By CityTownInfo Staff
September 23, 2009
The following is an interview transcript with Megan Hill, University of Kansas's Associate Director of Career Networks at the University Career Center. Ms. Hill is a former college admissions recruiter turned career services professional. She spent eight years working for the University of Kansas Office of Admissions and Scholarships and then transitioned over to the University Career Center in 2008, focusing on employer relations. Ms. Hill earned a Master's degree in Higher Education Administration and a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism, both from the University of Kansas.
KU is a major comprehensive public research and teaching institution located in Lawrence, Kansas. With record enrollments over the last several years, the university currently serves approximately 30,000 students from all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries. KU has received recognition for academic programs such as architecture, engineering, journalism, psychology, social work, special education, and many more. The University of Kansas Jayhawks also boast one of the best college basketball programs in the country.
CityTownInfo: What are the three most important tasks a student can do to prepare to find a job?
Megan Hill: Internships are very important, for many of the same reasons I mentioned before. They allow an employer to try out the student as an employee before making a full-time job offer. On the other side, internships allow students to gain very important insight into a particular industry so they can decide if it is something they would like to pursue as a career. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't, but either way it's valuable to help students further narrow their focus.
CityTownInfo: What are some suggestions you recommend to students to help them stand out from other job applicants?
Networking is extremely important as well, and we help students understand how to network effectively. Networking is a very broad and vague term and a lot of students can be very easily intimidated by that concept, but it is so incredibly important to learn how to effectively network and how to create those contacts. Just in talking to as many people as possible about their goals, desires, talents and strengths, people can open up so many different possibilities for themselves. The current statistic is that about 80 percent of jobs are not actually posted anywhere. They are found by talking to people who know people, who know about open positions, also known as "the hidden job market".
I know a lot of our students at KU don't utilize our career center resources, and those can be very useful in helping students find employment as well. I recommend that students visit their career center and really take advantage of the different resources and services that we offer, because we are here to serve students and we really want to help them. I know many career centers are very similar to ours, but we offer so many wonderful services and we can help students with everything from developing a resume to helping them with their interviewing and networking skills. Some colleges also offer on-campus recruiting, where employers come to campus to interview students, and students should take advantage of this service as well. Utilizing career services in general is incredibly important in order to help students find a job.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any outreach programs in place to help push students in the right direction and get them into your office?
Megan Hill: We have a brand new customer relations management tool that allows us to send various customized messages to students through the system. Students receive individually tailored emails related to their grade level, major, or whatever it may be. We utilize that system quite often in order to get word out about our different workshops, events and our services in general.
Last year we also put on a unique event for which we won a National Association of Colleges and Employers Award. Here at KU, basketball is a pretty big deal, and students tend to pour into the basketball arena about two hours before each men's in-conference game in order to get the best seats in the student sections. We decided that since the students are just sitting in the arena in the thirty-minute period before the doors are opened to the general public, that we would put on a show for them and raise awareness about our office and the services we offer. We had a student intern out on-campus interviewing KU students about career related information, basketball information, and about KU in general. We took the responses, most of which were pretty funny, edited them together, and then we played the short video on our jumbotron to kick off the show. We also had a student who emceed the whole show for us. He was out in the crowd with his microphone, the video played, and then the emcee picked students out of the crowd who competed for prizes in different contests. Target and AT&T both co-sponsored the show with us and provided various gifts and prizes for us to give to competing students. Target provided gift cards and AT&T provided cell phone accessory packages and our office provided professional items like leather portfolios, pens and coffee mugs. We ended the seminar with the results of our photo and video submission contest, where we were trying to get students to be creative and think about what they might be doing a year after they graduated from KU. We encouraged them to either take a still photograph or make a video that depicted what they thought they would be doing, and the winning student received an iPod Touch. We saw direct results with increased web traffic in the days after the shows and a 50 percent increase in student participation in our spring networking events and career fairs.
