By Jill Randolph
November 30, 2009
The following is an interview transcript with Gayle Healy, Director of The Center for Careers and Employment at Hudson Valley Community College. Managing a comprehensive career center for Hudson Valley students, alumni and community members, Mrs. Healy also oversees employer relations and collaborates with academic administrators, and faculty to promote career services activities, and monitors graduate outcomes. Prior to Hudson Valley Community College, Mrs. Healy was a school psychologist, and also worked in New York State government for nine years with the Office of Children and Family Services and the Department of Labor.
Located in Troy, New York, Hudson Valley Community College serves approximately 13,500 students each semester. Currently the second-largest institution of higher learning in the Capital Region of New York State, Hudson Valley Community College offers more than 70 degree and certificate programs through its four schools: Business; Engineering & Industrial Technologies; Health Sciences; and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Online learning continues to grow at Hudson Valley: this fall 239 sections of courses are offered via online learning. Hudson Valley offers transfer programs with some of the most academically rigorous schools in the nation.
In January 2010, the College is set to open a training facility that will feature more than a dozen classrooms and laboratories used to train the workforce in green technologies, including semiconductor manufacturing, alternative fuels, and installation and maintenance of photovoltaic, geothermal and wind energy systems. Currently, the college is offering a semiconductor manufacturing technology A.A.S. degree and a photovoltaic installation certificate program.
Jill Randolph: What are some suggestions you recommend to students to help them stand out from other applicants? For example, a lot of recruiters are inundated with applications, so what should applicants do in order to stand out in a pile of resumes, or how can they make a positive impression during a career fair?
Gayle Healy: During a career fair, students need to come prepared with intelligent questions specifically related to the exhibiting employers. This includes researching the exhibiting companies. A directory of attending exhibitors is usually available to students ahead of time, to facilitate the research. Students don't necessarily have to speak to every single employer, but they should research the companies they are interested in learning more about. I recommend students think about how they would fit in with each company as an employee, and then use that thought process to help them prepare for the career fair, so they are best able to sell themselves as strong candidates. It is also important to come to a job fair dressed to impress employers, because that's the recruiters' first impression of the student as the potential employee.
One of the unique events our office provides to the community is a large career fair, which is open to the public. This event is advertised via the local newspapers, word of mouth, signs and posters, on our website, and with closed-circuit television on campus. A strong resume is also crucial to standing out against the competition, so I always recommend students have someone else look at their resume before submitting it, in order to make sure it's understandable and that there are no errors. Before our career fair, we have provided our no-cost resume services to the public, as another facet of our community outreach.
College students should use our career center to help with career fair preparation, resume critiques, or any other career concerns. The career center is a free resource, so they should take advantage of our services. We are a perfect place for students to start forming a network, because we work with their potential future employers every day.
Jill Randolph: Are you hearing from employers that their preferred method of finding candidates is through networking, or are they still using traditional methods such as job boards and resume submissions to find new employees?
Gayle Healy: We are certainly hearing about employers preferring networking to find new employees. In fact, I have heard about 80 percent of people are finding new jobs through networking. A lot of employers aren't advertising job openings on job boards and in classified ads like they have in the past. For some employers, it's important that they hear the applicant learned about the job from someone familiar with the company, because it's easier for employers to reach qualified candidates that way. For most students, the people they know will be some of their strongest and most reliable connections to career opportunities.
Jill Randolph: Do you have any suggestions for students on how to maintain their network connections?
Gayle Healy: We always recommend using informational interviewing. Students can call the contacts in their network and ask them about the company they work for and about their career. Most of the time, people are very willing to help each other, especially when it comes to learning about companies or careers and they are willing to share personal experiences. We also recommend joining social networking Internet groups like LinkedIn and other professional organizations related to students' career choices or major. Students have to be savvy, though. We recently attended a webinar, where the speakers talked about making sure one's Internet presence is a positive one. For example, students shouldn't talk about how crazy they were at a weekend party, where anyone can see it. We strongly stress to students that they need to make sure their Facebook page is something they would allow their grandmother to see without embarrassment. Also, if someone Googles a student's name, the student wants to make sure their most important achievements and their top Google results are positive.
Jill Randolph: To go back to an earlier time in students' lives, what do you think are the most important things high school students should do to be accepted to the best possible college, and how soon should they start working on their plan?
Gayle Healy: In order to get into the best possible college, high school students should focus on earning a strong GPA at the start of their sophomore year. The first year of high school is transitional, so the second year is when I think students should start becoming serious about earning good grades. Junior and senior years are when students are looking at colleges and starting to narrow their top choices. It is important they utilize all the resources available, including guidance counselors, family and friends, to talk about any career interests they may have. Students should research their career interests, which will help as they are choosing colleges, as well as majors and future career paths.
I also recommend students become involved during their high school career, such as joining a club, becoming active in a sport, or doing volunteer work. Colleges want to see well-rounded individuals, and extra-curricular activities often help.
Jill Randolph: What do you recommend to high school students who want to get involved in after-school activities, but have problems with transportation?
Gayle Healy: I can't speak for every school, but I know many offer late buses to bring students who participate in after-school activities home.
Jill Randolph: What are the biggest trends you are seeing among your incoming students?
Gayle Healy: Our liberal arts and individual studies programs seem to be very popular for a lot of our students. Because we are a community college and serve as a starting point for many of our students, many transfer to four-year schools after completing two years here.
