By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 22, 2009
The following is a transcript of an interview with Beth Nicholson, Director of Career Services at The University of Toledo. UT is a public university located in Toledo, Ohio. Established in 1872, the University offers more than 250 academic programs in diverse areas of study, organized into more than eight academic divisions. Some of the university's notable alumni are Bob Dempsey, NASA Flight Director; Christi Paul, CNN Headline News anchor; and Philip Baker Hall, actor.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related web sites that you recommend to your students?
Beth Nicholson: Yes, students wanting to research different occupations can access sites on the internet. The University of Toledo's Career Services web site has an extensive site, but any of the national sites such as O*NET are also very good.
CityTownInfo: Does the career services office offer their services to non-credit students, to the community or to alumni?
Beth Nicholson: Our office serves UT alumni and all UT students. The University offers baccalaureate programs as well as graduate programs and associate degrees within the various colleges. UT's mission is to improve the human condition, and continuing one's education is part of that.
The University has been working diligently with the community to develop alternative energy. We are breaking ground for the Scott Park Campus for Energy and Innovation in the fall of 2009, so we really are changing a lot. First Solar in Perrysburg, a suburb of Toledo, and Xunlight were both developed in partnership with The University of Toledo and are examples of how UT is moving forward to strengthen the economy in the region.
Three years ago The University of Toledo merged with the Medical University of Ohio. UT is one of among the top in the country in terms of the number of professional programs offered, so that is something really exciting. Now with the Scott Park Campus for Energy and Innovation, we are just going full speed ahead. We are constantly evolving and I think that's critical, because we are keeping up with the needs of our community as well as the needs of the country.
Last year, the UT Learning Collaborative was initiated. This collaborative in an innovative initiative grouping academic and learning support functions. Some of the departments included in this unit are Career Services, the Learning Enhancement Center, Office of Accessibility, First Year Experience, Honors Program, and Gateway Program.
CityTownInfo: What kind of career advice would you give to someone starting college today?
Beth Nicholson: We advise students to research different occupations to learn about education requirements, skill sets needed, and the employment trends. We encourage them to not just choose their career path according to salary, something they've seen in a movie or heard. We recommend they research and conduct informational interviews of professionals in the field. They should know what the projected employment trends are in their desired field, which can be found on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics web site. We recommend they look at their choices very broadly at first; then narrow the choices based on valid information.
CityTownInfo: Do you think students know what kind of information to look for, or do they generally need a lot of guidance related to the kind of information they need to research?
Beth Nicholson: Many high schools in the country today, even some junior high schools, are getting students started on the process of researching career options, so most students have done some investigation at some point in their academic career. Certainly there is always additional information to learn, and visiting a career office is certainly a great place to start. For example, our career office has our own library, so that in addition to informational interviews and shadowing, students can research occupations.
CityTownInfo: Do you think that students today are more knowledgeable about the different steps they need to take in order to find out about different career options in different universities than they were 15 years ago? Or do students still need a nudge?
Beth Nicholson: Students are still students. They are still going through the growth process that they go through in elementary school and junior high school, so by the time they get to college, they may or may not be where the students were 15 years ago. If they are not, they can catch up quickly. It's not the major task that some students think it is, it's really a learning process just as it is with learning math or science.
CityTownInfo: What do you think are the most important things that a student can do to prepare for finding a job?
Beth Nicholson: Number one is getting some kind of experiential learning, whether a co-op, an internship or a part-time job - anything to get experience in the work world. Developing a professional resume, practicing interviewing skills, and networking is very important. It is never too soon to network.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any other things that students can do to prepare to find a job?
Beth Nicholson: Preparing themselves academically is important. We recommend that students get involved in student and community activities. Employers not only look for the experiential learning piece, but they look for leadership qualities, project management qualities and good communication skills.
CityTownInfo: What would you say to a student who is working full-time and putting themselves through college who might not necessarily have the time for on-campus student activities? What kind of advice would you offer to help build up that leadership experience or make them more attractive since they don't necessarily have the "leisure time" for on-campus leadership opportunities?
Beth Nicholson: If they are already working full-time, that in itself is an opportunity to take on leadership roles. They could also volunteer for a new project at work and offer to lead it. Many businesses offer fundraising projects like the United Way Campaign. In the community there are opportunities to do volunteer work and get some different kinds of experience through Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and other charities. There are a number of ways that a person who works fulltime and attends college can gain some additional experience.
CityTownInfo: What are the most common errors you believe students make during an interview?
Beth Nicholson: Not knowing something about the company with which they are interviewing. In other words, we want students to do their research before they walk into the interview. Not being able to communicate and articulate their strengths in their skills set is a mistake I know is made a lot as well. For example, a student may apply for a position in a different industry than their major, and there may not be a direct connection between what they studied and what they are going to be doing, but there always are transferable skills. Students really need to be able to articulate what their skills set is.
CityTownInfo: What kind of suggestions would you recommend to students to help them stand out from other applicants? For example, I have heard that a lot of companies are asking for electronic portfolios. Is that something that you are hearing requested more often?
Beth Nicholson: I have not heard that directly from employers; I have heard from student feedback that employers are asking for portfolios. We know employers are looking at Facebook, so we caution students to find out what information is on the Internet about them.
We recommend that students do their research and look the part, meaning if they want to be taken seriously, they need to dress seriously. We advise them to be well groomed and wear a suit. Some students come into our office and do not know what attire is appropriate for an interview. Also, we tell students to make sure they know what is on their resume. Some students may have an outside company writing their resume for them, so they need to know what's on their resume and be able to speak to it. They need to able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses, and again, their skills set. Students need to make sure that they are having a conversation with the interviewer, because it's a two-way street. The interviewer is trying to decide whether the interviewee is a good fit for their company or agency, but the applicant is also trying to see if the company or agency is a good fit for them as well. Interviewees should be professional at all times and never say anything negative or derogatory about a former employer. Even with a bad employment situation, one can learn something positive.
