Successful Student Job Searches Involve Resources From Web to Face-to-Face Networking
By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 28, 2009
The following is the transcript of an interview with Thomas (Tom) Halasz. Mr. Halasz joined the University of South Carolina as Director of the Career Center in July of 2008 and leads an office of seventeen career services professionals in providing comprehensive career services to University students and alumni, while working with employers to meet their recruiting needs. He has spent his career in higher education as a career counselor and in employer relations & outreach. Mr. Halasz has conducted research on the effectiveness of career classes and has had his work published in the book Career Counseling of College Students and has presented at a number of national conferences. Mr. Halasz received his master's in counseling from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and his bachelor's in political science at Western Michigan University.
The University of South Carolina is home to more than 200 years of history and tradition. Joining the flagship campus in Columbia, are four-year campuses in Aiken, Beaufort, and Upstate (Spartanburg-Greenville). Four two-year campuses--Lancaster, Sumter, Salkehatchie (Allendale and Walterboro), and Union--help the University cover the state. In addition, the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus has more than 350 degree programs through its 14 colleges and schools. Students have been awarded more than $11.4 million for national scholarships and fellowships since 1994. Read more ore about the Universiity of South Carolina.
CityTownInfo: What kinds of tools do you recommend to students to help them learn to be resourceful?
Thomas Halasz: Any experience is better than no experience. Using all their resources is very important as well. I would love for a student to come in and spend all their time here at the career center. However, I think the reality is that students need to use all their resources, including family, friends, faculty, staff and online networks. We advise students to use their resources to find job opportunities and stress to them the importance of networking.
When a lot of people hear the word networking, they think about the concept of networking as in people they know who can find them a job, but that's just the surface level. Networking is the networker's contacts, the second-degree connections' contacts and whom that third level knows, because that's where the jobs will be. People have to think about the three levels to networking. Networking is hard work. It is something one might think that this generation is really good at because they are very social and they do network, but networking for a job is not the same as online social networking and it is not easy. The level of preparation that people have to have and the amount of rejection they will receive is very difficult to handle for most individuals. A networking campaign in conjunction with a job search will take a lot of time and effort. Again, they have to think about the three levels. The third level is the one where they are going to most often find that job, not from someone they know on the first level.
CityTownInfo: Have you heard about any particular networking sites that have been more successful in helping people find jobs than others? I know LinkedIn specifically calls out third degree connections.
Thomas Halasz: Well, I think LinkedIn is a very good online networking resource. I would also point out that any professional association that is related to an individual's occupational or career goal should be part of their networking strategy. For instance, if a student is interested in a career in chemical engineering, they should network through the chemical engineering association. There is a professional association for every career interest, every occupation and every hobby, so I encourage students to join those associations, be active in those associations and use them for networking purposes.
However, we advise students not to focus solely on online resources. Online resources are very convenient, and some of them work very well, but when it comes to using all the resources, most will not be online, and that's a challenge for this generation in some cases. They have this impression that they can do everything online, but some things have to be done face-to-face. That's an important lesson for all jobseekers, but particularly for this generation.
We don't hire pieces of paper or an electronic computer screen, we hire people, and that's where an individual has to be out there in making sure that the interested employers see and know them. It is challenging, but it's very important for students to maintain a positive attitude and not focus on the challenges that they are going to face. It's a very challenging job market, but they have to believe that they are going to be successful. They have to keep a positive optimistic view of this process, and know that they will ultimately be successful. We are all going to have many, many different occupations and work experiences in the course of our lifetime, and jobseekers need to appreciate that so they can maintain that confidence.
CityTownInfo: What career advice do you give to someone entering college today?
Thomas Halasz: I would first encourage anyone entering college today to keep their grades high. It's very important that they establish a very good GPA and maintain that, because it has relevance in their job search.
Aside from that, I would encourage them to keep in mind that things will change over the four to five years they will be enrolled in college. Career options will change dramatically, and we've seen that occur in this recent job market and economic downturn, and it happened very quickly. Students need to keep an eye on what happens over the course of their education and to remember that career planning is not just about coming to the career center in their freshman year and then returning their senior year. A lot of work has to be done in between to make sure they are best prepared to find a good job.
The top priority for someone preparing for a job search is to make sure they get experience. The top three things I would say are experience, experience and experience. Students have to understand that if they are going to be competitive, regardless of the job market, they have to get more experience.
