El Paso Community College Career Director Interview: Develop A Career Plan First

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 9, 2009

The following is the transcript of an interview with Carla Cardoza, Director of El Paso Community College's Career Services. El Paso Community College or EPCC is a community college headquartered in El Paso, Texas and was founded in 1969. EPCC offers many degrees and career-oriented programs in several fields of study. The college operates several campuses and centers in addition to the courses offered at nearby Fort Bliss. EPCC serves over 25,00 students in the greater El Paso area.

Interview Transcript

CityTownInfo: What are the most common errors that you believe students make during an interview?

Carla Cardoza: Number one is of course not applying to the right job. Sometimes students get desperate and apply for everything in the book. That's a big no-no and it shows a lack of proper enthusiasm for the job. When prospective employees are interviewing for a job, they should be happy to be there and they should really want that job for the right reasons.

Another mistake that I see is not verbalizing one's thought process, and going around questions and not answering them correctly. One of the most important things to do during an interview is listen to the questions and answer them thoroughly.

The last mistake I see made most often is not setting one's skills apart from other applicants'. Interviewees need to stand out to potential employers with well thought out solutions to the needs of the position. Providing examples of related successful experiences the interviewee has had gives the interviewer concrete and useful information.

CityTownInfo: Does your school offer interviewing workshops or do you have companies you work with so that the students can have informational interviews for the sake of experience?

Carla Cardoza: Yes, we are set apart here at El Paso Community College. Under career services, we have four different areas, including: job placements, the cooperative education program, transfer services and we are also in charge of career planning and exploration for our students. Under those different areas we also offer additional resources.

For example, we offer mock interviews for our students which are videotaped. We give analyses of the interviews to our students and we also provide one-on-one and panel interviews. We involve our faculty members and community employers in order to develop relevant questions, especially for areas like IT or engineering, so we are able to pose the same questions that will be asked during a real interview. We also have workshops on how to write resumes, how to dress for success and how to improve interviewing techniques. We provide a variety of assessments in order to help our students discover the best career options to fit their interests, personality, and skills. Additionally, we offer job shadowing opportunities once the student is sure of the career they want to pursue.

CityTownInfo: You had mentioned that you also offer those services to alumni, right?

Carla Cardoza: Yes, we offer our services to all of our alumni and our current students. Additionally, we offer our services to noncredit students.

Related Article: Community Colleges Get Student Influx In Bad Times

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The troubled U.S. economy is driving more students than ever to community colleges and prompting some private four-year schools to dip into their waiting lists to meet fall enrollment targets, according to school officials.

Tens of thousands of students here and across the country are choosing community colleges for the first time...

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Some of our students are what we call "traditional transfers", and come from either a two or four-year college or university. We also have "reverse transfer" students, who have gone the traditional route of going from high school to a four-year institution for a bachelor's degree. They may have found out that their major is irrelevant for the jobs they want and they want to come back to a community college. We work with different universities to get their credits transferred to us so that the student can quickly finish a two-year associate's degree for their new career path. We also have students attending a university who are concurrently enrolled with us to compliment those credit hours because of financial reasons. They may want to finish their associate's degree at the same time they are finishing their bachelor's.

On May 22, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had its annual conference in eight different areas in Texas, and our school was one of them. We co-hosted a statewide conference on transfer issues, called the "Transfer Success Conference", and we talked about different paths to graduation.

Then in June, we participated in a conference involved in career planning and the importance of exploration for our students.

EPCC connects the needs of today's workplace to our educational and career services offerings so that we are very beneficial to our students and to our communities.

CityTownInfo: What career advice would you give to someone entering college today?

Carla Cardoza: Something we always tell our students, especially those in high school or those who are thinking about coming back to school, is to discover one's self. Students should have a career plan so they know where they are going. They need to be truthful to themselves and discover the skills they have and what kind of career they want to go into. The number one recommendation is that they must have a plan.

CityTownInfo: What kind of resources do you suggest to help them along with their plan?

Carla Cardoza: We work with a lot of high schools and we know that counselors and advisors have many resources as far as software, books and different information like that. We just ask students to talk to their advisors and career specialists in case they don't have any clues about what they want to do after college. Some students do not know what they want to do for a living - they just know they want to go to college. We let them know that we have all sorts of resources, from online to people they can talk to one-on-one to guide them through their decisions.

CityTownInfo: Do you have any specific resources you recommend?

Carla Cardoza: We use an assessment called "Discover". There are others that are used to discover skills and values that students have, in order to choose a career path or profession. We do not promote one specific resource because there are so many different ways students learn, so we offer a variety of assessments. The number one best thing to do is to talk to a career counselor.

CityTownInfo: Which particular programs' graduates are having an easier time finding jobs?

Carla Cardoza: As we know, a lot of jobs are suffering. The education field is still striving, along with heath careers and government jobs, as a lot of government jobs are becoming available with the new administration. The IT sector also continues to expand, especially when referring to green jobs. The word of the year is "green", so there are a lot of jobs that are being opened in the IT sector.

Related Article: Biden Announces Green Jobs Training Program

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Vice President Joe Biden and two Cabinet secretaries unveiled a national program on Tuesday in Denver, Colorado, which aims to train unemployed workers for green jobs using stimulus dollars.

The plan was announced at a town hall-style meeting of President Obama's Task Force on the Middle Class entitled "Building a Strong Middle Class Through a Green Economy." The meeting, which was attended by Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, took place at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science...

