I think that this is a common theme in the culture of college, because sometimes it's especially easy to forget about the postgraduate "real world". There is a lot of job competition, and students seem to be aware that getting a college degree is pretty much essential to attaining certain levels of success. However, it's also equally as important to have experience and understand the job seeking rituals that we preach at the career center. I think in person contact is really important, and I have seen it getting overlooked a lot lately.
I have a very no-nonsense approach to job searching and I believe it's a skill set. I teach different strategies on how to walk into a room, how students should be presenting themselves, what colors to wear, lunch etiquette and similar things. All of this is reiterated in the career center's workshops, trainings and online information. Professional development can be coached, and the career center does an outstanding job of offering students many opportunities to gain that set of skills prior to graduation.
CityTownInfo: What are some suggestions you would recommend to students to help them stand out from other applicants?
Lindsey Bradsher: Before students ever start a resume, I recommend that they research career paths and take a proactive approach. We know that getting a resume together is very tedious, but there will be an end result with delayed gratification. One of the things that we tell students is think about where they want to live. One of the first things I talk about is weather. Some students say that they'll move anywhere as long as they can make $40,000. They might be happy there for a little while, but if it is a cold weather climate and someone is absolutely miserable in cold weather, it will really affect their overall happiness. I encourage students to think about where they want to live and their values. If they know they want to remain very close to their family, we can get started searching for what kinds of employers exist in the regions that they are interested in. It's really better for students to narrow down locations so they won't feel so overwhelmed by looking everywhere for anything. Another thing we want students to do is talk to people outside of their family. A lot of times, the only exposure students have is from what their parents and other family members have done for a living. They need to take steps to see other options and see what other things are out there that they can get involved in.
Regarding their resume, there are several tricks that we have for a resume development, all of which are located on our website. One thing we tell students is that their resume does not need to be a hot pink, lime green or neon orange to get looked at. There are industry standards and one of them is to put their name in 24-point font. We use a specific type of resume that highlights students' skill sets and experience in terms of classroom projects, group work and personal accomplishments related to their in-class activities. We don't use the phrase "work experience", because we know that employers are going to look at what that student has done in that respect anyway, and the employers understand they are in college. For example, if a student who is not an art major does a great photography shoot that gets used on their college's website, that is something we would want to include in their resume. We want students to maximize the opportunity to highlight their successes that have stood out in their academic careers. We are also very standard in terms of utilizing white space; we use a capabilities profile layout for the majority of majors employing keywords to highlight the students' skill sets. This way we can highlight what the students are good at and help them evolve and understand where their niche is. A writer might say he has technical and creative writing skills as well as critical thinking skills, and they'll highlight all the technologies that they utilize regularly. This will all be in the section that employers see when they look at the resume, which hopefully deters them from putting the student's resume in the "no" pile.
As far as interviewing goes, we have a professional development standard for what students should and should not wear to an interview. At one of the seminars I was teaching on career development, I walked in wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, sat down amongst my 52 students, and no one knew that I was the instructor. I stood up and said, "I think I saw our instructor in the hallway, I'll be right back." Then I came back in the classroom in a very conservative skirt suit with a pastel shirt and wearing heels. I completely changed my tone of voice; I walked in confidently and made sure to make eye contact with my students. By doing this, I helped students realize that it's not their age; it's really about how they present themselves. They need to think about color, hairstyle, smell and all the nonverbal indicators that can affect how someone interprets them. I can't be too general however, because art majors of course are probably going to dress a little bit more eccentrically than pharmaceutical sales representatives.
Regarding the interview session, I'll name a couple of things that I feel strongly about. I recently had a student who was interviewing for a job in Atlanta. She called me 30 minutes before her interview asking for some words of advice because she was so nervous. I told her to be herself and be nice to the administrative assistant. It's extremely important to be very nice to him or her, because sometimes that person may be responsible for letting the employer know how the interviewee behaves in their presence.
If someone gets invited to a face-to-face interview, they are qualified for the job. Their nerves need to go away, because employers will not waste their time interviewing someone who is not qualified. That nervousness should immediately be alleviated by a sense of pride and accomplishment. We have specific strategies where our counselors work with students to get them over their nerves, fingernail biting and leg tapping. We offer all of that in the career services office. A lot of people are nervous and petrified of interviewing, but we work on strategies to alleviate that feeling. I don't know where it comes from though, because an interview is an interaction. So if students take the pressure away and realize they are there because they are qualified, it really reframes how they think about that interaction.