We see a spectrum of student preparedness, from very unsure to having some idea, and then we have some students who have a pretty concrete idea about their career path. For the students who are unsure of their future career direction, we encourage them to take core classes and some electives related to the path they think they're interested in, and take advantage of career counseling. At my office, we work a lot with individual studies students to help them narrow down their choices of majors.
Jill Randolph: What are the three most important things students can do to prepare to find a job after graduation?
Gayle Healy: Develop a strong resume, begin to network and keep an open mind. They may not get their ideal job immediately after graduating. Through their education, they will have gained many transferrable skills that can be used in a variety of career paths.
Students should also start thinking about where they want or are willing to work geographically after they graduate, whether it is where they currently live, where they are going to school, or somewhere else. If a student wants to work in the fashion industry, for example, it's probably not a good idea for them to stay in their small hometown if they are hoping to be a famous designer.
While in college, students also need to make the most of their college experience, and take advantage of extra-curricular activities, including becoming involved in a club, a sport, volunteer work or an internship. Internships offer fantastic experiences for students, as they provide a very good look at what professional life is like, while also providing professional experience needed for students' resumes. They should definitely take advantage of internships, even if they aren't for credit or pay.
Jill Randolph: What advice do you offer to students regarding how to maintain a work-life balance once they start working full-time?
Gayle Healy: I think that's a huge challenge, because when most people start a career, they want to put so much into it to make sure they are learning quickly and are on top of the workload. I think it's important, however, for new employees to maintain a certain amount of downtime, make sure they are getting their rest, and are eating right. All are really important in order to maintain good health, because that will make burn out less likely.
Jill Randolph: What about new employees who may be forced to put in longer hours now that companies are running with a lean staff and have fewer people to do the same job that had been done before?
Gayle Healy: I think sometimes we put undo requirements on ourselves. It is important to recognize when that is the case and realize it's okay to stop working and go home, and then can pick up where they left off the next day. Personally, I have a hard time doing that because I like to finish my projects before I leave for the day, but sometimes I have to force myself to leave, which can be a hard thing to do. This can be especially hard for employees starting out, because they want to make sure they meet their supervisor's or their own personal deadlines. They shouldn't be shy about asking for guidance in prioritizing if needed. If a new employee wants to show true initiative, they should develop a plan on their own before running it by their boss for feedback. This way, the new employee is seen as part of the solution instead of going to their boss with another problem to solve.
Jill Randolph: I totally agree. I once had a boss who told me to never come to him with a problem, but to come with the problem and my three best solutions because I was ultimately the master of my domain, living that work-life every day.
Gayle Healy: If a new employee does this, he or she will show effort and thoughts about potential solutions. I think it will go a long way in the eyes of their employer.
Jill Randolph: Do you have any career-related books or websites you recommend to your students?
Gayle Healy: We recommend our website for career research and employment opportunities. We also use New York State's career exploration Internet sites, like JobZone and CareerZone. They are both career exploration resources, similar to the Occupational Outlook Handbook and take students through every step, from assessments, to looking at various careers, to looking at specific companies. The employers listed on JobZone and CareerZone are New York State-specific, which is perfect for our students because most of them stay in the area.
As far as books, we recommend and use "What Color Is Your Parachute", which is always helpful and regularly updated.
Jill Randolph: How do you think your school or colleges in general have changed from the past?
Gayle Healy: I grew up in this area, and I came to Hudson Valley Community College as a student years ago. For me, it has been especially amazing to see the changes at this college, because it has grown tremendously over the past five years. The expansion into areas like our state-of-the-art green programs, including alternative fuels, geothermal and wind energy systems, is amazing. I think the college does a fantastic job of keeping up with the times and looking forward to what's going to be needed 5 to 10 years down the road.
Jill Randolph: How do you think the school finds their workforce trend information?
Gayle Healy: Research and knowing what the area needs. Each academic department has an advisory board that involves local employers and businesses within the community. It also involves utilizing economic data and employment trends and predictions.
Jill Randolph: Speaking of trends, what other types of green programs do you offer?
Gayle Healy: We currently offer a semiconductor manufacturing technology degree program, and we are building a new facility off-campus at a location adjacent to Global Foundries, which is a semiconductor manufacturing plant. We also offer certificate programs, including a Photovoltaic certificate program. Training and certificate programs for home energy efficiency, through the Center for Energy Efficiency and Building Science, are also offered.
President Obama, who praised us for our green technology programs, recently visited our college. It is exciting to be part of the greening process, educating and employing people in these fields, and to receive such great recommendation from our nation's president.
Jill Randolph: Does your school offer classes online to people outside of the state?
Gayle Healy: We do offer a lot of online classes, and we have an entire business degree program, which is offered completely online, with more classed planned for the future. Even an out-of-state student can take our business classes and earn an associate's degree online. Non-resident students have to pay out-of-state tuition, but the rate is not unreasonably high.
Jill Randolph: Do you think the interest in eco-friendly careers is popular in your area because it once had a heavy manufacturing base, and now you are looking to convert to something more sustainable?
Gayle Healy: That's a really good question. I believe it's a sign of the times, and this area is very innovative and realizes the direction it needs to pursue in order to be competitive.
Hudson Valley Community College and our Center for Careers and Employment office work with the community to provide relevant courses and quality graduates. We also offer some of our services to help the community in their job search endeavors. Additionally, we offer many quick and cost-effective ways for students, including displaced workers, to re-enter the workforce with targeted and improved skill sets. Students simply need to visit the career office early and often to reap the benefits of all of the services we offer.