By CityTownInfo.com Staff
The following is the transcript of an interview with Julie Komack, Director of Career Services for Massachusetts Bay Community College. The college is located approximately 15 miles west of Boston, in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.
Prior to coming to Mass Bay, Ms. Komack earned her Master's degree in education from Suffolk University. Her experience includes working as the Director of Career Services and Experiential Learning at Pine Manor College. For the past 15 years, Komack's education and work experience have given her a broad background in counseling and guiding others toward achieving their academic and personal goals. She has worked in urban environments in roles such as high school English teacher, minority transfer counselor, college preparatory director, life skills teacher, and student success programs director. She has worked primarily with prospective first-generation college students, helping them deal with the realities and challenges of career planning and building.
CityTownInfo: Are there any particular programs or majors whose graduates are finding it relatively easy to find a job?
Julie Komack: Anyone who is in the STEM division - which includes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, along with Energy - is doing well. These are booming areas that are not taking as much of a hit as some others. I recommend to people who come to me after being laid off, who are in a field having a difficult time right now, or who are trying to change careers, to think outside the box and see how they can transfer their skill sets into anything within the STEM fields which are offering more stable employment options.
CityTownInfo: How much has student enrollment changed due to the recession?
Julie Komack: We are seeing increased enrollment in Tech-Prep Programs, such as Radiology and Surgical Tech, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Programs.
CityTownInfo: When you have someone who's been out of work or is looking to change careers, are there specific paths you recommend with shorter training periods?
Julie Komack: We have certificate programs in every area from Biotechnology to Computer Science. Anything in networking or web development has a certificate program. We also have a lot of certificate programs that are much shorter in length and make it easier to find jobs when the student gets out because there are specific training programs for those careers that last about 6-9 months.
CityTownInfo: Are you seeing the most up-trending in students pursuing associates degrees or certificate programs?
Julie Komack: More people are coming are coming to Community Colleges like Mass Bay who already have a bachelor's degree and are trying to quickly earn a certificate. Because they've been laid off after being at a job for 20 years, they want a certification that will enable them to get right back into the workforce. That's one particular trend I am seeing a lot of. Another trend is a traditional student who comes to a community college to get their associate's degree, then transfers into a four-year college; usually to another state college because of our joint admissions program, but not always.
CityTownInfo: So, #1 is the bachelors plus certificate and #2 is two plus two?
Julie Komack: Yes, that's correct. We also have a very large automotive program here that is state-of-the-art. It's an amazing center whose students are often hired right away because we have specific sponsors such as BMW, Toyota and GM. As you know, it's a tough time right now for the auto industry, but our students are doing very well finding related jobs. The other option our students are pursuing is getting their automotive associate's degree and then going on to get their bachelor's in engineering and / or design.
CityTownInfo: Is your school making any program adjustments to deal with the current recession? If so, are the changes focused on certain programs or are they being made across the board?
Julie Komack: We always have changes in programs, especially in the STEM areas, and we are also adding in an energy program. These plans have been in process for a while, but now, with energy efficiency being a huge focus of Obama's plan, this is a good time for us to make energy programs a priority. The man who runs the automotive program is a big part of the energy initiative at Mass Bay, which is fantastic. So yes, in the areas of the STEM division we are seeing more interest, and we are therefore tweaking programs accordingly.
CityTownInfo: If you work with a student who has been laid off and has an interest in energy-related positions, what kind of advice would you give them to help bridge the gap between where they were and what they would like to get into? Not only with education, but how do you advise them to spin their resume so they can get their foot in the door in their new industry?
Julie Komack: I am going to toot my own horn, because this is one area that I really enjoy and one that I feel I excel in. I certainly am not in this business to make money, I am in this business to help others. I try to get each student or prospective student I meet with to think of their skills outside the box. One term we like to use for people who have intermediate jobs is 'Just Jobs'. At a 'Just Job', you are not learning anything or utilizing your skills, it's just a side job. I ask the student what they do now so I can pinpoint their skills in the description they just gave me. Then I bridge what fits from one field and how those skills fit into another. We talk a lot about a good attitude and moving beyond being boxed into a 'just job'.