CityTownInfo: Do you think that employers prefer a co-op or internship, or do you think that a student who has job experience would be viewed as more desirable?
Thomas Halasz: It depends on their occupational goals. For some individuals, a co-op or an internship will be just right. Other individuals may volunteer with a faculty member to do research. Others will write articles for their student newspaper. Any of those things would be appropriate for a student depending on his or her career goals. Again, they'll have to first decide what their career goals are, and then work to gain relevant work experience. However, any work experience is better than none, and that's the key.
CityTownInfo: Most would agree that the ultimate goal of any type of long-term education is to earn some sort of paying job, so why are visits to career services center not mandated by colleges and universities?
Thomas Halasz: Well, very little of a university experience is mandated. Some faculties mandate that students attend their classes, some don't. We know that certain healthcare procedures, vaccinations and things like that, are mandated at universities, but that is much less mandated than one might hope or believe. The fact that career services are not mandated is generally recognized as a good thing. Forcing students to do things, regardless of whether or not they are truly beneficial for them, is not something universities typically do. I don't disagree that students should visit the career center, but I can't talk about university policies and the decision that the university makes about what's required.
CityTownInfo: They have some required freshman classes that are pretty much the same regardless of a student's major, correct?
Thomas Halasz: Yes.
CityTownInfo: And some colleges and universities have freshman 101 orientation classes.
Thomas Halasz: Sure.
CityTownInfo: Then it's a surprise that most universities don't have a class for sophomores or juniors that is tied in with the career services office, because I think that's when students really start to think about their future careers.
Thomas Halasz: The University of South Carolina has a nationally recognized University 101 program, and they work very closely with students. Most of the students here at the university have an interaction with the career center. However, the timing between their freshman year and their junior year is significant, and this is where having some additional opportunity could be beneficial.
The University of South Carolina's new program, "The Sophomore Experience", is something that we are working to develop further, and some of that program has a career component as well. Other universities I know have had a senior experience, and I know some programs here at the University of South Carolina have that component. It's not standard across the university, but more and more colleges' departments are incorporating some aspect of career services into their students' junior and senior years, whether it is through a capstone course or some other mandatory course.
CityTownInfo: In addition to gaining experience, which you mentioned before, what do you think are some of the other important things that a student can do to prepare to find a job?
Thomas Halasz: Students have to have a good sense of what they think they would enjoy doing, because liking one's job is a very important aspect for any job. If they are going to market themselves effectively, it is important that they know these things. Students who are ineffective finding a job often really don't know what they are looking for, so they need to work to identify the career paths that fit their goals and interests. We talked about the importance of getting work experience a little bit earlier. All those things would prepare that individual to be a competitive candidate for finding a job.
CityTownInfo: What kind of testing do you give to students to help them determine what might be a good fit for them?
Thomas Halasz: We administer assessments that will help students determine their interests, values and goals, and give them a sense about which careers they could be happy and satisfied in. We also have information regarding the future of different occupations, so they can take a look at that as well. I mentioned earlier that things change within a couple of years, so the information we provide students is designed to give them a sense of different career paths they can take with their majors.
CityTownInfo: Which of the assessments do you prefer the most?
Thomas Halasz: We often use the Strong Interest Inventory coupled with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Those two are very effective.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any specific career related websites or books that you recommend?
Thomas Halasz: We highly recommend that our students use our web resources. Our site will help students understand information regarding their majors and careers, as well as how to research employers and conduct a job search. I recommend that students go to our website and start there, which is www.sc.edu/career. That will give them a lot of information and a place to start their major or job search.
We have quite a few book resources in our Career Library. One that I read recently that I'd like to mention is a book called "Do This! Get Hired!" The reason I like this book is because it's very no nonsense, and it's from a professional recruiter's angle regarding the things he looks for while recruiting. The author is Mark Lyden, and he is still a recruiter. It's a very quick read, and it's very specific and very direct. That's one that came across my desk recently, and I did find very helpful and I think there is some great advice in it.
CityTownInfo: Are the websites that you mentioned only available to the university's students or are they available to the public as well?
Thomas Halasz: No, they're available to the public as well. The web resources section is just general information and links to other resources that we either developed or sites that are already on the web. It's very well organized and available to everyone. We have some intranet sites as well however. The Online Recruiting System is password protected and only available to the students and alumni of the four universities of South Carolina. However, most all of the other resources I mentioned are available to the public.