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CityTownInfo: And of course we have the Obama administration putting a lot of money behind green things too, and I would think that in a sunny state like Texas, you would have opportunities to use photocells and solar panels on roofs and things like that. Is that true?

Carla Cardoza: Yes, and we are seeing a lot of job offers for technical positions related to the creation of solar panels and wind turbines, as well as maintenance. There are many job openings in the green sector.

CityTownInfo: Would you say that El Paso Community College is making any program adjustments to deal with the current recession? If so, are the changes focused more on certain programs or are they are being made across the board?

Carla Cardoza: We have not seen any big adjustments, per se. We are always making adjustments to our programs and our curriculum as our students' needs change. So we are always making adjustments, but not specifically because of the recession.

CityTownInfo: What kinds of online resources do you wish were available to help you help the students with their career selection?

Carla Cardoza: As I had mentioned, there are a lot of different resources available to our students. Unfortunately, a lot of the online resources require a fee, so the college has to pay for the usage of those services. However, we don't charge our students for any of our services. I know some colleges and universities do charge their students a small fee in order to offset the cost, even if it's just a symbolic fee of $5, but we don't. There are many online resources available for writing resumes, for example. But there are some that are very specific to certain jobs and we wish they were available to all students in a variety of programs. To give you an example, "Optimal Resume" is a good program for high school students, but it is kind of pricey, so sometimes we do without it. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of resources available. I just wish that some of the ones that are more specific for specialized technical careers were available for free.

CityTownInfo: What are the three most important things students can do to prepare to find a job?

Carla Cardoza: Number one is research. Students need to find out what jobs are out there. 60% to 70% of jobs are never advertised, because advertising can be so expensive. A lot of employers, especially small businesses, do not advertise openings. So doing the research in order to find the jobs that are out there and find out what the jobs entails is very important.

Number two, which is very important as well, is for the student to update their resume as soon as possible. Many people leave this for the last day before they are going to be sending resumes out, but we tell our students that they should constantly be updating their information.

Number three is networking. We tell our students to always be networking, because one never knows who might be the next person to offer a job or who might know someone who can. We also tell our students that no one owes them a job, so they have to fight in order to win one. A lot of times there is a sense of entitlement from some young students, but we tell them that no one owes them anything. Students need to show employers that the student deserves to have that job.

CityTownInfo: One thing I will throw in there is that we have just released a series of career stories told by people working in a variety of fields. So if a student or job seeker is thinking of becoming a nurse or a teacher or whatever, she or he can go to our site and read about the experiences of people already working in those fields.

Carla Cardoza: That's great. We always tell our students to research positions first-hand with people who have had experience in a specific career, so that's wonderful.

CityTownInfo: Our website also profiles a lot of different positions, so, for example, if a student is looking into nursing, they can look at a CSN, RN, or positions requiring master's level education. The site offers a variety of different job profiles.

Carla Cardoza: That's great - we have a lot of students who go into criminal justice because they have been watching too much Law & Order. Obviously students' experiences are not going to be the same as what they see on television. We try to tell them look into the jobs related to their major, and reading about these different jobs will be valuable to them.

A lot of our students want to learn from other people's experiences and we try to do this through job shadowing, but sometimes with shadowing, students only get the best parts of the job. The person they are shadowing isn't going to show them anything bad, so it's almost a given that shadowing is going to be a good experience. So reading stories from people who are candid and will write about both the positives and negatives will be great for students' research.

CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related books that you would recommend to your students?

Carla Cardoza: Yes, I have some that are my favorites. Of course, "What Color is Your Parachute", by Richard Bolles is always a good one. It's a very simple, easy-to-read book, and it basically gives readers an idea on how to find careers that are a good match for different skill sets. Another book called "It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now" by Barbara Sher, is one I like a lot. It basically tells readers to start planning right now, it's never too late.

Aside from books, there are some very, very good websites that we recommend as well. Every day I learn of a new one, and we know our students are very technical so they are always looking for things on the internet. We always recommend QuintCareers.com, which is a website that gives information on career finding, planning and exploration. The site is to the point. We try to tell our students that they have to do a lot of research - they can't just go with what one resource or what they read on one website.

CityTownInfo: Do you expect that the stimulus package will have an impact on your students' ability to secure jobs?

Carla Cardoza: You know what, I actually I do. I am not being biased because I am also an instructor for government classes. I think that if anything, our students will have the ability to be retrained, and there are a lot of opportunities for retraining programs, especially at the community college level. There are many opportunities right now, and like I said, we are adjusting our curriculum all the time. So of course when we see changes, we try to do what's best for our students. I think in the long run, our adjustments will have an impact on our students and their ability to secure jobs that they want.

CityTownInfo: In an economic downturn you sometimes hear about job seekers trying creative methods to get their foot in the door at companies, such as offering to work for free for a few months and things like that. Are there any unusual ideas that you would advocate students to try in difficult times?

Carla Cardoza: I am always one to think outside of the box, but I think that we usually just try to stick to the traditional ways of job hunting. However, job seekers could always take extra, active steps to develop their own opportunities, such as researching and locating growth-oriented economic sectors, and pursuing those related employers. Also, I know I keep going back to technology, but there are a lot of opportunities in blogs, advertorials on social networking sites and things like that. I always tell our students, "now is the time to be freelancing" in order to enhance their portfolio and open doors for themselves as well. Also, volunteering is one of the paths into a company that we tell our students to consider.

By participating in events like the "Transfer Success Conference", EPCC stays on top of what is going on in the workplace and with career counseling, so we are best able to serve our students and communities.

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