By CityTownInfo Staff
August 27, 2009
The following is a transcript of an interview with Katherine Battee-Freeman, Assistant Director for Recruitment at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Office of Career Services. Ms. Battee-Freeman and her team assist current UIC students and recent graduates with their career development and job search needs. The office's services range from helping students explore what they want to do as a career, helping them with the job search process, to helping them obtain a job or continue with advanced education.
The University of Illinois at Chicago began as a set of private medical colleges - The Chicago College of Pharmacy (1859), the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1882), and the Columbian College of Dentistry (1891). The University of Illinois was chartered in 1867 in Champaign-Urbana, and fully incorporated the original medical colleges in 1913. In 1871, the original Chicago College of Pharmacy burned down during the Great Chicago Fire. In 1946, the UIC Undergraduate Division (CUD) held classes on Chicago's famous Navy Pier and educated many first generation college students. In 1961, several medical schools in Illinois joined the university forming the institution as it is known today. It currently offers admission to over 20,000 students every year with majors in a multitude of areas.
CityTownInfo: What kind of career advice do you give to someone entering college today?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: First off, I recommend students make the best use of their college experience. I don't want them to limit themselves to only going to classes. College offers an opportunity to pick the brains of professors and speakers and also to make observations and try new things while they are going through the process. I am surprised by the number of students who go through college and have never had a job or done an informational interview with someone in their desired field. While going through classes, it is important for students to focus on why they are there, and there are so many resources they can make use of.
For example, one of the many valuable resources we offer is career counseling. The career office is not just for seniors. A lot of times our students will think they'll visit us when they are ready to graduate, but we really encourage them to come to us early in their first and second year so they can start doing career exploration. We can give them resources to be able to start getting experiences in their fields so they are not waiting until the end of their college career to figure all of that out. Instead, they can be working through the process the whole time.
CityTownInfo: Do you think doing an informational interview, working part-time or volunteer work helps students get the point of reference they need to be able to ask the right questions during an interview?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I think so. Just seeing information in books is one thing, but once students start trying it out and getting more directly involved in the process, they can get a better idea of which pieces are most beneficial for them and what they want to get more involved with after college. It just gives the students a better understanding of the options available to them.
CityTownInfo: Do you have anything in place that gives students real-life experience?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: We do. Our volunteer office helps students find a variety of opportunities. We have job binders with organizations and companies throughout the Chicago area that are looking for volunteers. We also offer internship programs in all of our colleges and job location and development program through the student employment office. There are a multitude of opportunities students can pursue through our career services office as well.
CityTownInfo: Are there any programs you know of that can match skill sets and experiences to possible employment opportunities?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: There are a couple of resources that may be useful in that respect. I know our SIGI program has something similar, where students can select skills, and then it gives them an idea of industries and jobs related to their interests. One has to be an enrolled student to access SIGI, but similar information can be found on ilworkinfo.com which is managed by the State of Illinois. The Occupational Outlook Handbook and the O*NET website, which are put out by the Federal Government, also show related professions to the ones being searched.
CityTownInfo: What kind of differences are you seeing between students of today versus years past?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I think students have always been concerned about whether or not they are going to be able to get a job after college, but I think with everything being as tough as it is right now, that's more in the forefront of their minds. I also think there are a number of students who are somewhat jaded who think there are no jobs out there, so they think they'll just go on to grad school after college. They feel like they are not going to get a job anyway, so they don't want to put as much effort into their job search as they did previously. Instead of putting effort into their job search, they just automatically assume they are just going to continue going to school because they believe there are no jobs available right now anyway.
I also think current students' parents are more involved in the process than in previous years, when students were more responsible for their education themselves, which can be both positive and negative.
CityTownInfo: It's definitely good to have parents paying attention to what their children are doing, to make sure that they are studying and not just partying without any direction, but it needs to be in moderation.
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I definitely agree. We also want students to be able to take the lead and do what they need to do because they need to do it, not just because their parents are pushing them.
CityTownInfo: What kind of tools do you have in place to help students make decisions about what they would like to do related a career that fits their personality?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: We have five counselors on staff, so students are always welcome to make individual appointments and talk with an advisor about what types of careers they are interested in. Our counselors also offer informational interview practice sessions. We also work with an online system called SIGI where students can go online and take assessments that evaluate their interests, values and skills, and which occupations relate to them.
We also have a career resource library in the student services building, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, and students can use the materials there whenever they want. We have books and computer resources they can use to look up potential careers by their major, interests, personality type, industry and similar things as well, so there are a variety of ways they can explore their career interests.
Our alumni network can be very helpful as well - alumni are willing to help students who are getting into their field by talking to them about the industry or about their company.
CityTownInfo: Alumni can be a great resource for students, especially someone who has graduated recently, because they have credibility and students tend to trust someone like that maybe more so than a career counselor or advisor.
Katherine Battee-Freeman: Yes, I think so. I think when students can get the information from recent peers it helps them see things from a different perspective, and that can be beneficial.