CityTownInfo: What do you think are the most common errors that students make during an interview?
Thomas Halasz: One of the most common errors among individuals who are going to interview is that they are mistaken in their impression that because they are a good public speaker or communicator, they'd be good in the interviewing environment. Interviewing is something very different than a conversation we might typically have or even a presentation we might give. It has aspects of preparation that are required for success that far exceed most interactions, and unless an individual prepares a great deal for the interview, they will find that their level of success is going to be limited. I am not going to say that individuals who don't prepare for interviews can't be successful, but what we find is that those who prepare more generally succeed more often.
One example I like to give is that a student will spend four to five years or more in their college education, and that will prepare them to do an interview. Along with gaining education and experience, they will have opportunities to interview. However, whether or not they get a job will generally depend on if have they prepared. They can prepare through mock interviews, which can be conducted through the online resources that we have here in the career center, or interviews can be done face-to-face as well. This way they have at least gone through the process to determine how capable they are with interviewing.
We encourage students to find concrete examples of their skills and experiences that are important to employers. The challenge in an interview is that people have all this information in their brain, but sometimes they can't verbalize all the right information under pressure. It's there, but they cannot provide the depth or clarity to their story. The information provided to the interviewer is necessary, so by preparing ahead of time and by writing down key examples of one's skills and experiences an employer will need, the interview will likely run much more smoothly. If students are confident in interviewing, their success rate will go up.
CityTownInfo: Do you think it is a good idea if they bring notes to the interview?
Thomas Halasz: Typically we don't recommend that students bring notes. There are situations where it could be helpful. However, the challenge with bringing notes or taking notes in an interview is that once they start, the notebook becomes the focus of attention. In the interview, the focus needs to be on the interviewer, but it's very easy to start focusing on notes, and that can end up guiding all of someone's responses. Again, we tell students that they need to be focused on the interviewer and what it is that the interviewer is asking, not what the student's notes indicate.
CityTownInfo: That allows students to hone in on non-verbal cues.
Thomas Halasz: Right. Students are not going to pick up on those things if they are focusing on their notes. One could gain some benefit from having notes, but we discourage individuals from either bringing notes along or taking them during the interview. The only notes we encourage students to prepare ahead of time and bring with them to the interview are questions that they might have for the interviewer. One thing that I will add as an exception is that some students will bring a portfolio with them with examples of their work if they are in a media or arts field, for example. Again, that's an exception, and we don't see that a great deal with most people interviewing.
CityTownInfo: I have been seeing a lot of requests for digital portfolios lately. Is that something that you've heard as well?
Thomas Halasz: I've heard that there is an increased use of digital portfolios, and they can be helpful depending on the individual's background. However, I have to make sure that students understand that there are no substitutes for a job search. The challenge with online job searches is that it's very easy for individuals to post a resume, and then they expect they can just sit back and wait for the job offers to come. However, the online facet doesn't replace the job search, it only augments it. The jobseeker has to understand that their resume is not the only one out there; there are a million others as well. We find that networking and working with a career center and their faculty will help them find those opportunities and use all their resources. Again, I wouldn't want to dissuade someone from creating an online portfolio, because it could be very effective. However, they should not rely completely on it in their job search.
CityTownInfo: What kind of suggestions do you have for students to help them stand out from other applicants?
Thomas Halasz: What differentiates most candidates is their level of experience. That aside, making sure that their resume reflects the position they are applying for and using keywords that the employer uses in their posting are important as well. If the employer is looking for skills that reflect knowledge of materials that are used in fabricating tents for instance, then they should use the words that describe those fabrics in their resume. That may not be the best example, but what is most important is to give the employer what he or she is looking for. The applicant's resume indicates that they have those skills and experiences that the employer is looking for. Beyond experience, relevance would be the most important thing.
CityTownInfo: Say you have a student graduate with a finance degree; there are a million different companies that he or she could work for because everyone needs someone to take care of their books. What kind of advice would you give them as far as having a more generic or specific resume?
Thomas Halasz: I would recommend that students modify both their cover letter and their resume, probably more so their resume. We understand that only half of all employers reviewing resumes actually read the cover letter. That's not to say the cover letter is not important, because it is definitely one of the factors in the decision of the other 50 percent of employers. The importance of the cover letter depends on the career field that the individual is applying for. If the career field requires a great deal of writing, the cover letter will have more importance. For those positions that are more technology-based or require less writing, the resume will probably have more value to the employer.