It's also important to shake the interviewer's hand and to remember their name. 98 percent of students who go on interviews for the first time do not remember the name of the interviewer. In our society, names are very important, and interviewees are going to have to close the interview, shake their hand and say goodbye, so it is important to remember that information.
I also told the student that silence is okay if she didn't know the answer to something immediately. I told her she could take a sip of water and think about the answer. I also told her to have her portfolio in front of her as well, as this shows the interviewer that the interviewee is proactive and that she's done her research. I tell my students that they should not go into an interview without doing at least three hours of research about the company. That includes the culture, the mission, the vision and the value statement of the company. I also recommend that students ask for a business card so they can send a handwritten thank you note afterwards. This goes with the interpersonal level of communication that's so important. We want students to get back to the interviewer three to four days after the interview to show they took the time and effort to thank the employer for their time.
CityTownInfo: If the employer hasn't indicated a timeline for the hiring decision, what is your opinion on sending out a thank you email first and then following it up with a hard copy? Do you think just an e-thank you is sufficient or would you recommend just sending the interviewer a hard copy thank you, even though it will arrive a few days after the interview?
Lindsey Bradsher: I would go with the latter. As I mentioned before, technology is shifting the way we communicate, but my guess is that the employer is usually going to be at least five to ten years older than the student who is looking for that position. It is still a standard in the professional world to send a personal thank you note, and that still works for me. I know that I always feel good about getting a note from a student thanking me for my time, so I really feel that a handwritten note is a standard and I really enforce that to our students. Looking at technology and the way things are moving with the popularity of computer-mediated communication, an e-card could be a new way of thanking an employer for their time in the future. At this time however, I really would recommend to go for the standard and with what we know works right now. A handwritten thank you really takes a personal touch on the involvement that an interviewee had that day and shows gratitude by taking the time to address it.
CityTownInfo: Would you recommend a short and personal handwritten note or a typewritten thank you that's also used as a selling tool to reiterate that the student is a perfect fit for the position based on their work or internship experience and the needs of the position?
Lindsey Bradsher: I would go more of as a short sweet personal route, just thanking the interviewer for their time and the opportunity The student could add something like, "the interview was an invaluable experience for me. I have learned so much, and I feel that I could offer you and your organization a tremendous amount of value." I also tell students that if they had something in common with the interviewer that they joked about, they could infuse that information as well. It really goes along with how they felt the interaction went, but I believe we all really love interpersonal communication. There is a formal level to the interaction, of course. Handwriting needs to be very clear and should reflect professionalism. Tips like these can all be found on our website: www.ecu.edu/career.
CityTownInfo: Are any other suggestions you would make to the students to help them stand out?
Lindsey Bradsher: One thing I tell students is that their interview begins when they leave their house, not when they arrive in the parking lot. For instance, if they have road rage and they are blasting their music and flip someone an inappropriate gesture, and that person happens to be the vice president of company they are interviewing for, they are most likely not going to get that position.
For students who are chronically late, they should imagine that their interview starts an hour before it actually does, because someone who is late to their first interview has no chance of getting the job. An interview is when people are supposed to be their best and exuding professionalism at their maximum capacity.
I also recommend that students think about using certain props to enhance their interview, which can give them certain competitive opportunities. For instance, I recommend to either bring a bottle of water or ask the administrative assistant for one, because whenever a question is asked it is good to take a little bit extra time to think about the question as they drink a sip of water. It is also important to bring a portfolio with all the research that they've done on the company, because it shows that they are proactive, responsible and interested in the opportunity. I also advise students to reference their goals and objectives regarding their career with that company specifically. Interviewees should convey the message that they really to work for that company, they have always wanted to work for that company, and they should be able to clearly tell the interviewer why.
Having a positive attitude is crucial, and I also recommend that students practice with their career coach to avoid using words like "um" and "like." They should look the person interviewing them straight in the eye, firmly shake their hand, thank them for the opportunity and then ask about the next steps in the hiring process. This can be a very awkward question for students to ask, but it's essential because if they don't know, they could sit at their phone for the next month and a half and ponder that question.
CityTownInfo: And it also shows an interest in the position.
Lindsey Bradsher: Absolutely. This is no time to look humble. There is a fine line between assertiveness and arrogance, and it is very important to avoid demonstrating arrogance. Young professionals need to be willing to learn, grow and become immersed in the culture of a company, but they also need to have the confidence to convey himself or herself as a leading candidate for the position they are after. We train students how to close an interview, by saying something along the lines of, "I realize that there are a lot of people that are interviewing for this position today. More people will be coming in after me, and many may have come in before me, but I assure you that I will work hard and give you a 110 percent every day. This is where I have always wanted to be and I know this company is a good fit for my skills. You can rest assured that I'll be here for you throughout the course of my time with your company." We advise students to then shake their interviewer's hand and to get their business card.