I think that is also another great reason for students to get involved in student organizations on campus. We have over 200 student organizations, and part of what they offer is peer groups for students to interact and talk about the fields they are interested in with other people. They also help bring in both alumni and speakers to campus to talk to students about their careers and first-hand experience in those fields. In addition, they organize tours of major companies that employ our alumni, which gives students the opportunity to have peer interaction and to discuss the industries they are interested in with additional professionals.
CityTownInfo: They can use the information to help build their network as well.
Katherine Battee-Freeman: Exactly.
CityTownInfo: Are the services at the career center offered to alumni and members of the community, or just to current students?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: Our services are offered to current students and recent alumni, so students who have graduated from the University of Illinois within the past year can still utilize our services. Once they've been out of school for more than a year or so, we have a separate alumni career center located in Downtown Chicago.
Our services are generally not available to the public, but we can help people find resources in other areas. Because we are located in Chicago, there are a variety of resources available nearby. I know within a couple of miles there is The Career Transition Center, The Cara Program and a couple of other resources community members can use. The alumni career center is also open to the community, but there is a fee depending on whether the people are alumni or non-alum and what types of services they are looking for.
CityTownInfo: Do you have a specific link for alumni and for the community?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I direct members of the community to our alumni career center's website, which is uiaa.org/careers. The link will take them to the main page of our alumni career center, which has services that are open to the community as well.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any favorite books or websites you recommend to students to help them in the process?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I definitely recommend SIGI in terms of my favorite online assessment tool. I recommend O*NET to help students explore and find more information about particular careers they are interested in. It's one of the sites put out by the Federal government, so it has thorough descriptions of many jobs. It is also designed so if students are looking at one particular career, it will tell them about related careers they maybe hadn't thought of before.
In terms of books, I am not sure I could pull out any one in particular, but I think when students are just starting out with the exploration process, it is sometimes easier to read books instead of just using the internet. Finding what they need online may be more difficult if they are not sure of the direction they want to go in quite yet.
CityTownInfo: What are some suggestions you recommend to students to help them stand out from other job applicants?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I definitely encourage them to include cover letters. Even though those of us in the career office try to encourage students to include them, it seems like a lot of students do not. Because of the fact that not a lot of them do, however, it's one of the things that will help a candidate stand out. If there are 20 people who have applied, and only two of them send cover letters, those two are going to be a bit more memorable. It also gives candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their communication skills, because a cover letter is a persuasive tool and a descriptive piece about the things they've done and how they are a good fit for the position.
Whenever possible, I also recommend students get to know of as much as possible about the organizations they are interested in. On our campus, we host job fairs throughout the year and have companies that come in and offer information sessions. We also have the alumni network as I mentioned before. If students can find someone within an organization they are interested in and keep in touch with that person, they are more likely to stand out in the minds of people in the company when the student actually goes to apply for a position in that organization.
CityTownInfo: What do you think are the three most important things a student should do to prepare for finding a job?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: They need to get good grades, gain experience, network and develop interactions with the types of employers they are interest in.
CityTownInfo: What do you recommend students do to improve themselves in the eyes of a potential employer if they had to work their way through college so they didn't have an ideal GPA and were unable to get involved in any on-campus activities or internships?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: I think they need to focus on what they do have as opposed to what they don't. They should look to emphasize what kinds of things they excelled in, whether it was their classes, projects, group work or anything that is a good match for what they are going to be doing with the employer they are targeting. A large percentage of our students work in addition to going to school, and most of our employers know that. I tell students it's okay to let any potential employers know that they spent a lot of their time working, and it's part of the reason why their grades are average as opposed to excellent. I wouldn't focus on the low GPA. I instead advise focusing on the positive pieces, including what kind of work they've been doing that would be beneficial in the future and what classes they took that are most useful for the employer they are targeting. In terms of master's programs, I wouldn't recommend going to grad school just to improve a GPA. If going to grad school is going to help get the student additional knowledge and experience that will help with the industry he or she is interested in, then that's great. If they are going just to improve their GPA, however, I don't think that would be the best use of their time or money.
CityTownInfo: What would you recommend to students who have been laid off or are having a hard time finding a job, to help them bounce back and get back into the job market?
Katherine Battee-Freeman: The first thing I recommend is to take a couple of days to deal with how they are feeling emotionally after getting laid off, because that can be a very powerful emotion. People don't always realize it's impacting them, but if they are really sad or angry about what just happened, that can sometimes negatively affect what they are doing in their job search.
Once they've done that, I advise them to get back out there and start using the resources they have available to them, especially their network. They may need to look at related fields or related positions if they are not able to find the exact position they came out of. Especially because of how tough the economy is today, people need to be very open in their search. Instead of looking at their skills in a very narrow way, they should look at how their skills can transfer from one environment or position to another. For example, if they had an entry-level HR position, they may also have skills which allow them to enter a teaching or administrative position. I recommend that they not just look at the job titles they were pursuing, but look at the entire skill set they have so they can find a broader range of possible positions.
People can get help thinking outside of the box with SIGI or ilworkinfo.com, O*Net, or by coming in to visit with their career office, their alma mater's career office, and they can even gain valuable insight from schools' career offices via their websites or for a small fee if they aren't students.