Between utilizing our technology and organizing seminars like the student pre-game show at basketball games, we have been able to get the word out about our office and our services, which might have been difficult otherwise. We are located in the basement of one of our student unions, which is not in the center of campus, so it can sometimes be challenging to get students to visit because we are removed from the main part of campus. Therefore, we are really trying to find other ways to provide this important career related information through the technology we have since we are not easily accessible to students.
CityTownInfo: A lot of people don't realize that very extensive, powerful and free resources are available on university websites.
Megan Hill: Oh, absolutely. I recommend the KU Alumni Association website to our students as well, because the online directory of our alumni is designed to help with networking and I think it's a great way for students to make connections. We encourage students to call the people on this list, because if a student tells the alum that he or she is a fellow Jayhawk, the student may be able to get a few minutes of their time, even if they are complete strangers.
CityTownInfo: Earlier you were discussing how more and more people are networking their way into a company. Do you think employers prefer that method versus hiring people through classified ads, online postings and resumes?
Megan Hill: Yes, definitely. Most of the employers I work with are so inundated with paper and resumes that they are really just overwhelmed. It is very helpful if they know people who can recommend someone for the position, especially if the applicant follows up and expresses interest. If that person then comes to the interview and speaks articulately about a company and it's evident that they've done their homework, then that applicant will have a pretty good chance of landing the job. However, someone who does network is still going to have to make him or herself stand out from the crowd.
CityTownInfo: What advice do you offer to students in order to help them maintain a good balance between theirs professional and personal lives once they start working full-time?
Megan Hill: If at all possible, before they accept a job, I encourage students to be sure that they've asked the right questions in order to know what is expected of them once they start that job. They should research the company enough to know what that work environment is like, if it is a good fit for them, and if they are going to be happy working there. If they can complete that research on the front end, I think they can avoid a lot of problems down the road. It is also absolutely important, regardless of how much work they have to do, to make time for their family and friends, and also to exercise, which sounds funny but is really, really important as well. Exercising gives people more energy, helps them stay healthier and helps their body deal with stress in a much more positive way. For me, those are the two big tips in maintaining the work-life balance.
CityTownInfo: Do you think the formal educational process should start as soon as possible, such as attending a Montessori preschool, or do you think there is a certain facet of education that has more importance regarding getting into a good college than others?
Megan Hill: I think education overall is incredibly important. As a mother of a seven-year-old in second grade, I definitely think parents should talk with their children about the importance of education right from the moment the child enters into any school setting. Of course, for younger children, education should be stimulating so that they find learning fun. As they get older, even in elementary school, parents should start talking with their children about the possibilities of going to college. I think the more often and earlier children hear about college, the chances are much greater that they might actually end up attending. Having a college degree even in a tough job market sets a person apart and makes him or her more competitive. I believe talking to children about college will make a big difference down the road.
CityTownInfo: Some schools let the students skip a grade if they are far ahead of their classmates academically. Do you think that is a good tool to help motivate eager students, or do you think students should stay with their age group as a general rule?
Megan Hill: I think as long as a student only skips one grade level, it's okay. If a student skipped more than one grade level, I may be a little concerned in terms of their social development. However, for the eager and more gifted students, being challenged with advanced coursework can provide stimulation, whereas if they stayed in their same grade or were not challenged, they may find themselves getting bored and losing interest, which can lead to other problems. I think it depends very much on the individual student and where they are academically, but I am definitely a proponent for allowing gifted students to advance at least one grade level to keep them interested in continued learning.
CityTownInfo: What are the most important tasks high school students should do in order to get into the best possible college or university and how soon should they start working on that plan?
Megan Hill: I used to work for admissions here at KU, so I am used to talking about that topic. Definitely, the earlier a student begins the process, the better. Even high school freshmen should be thinking about what lies ahead and tailor what they are currently doing to getting into college three or four years later, but of course there are only certain things students can do at that age. For example, I recommend that students take either the ACT or the SAT fairly early on so that they can treat the first test as practice. Students usually find that they perform better on one or the other, so if they take them both, students can determine which one they perform better on and take that particular test a second or even third time to get the best possible score.