When it comes to modifying the resume and cover letter, students need to reflect the needs of the employer and prove they can help the employer fill whatever holes they may have. If the cover letter and resume are generic, the employer will not think of that individual as unique, and it reduces the likelihood of him or her getting the position. Again, not to say the applicant definitely won't get called for an interview, but it reduces the likelihood, so writing individual resumes and cover letters for each position is key. It's not about how many general resumes and cover letters the applicant can send out.
CityTownInfo: What kind of differences are you seeing between students today versus years past?
Thomas Halasz: The students today are more plugged in. They do a lot of activities online, more so than other generations. We also know that they are more socially, environmentally and publicly aware than other generations. I have to say, however, that this generation and previous generations have more in common than not. They still have the same insecurities in recognizing that it's difficult to get a job and they worry about their success, so we see that their needs are very similar.
Parents are definitely more involved with this generation. They are sometimes referred to as helicopter parents, but we don't see a lot of extreme involvement on the part of parents. I think it's overdone in the media. They find examples of it that are true, but those examples are few and rare. Again, I think students are more comfortable with their parent's involvement and they work with their parents more in their job search.
The expression "helicopter parent" comes because helicopters hover and drop in, and then they take off again. . They drop in, they take off again, and they just hang around a lot. Some students are very comfortable with it. Extreme cases are where parents accompany their children to job fairs. The employer representatives really don't like that. Some parents accompany their students to interviews, and employers don't like that either. It doesn't help the students' standing with the company. In the four or five universities that I've worked in, I haven't seen a great deal of it, and I don't think that my experience is unique, because it doesn't happen a lot.
CityTownInfo: How would you say that the recession is impacting student enrolment?
Thomas Halasz: It's still a little early to draw conclusions about the impact on student enrolment this coming year. I have to say that we won't know what the actual impact is until the fall semester starts, because students will look at their educational choices. Our admission offices indicate that parents and students have been much more careful consumers. They are looking at cost and value, and they are really taking their time to make their career or college choice. We expect students and their families to seek every avenue of financial assistance. They are going to look at their financial aid, and they are going to see what works best for them, so we are seeing a significant increase in applications for financial aid.
We know that a college degree is still a very good option for students, so we will see students going to college, but perhaps not always according to original plans. Because of cost and things like that, they'll choose different college options. Some students will choose lower cost colleges and institutions rather than their first choice, which might be more expensive. Some students may drop out to work for a while. They may take a year off in between high school and college just to save money, or they'll take a reduced class load so they can save money whenever they come back to school. It's just a little bit early for us to say what the admissions picture looks like, but come August we will have a better idea.
CityTownInfo: Do you think that enrolment is up because students realize that they have to have education in order to get ahead in the work world, down because they are trying to save money or are they staying in school longer because the economy is bad?
Thomas Halasz: We are seeing all of the above. We are seeing students who will choose to go to college to be able to get a better job down the road and we are seeing students holding off on their post-secondary education to save money. As far as driving more students to school, we'll have to wait and see. We haven't seen a net gain or loss that I can put a finger on at this point. I hear of some students who are prolonging their academic experience, but we have to look at the finances there too. We can't say with certainty that any one of these three things are happening or not happening. We just don't have that information.
CityTownInfo: I read recently in the Washington Post that Community Colleges are booming because a lot of people who already have their degrees are going back to school to earn a certificate or an associate degree so they can do a quick career change. There are also a lot of students who are doing two plus twos, taking their lower level classes at a Community College and then switching over to a four-year school. Do you have any relationships with Community Colleges where you offer two plus two degrees?
Thomas Halasz: We do. We have a very good relationship with Midlands Technical College in Columbia.
CityTownInfo: Is the two plus two something you are seeing more often?
Thomas Halasz: Well, we understand that Community College enrolment is increasing nationally, and we think it is increasing statewide as well for all the reasons that you mentioned. Students can knock some classes out so they wouldn't have to take them at a four-year institution. Some people are re-careering as well. The federal and state governments are providing incentives to individuals to go back to school to get additional education also, so it's not surprising that the numbers might be up at this point. I haven't seen any of those statistics from Community Colleges but I think what you've read is likely applicable to the local area too.