CityTownInfo: If a student is having a hard time picking a major, would you nudge them towards certain industries with better projections for longevity? And if so, what are those industries?
Beth Nicholson: We do not nudge them towards certain industries. We give them information, and I truly believe that students can make their own decision if they have enough information. Do we hand them the information on a platter? No. We give them resources and we help them set goals for themselves. Doing research on occupations is critical. Again, most people can make decisions if they have enough information, so we have a four-step process on how to choose a major or a career. We help them through that process and guide them through it, but we do not hand them decisions. We do provide, administer and interpret career assessments.
CityTownInfo: What kind of assessments do you use?
Beth Nicholson: We have used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and SIGI. Currently we are using Focus and Strong Interest Inventory. Students can access Focus on our web site. It will ask them questions about their interests and values and prints out a summary sheet that comes in the form of a bar graph and is based on the Holland Code. John Holland researched people who were not only successful in their careers, but enjoyed those jobs as well. Holland developed a six-letter code based on the results of his research. The code is based on being realistic, investigative, enterprising, conventional, artistic and/or conventional types. Many occupations can be matched to a three-letter code. In other words, the student might be social, investigative and enterprising, so their three-letter code would be SIE. We assist students by providing a list of majors at The University of Toledo and with occupations that match their three-letter code. The students take the Focus assessment and bring in the summary sheets for discussion with a career services professional.
CityTownInfo: That's really neat, because I've been reading about the importance of soft skills a lot lately. Whatever one's personality is, it can manifest into a successful career. It's good that the Holland Code is taking the approach of using soft skills to move forward rather than just the tasks that the job requires.
Beth Nicholson: NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers, is a professional organization to which we belong. They speak to different employers, take surveys, and one of the top attributes that employers look for are communication skills, those soft skills you mentioned. The technical skills are further down on the employer's list, but the communication skills, integrity and work ethic, those types of things, are what employers highly value.
CityTownInfo: Going back to what you were saying about students having to be able to sell themselves. In my experience, I have interviewed a lot of different people, and I think younger, less experienced people are a little bit shy about selling themselves because they feel like they are bragging or they feel like maybe their resume sounds like it's inflated. How would you help a student get over that shyness or insecurity?
Beth Nicholson: I agree. We have the same issue, many students come to us worried that they are going to be bragging. What I tell them is the interviewer does not know them at all. If they can't explain what they can bring to the employer in the form of knowledge, skills, abilities and experience, the employer won't know what the student has to offer. Rather than thinking of it as bragging, we tell the students to think of it as explaining what they can do and what they can bring to the table for the company.
CityTownInfo: Considering that students are ultimately attending school to be eligible for better positions, why do you think visits to the career counselors at universities or colleges aren't mandated?
Beth Nicholson: I think that everyone believes in their own program, believes in what they are doing, and just because of time constraints they may not always take that next step on how to connect it to a profession when their students get out of the school. I think it's just a matter of time constraints and students using their time in the ways that they feel are best. More and more we are seeing an increase in collaboration between academic departments, career services and student affairs activities, because the economy is requiring that a candidate for a job be well rounded. Just having academic knowledge, what they learn from a book, is no longer the only important quality for a potential candidate. It's also their other experiences and their preparedness to enter the workforce, and that's where Career Services can help.
CityTownInfo: What kind of advice does your office provide regarding today's multigenerational workforce? For example, Baby Boomers are retiring later, and you have Gen X, Gen Y, and then the Millennials all working together in the same office. What kind of advice would you offer to students or recent graduates to help them work within a multigenerational work environment?
Beth Nicholson: That has always been the case as far as when students are entering the workforce, they have always been multi-generational. The big thing right now, because the economy is depressed at the moment, is that we are seeing college graduates and older employees applying for the same entry-level positions. A new graduate may be competing for the same position with someone who has 20 years experience. What we would tell the new graduate then, is try to set themselves apart. We advise students to find out what is unique about them in addition to the basic skills needed for the job, because maybe that uniqueness is what wins the position. I am talking about including some special skills, whether it is experience in sales, experience in certain technical programs or academic experience. Any special skills that the student has might create a different approach. For example, at The University of Toledo there is a program called UT3. People who have bachelor's degrees in science and math who may have majored in biology, chemistry, or mathematics, receive additional training and are eligible to teach. The program provides those educational courses that will bring them up to speed and earn them licensure. We see people who studied in the science or mathematics fields for 10 to 20 years, and now want to teach what they learned to students. As we know, someone with experience is very, very attractive to an employer.
CityTownInfo: If they have concrete experience in that field, they can talk intelligently to their experience rather than just something theoretical that they read about.
Beth Nicholson: Exactly. For example, if they majored in chemistry and worked in a laboratory for many years testing drugs, they can go into a high school and address so many things using personal experiences, giving those students examples.
CityTownInfo: How is the recession having an impact on student enrollment? Is it down due to the lack of income or up due to the obvious need for more education in order to be competitive?
Beth Nicholson: At the University of Toledo, enrollment has increased.
CityTownInfo: Is education being extended? For example, are more people who are about to graduate deciding to stay in school due to the lack of available jobs in the market today?
Beth Nicholson: Yes, we are seeing that as well. At The University of Toledo, our president and his staff have put together a program called UT Guarantee, where they are going into the urban districts of Ohio and guaranteeing those students an education if they maintain certain GPA and meet other criteria. We have a concentrated effort to reach out to students in Ohio and keep them here. Maybe it will be easier for them to go to school closer to their home, so keeping them in the State of Ohio is important.