I also recommend that students start focusing on their academics as early in high school as possible. Forming good study habits early on ensures that useful skills will be in place by the time students enter college, when they'll need to apply themselves even more.
It's also a good idea for students to develop a relationship with their guidance counselor from the moment they enter high school. Counselors are a great resource as students start exploring the colleges they are interested in because counselors will provide students with information they need to get through the college admissions process.
One of the most important tips I recommend to high school students is to get involved, both in school and in their community, through different civic or social organizations. Any community service that students participate in while in high school will help them gain experience and identify potential career paths. Students will also meet new people and network while they are getting involved, and the more people they meet, the more they can learn about possible colleges or programs at different institutions. In addition, community service experience looks very good on a college application, particularly a college scholarship application.
Lastly, students should begin researching colleges as soon as it's feasible for them, even as early as their freshmen year in high school. This way, they can start learning as much as possible about the academic programs the different schools offer as well as the different resources and opportunities available on the campuses in terms of student organizations and opportunities to get involved. As students approach their college graduation, those types of opportunities and experiences are going to be incredibly important to potential employers.
CityTownInfo: What are the biggest trends you are seeing amongst incoming college students?
Megan Hill: We frequently hear about students who are looking for part-time jobs while enrolled in classes full-time. We have a job location and development program in our office that allows us to use a federal grant in order to identify off-campus jobs, so that's very helpful. In terms of on-campus jobs, a lot of the students we talk with are looking for and asking about Federal Work-Study positions, which is a program offered through the Federal Government. A lot of the offices here on our campus employ Work-Study students, and many of them will only employ Work-Study students. It works out pretty well here at KU. A lot more students are knowledgeable about the program and a lot of them are asking about it. On the KU jobs website, students are able to sort all job openings that are funded by the Work-Study program, so it makes it very easy for them to identify those positions if the students have been approved through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. If they are hired for a Work-Study job, part of their wage is paid with funds appropriated by the Federal Government, while their employing office pays the remainder.
CityTownInfo: So the money students earn through this program doesn't directly apply to the school to help employed students pay for their education?
Megan Hill: No. Students get the money either by check or direct deposit and they determine what to spend it on, so there is flexibility there and a learning opportunity for the students to manage their money. As part of the agreement with the Work-Study Program, students are limited to how many hours they can work per week.
Another trend we are seeing is an increase in student interest in internships. Especially with the current state of the job market, students are becoming more aware of the importance of internships and gaining that type of experience while they are still in school, so they have meaningful and substantive content to include in their resumes. It also allows them to be very articulate about experiences they've had when they are in a job interview.
CityTownInfo: With the way the economy is, are you seeing that most internships are paid or unpaid?
Megan Hill: In terms of the internship postings we receive from employers, it's about half and half. I haven't really looked at or analyzed the data too closely, but I wouldn't be surprised if the salaries for paid internships have dropped slightly. That's not always the case, however, and in certain instances companies are actually paying their interns more, so it really just depends on the individual employer and how they are positioned in the current job market. Obviously a lot of companies are struggling, but then there are others that are really thriving right now.
CityTownInfo: Do you think master's level students seek out and receive more focused career counseling than undergraduate students?
Megan Hill: Yes. I think getting an advanced degree obviously helps people gain more of a specialized skill set, so it makes sense that anyone graduating from a graduate-level program would probably be more focused in terms of their career options. However, I encourage anyone, whether they have a bachelor's degree, a masters or PhD, to keep their options open and to think outside of the box in this type of economy. For example, someone who was just laid off in the information technology or engineering sector should start exploring other industries where they can apply similar skills. Someone in IT might want to find a job in the healthcare field, because healthcare is doing really well right now and they need IT people too.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related books or websites that you recommend to your students?