I also recommend that students are cautious regarding their attire. I advise wearing pastel colors for the most part, including soothing greens, blues, lavenders, creams and whites. I could give a whole seminar for women on dressing for success in the professional world. I joke with the women I work with and I say a successful business outfit should not be conveying images of Victoria's Secret models. It's not about vanity and we are not trying to say that it's impossible to get a position based on what one is wearing or how they look, but we recognize that first impressions are very powerful, and we encourage students to get the proper resources and training regarding that non-verbal element of dress.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related websites or books that you recommend to students?
Lindsey Bradsher: One book I have read which is especially good for women is "Basic Black" by Cathie Black. She outlines some really good advice for young women who are looking to have a successful career in publishing, marketing or editing. In the text she talks about her personal experiences and how she navigated her way through the publishing industry. It's a really good read, especially for those interested in this field. Another book I recommend is "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. This book has some really good advice. Ferrazzi talks about the power of being a connector and the power of understanding networking. We talk about networking and how it's not a dirty word, and it's essential in getting ahead.
CityTownInfo: How would you say that the recession is impacting student enrollment? Is enrollment up because people realize they need more schooling in order to be competitive in this market, up because students are deciding to earn higher degrees now while the job market is not so great, or down because more people can't afford the costs of higher education?
Lindsey Bradsher: I have not been exposed to a lot of those numbers, so I can't answer that question with complete certainty, but I can tell you what I have seen with the students I work with in the career center. I have seen an increase in the number of students going on to pursue master's degrees.
When I taught a senior seminar class I asked how many students were interested in getting their master's degrees. I like to know where students are headed after they graduate so I can tailor the semester to their needs. An overwhelming number of students raised their hand, so I went to each of them individually and asked what they wanted to get their master's in, and the majority of them did not know. Then I asked why they wanted to pursue a master's if they didn't even know what field it would be in, and most of them referenced the economy.
They had all been exposed heavily to the current recession and I believe there was a general fear for most of them when it came to entering the workforce. They equated continuing higher education with job security and instantaneous employment once that program was finished, but I know several people with MBA degrees who are unemployed for whatever reason. I don't necessarily know if a master's degree is going to equate to job security anymore than getting a job right out of undergraduate school, but I have noticed that more students are very interested in going and getting their master's degrees.
Continuing my education was invaluable in respect to the path I am on in my career. I always support our students opting to add a master's degree to their resume', I just want to make sure they have the direction they need. I want them to think about what industry they want to be a part of and what kinds of internship opportunities are available that will help them develop their skills and meet the right people.
CityTownInfo: Do you offer the services of the career office to the community or mainly to ECU students?
Lindsey Bradsher: Because of the sheer number of students we serve and the resources we have, we cannot offer our career coaching services to the community at large. We offer our services to alumni, and all of the resources available on our website are accessible to everyone for no charge.
CityTownInfo: Why do you think that more colleges and universities do not require student visits to career centers?
Lindsey Bradsher: I don't know, but I can say with certainty that for those who take advantage of it and for those students who seek it out, they benefit greatly. I think that a lot of it comes down to the fact that most freshmen are 18-years-old and they are not ready to think about their professional lives. In our society, college is not solely promoted as something that will lead to a job afterwards. Students are living away from their parents and they are learning who they are. They are accountable for their studies much more than they were at home. As far as visiting career offices and thinking seriously about the future, everyone becomes ready at their own time. Again, that four-year period is just so short. However, with the current economic situation that our country is dealing with, I feel that now more than ever, Career Services offices will be looked at as major resources to enhance student growth and development.
It is also important for students to be evaluating, seeking and thinking about how they can help society and be rewarded, fulfilled and productive. I know that I wouldn't be in the position that I am in today if it weren't for the training I received at our career center as an undergraduate and the internship I did here as a graduate student. I am now employed here as professional and I use my knowledge and impart it to students, hoping to continue the cycle. For example, I see a lot of students who tell me they want to travel because they don't want to be in office all day. We try to expose them to the step-by-step process involved in getting those kinds of positions and help them find the positions that can lead to the level of satisfaction they seek.
Career service is just like training; it is a skill.