Megan Hill: I'm getting more and more alumni who are coming back after they've lost their jobs and I'm finding that they are particularly interested in federal jobs. Of course, applying for federal jobs is a very unique and cumbersome process. There is a great website I recommend to help people get through it: makingthedifference.org. It's run by an organization called "The Partnership for Public Service" and it has great resources in terms of how to develop a federal style resume, how to write KSAs and where to look for federal jobs.
I recommend usajobs.gov to students pretty regularly, and a new website called glassdoor.com is pretty interesting as well. I encourage students to check out glassdoor.com if they are in the process of researching potential employers, because the website has interviews with both current and former employees from different companies about what it is like to work for a particular company. I think it can provide either really positive information about a company or completely dissuade a student from wanting to work there. In terms of health careers, explorehealthcareers.org is a very comprehensive website with a lot of really good information, while Indeed is always a popular general search engine. I also think our website, kucareerhawk.com, is great for anyone, so I recommend it all the time.
CityTownInfo: What recommendations do you make to students so that they can stand out from other applicants in a stack of resumes or at job fairs? If a student wanted to enter a healthcare or federal field, for example, how could they stand out from the crowd?
Megan Hill: For federal jobs, I recommend truly putting time and effort into designing federal style resumes, which then need to be customized to each particular government position that the applicant is applying for. They also need to really put time and effort into writing the KSAs, which are the knowledge, skills and ability essays. They should also have someone else read the essays before they submit them to make sure there aren't any major typos or misspelled words. More generally, no matter what type of job a person is applying for, they definitely want to customize their resume to that particular position.
Another very relevant thing that students need to remember is to clean up their online image before they apply for any professional positions. On the social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, it is definitely a good idea for students to make sure they are presenting themselves in a professional light, because employers are becoming more savvy to using those sites to check out candidates and make sure they are a good fit for their company.
Another recommendation I give to students is calling the organization they are interested in and talking to the person in-charge of the hiring for that particular job, and then express their interest in the position to them. Along those same lines, I also recommend a follow-up phone call after an application is submitted, just to inquire about where the company is in the application process. However, we don't want students to pester employers, but a simple follow-up to express interest and initiative could be beneficial. People remember when they've received a phone call or an email from someone who is interested in a particular job.
In person, dressing professionally and being well groomed are very important. Practicing interview skills prior to an actual job interview will help people stand out, especially a college student who hasn't had a whole lot of experience going on job interviews. A technique for interviewing that we promote a lot here at the career center is called the STAR technique, which covers the Situation, Task, Action and Results of a situation. By answering questions in that format, interviewees tell the interviewer so much more than what most of the other job applicants probably did. The interviewer is going to get a full view of the interviewee's overall experience and the results that came from that experience.
In the healthcare category, I think the points I just talked about definitely apply. Someone who wants to be a nurse needs to have had experience as a certified nursing assistant, LPN, or something similar prior to getting his or her RN. They should also have a lot of hands-on experience, because, for example, not everyone can just walk in and draw blood from a patient.
CityTownInfo: How do you think your school, or universities in general, have changed from the past?
Megan Hill: Overall, I think colleges and universities are much more in the public eye, and public institutions especially are becoming more accountable to our stakeholders than in the past. Universities are very political these days, and people want to know that their tax dollars are being well spent. They want to know that if they send their child to a state institution, their child is going to be well educated and have ample opportunities. I think that because of the information age we live in, there is just so much opportunity for information to be shared, whether it is good or bad. I think colleges and universities and particularly public schools, really have to be very strategic in every decision they make because we are just under so much more scrutiny than in the past. I believe this is a good thing however, because it helps motivate us to put the time and effort into researching thoroughly so we can make the right decisions.
CityTownInfo: Universities are run more like businesses than in years past?
Megan Hill: Yes, there is much more business involved today. Many years ago, colleges and universities were essentially separate from everything else. Schools have to be much smarter about the decisions they make and as such operate more like businesses than how a college or university may have operated 50 years ago.