CityTownInfo: So, there is no such thing as just a job?
Julie Komack: That's right.
CityTownInfo: What career advice would you give to someone entering college today?
Julie Komack: I recommend being passionate about your choices. You should participate in experiential learning opportunities to either confirm that you still want to do what you have set out to do, or to help you decide what you would like to do.
CityTownInfo: What if somebody comes to you and they can not decide between three or four different majors that they are interested in?
Julie Komack: I talk with each student individually. I like to use the analogy that deciding upon a career is like putting together a fine soup. I have a big bowl, and the student has all the ingredients; their attitudes and values toward work, their interests, their abilities, their skills and so on. We throw the ingredients in the pot, I stir it up and we end with a wonderful product. I am the spoon that stirs everything together, but it's all about them making the decisions for themselves.
CityTownInfo: What about career interest surveys or Myers-Briggs type analyses?
Julie Komack: We have the Holland, Myers-Briggs and a variety of other personality and assessment tests, whether it be online or on paper. I also have my own assessment test that I've been giving for years and we utilize all those tools.
CityTownInfo: What kind of online resources do you wish were available to help you with student's career selection or career placement?
Julie Komack: There are a variety that I utilize right now. We partner with College Central, which is our online job placement, job internship, full time and part-time job source. I also partner with CollegeHelpers.com for part time jobs. So, I have many specific job finding websites. We are also pretty big on Blackboard. A lot of college and university faculty members are utilizing it as a technology tool to post information on their classes. We utilize it to post events and so students can have access to a variety of websites having to do with their major, all sorts of things like that. It's nice to see everything in one place rather than having to go to a bunch of different sites to find what you need.
We can also help them compare job prospects between different states or regions of the country. Say they want to know about prospects for a nurse in North Carolina or Massachusetts, because they had family in North Carolina and live in Massachusetts, or something like that. Then we can compare cost of living there instead of having to go research the Bureau of Labor statistics.
CityTownInfo: What are the most important things that a student can do to prepare themselves for finding a job?
Julie Komack: The most important thing someone can do to prepare to find a job is to learn about professionalism. Learn what it means to be a professional. I don't care if you are going to be wearing a nurse's outfit, if you are going to be picking up trash or if you are going to be a facilities manager at a property management company. You have to learn what it means to be a professional and you have to learn how to treat people with respect and dignity. You have to learn first and foremost that people form an opinion about you in the first 60 seconds after meeting. We do a lot about that and I try to go to a lot of workshops about interviewing skills and about perception.
I would also give them the advice to be aware of themselves and be aware that every time you are meeting somebody it's a potential to find a job or a network into a new career you may not have thought of.The biggest thing though, is to be passionate about what you do. I say this statement a lot: you are going to spend more time in your job than you are with your family and your friends, so you might as well be happy with what you are doing. It's depressing, but I spend more time at my job than picking up my child and going from here to there and doing the things I need to do. It's not ideal, but I had better be happy with my job if I am giving up time with family.
CityTownInfo: And if you really do love your job, then it's not at all depressing.
CityTownInfo: One of my very favorite books of all time is Do What You Are. The principle behind it is that if you know your personality, you can match it to an ideal career for your type. You will be doing something that's a natural fit for your personality, and therefore, success will follow.
Julie Komack: Yes, completely. I agree with that.
CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related books that you would recommend to your students?
Julie Komack: I actually used to teach a class about the Sociology of Business about why people choose the career they do. This is really good book called Gig. It's excellent. What it does is it break down every job from a prostitute to an accountant, and everything in between. The authors interview people and the interviewees talk about what they like and what they don't like about their jobs. I think it's a good thing to start out with, because it shows the humanness that goes along in the process.
I also have Do What You Are, as you talked about before, as well as Finding Your Perfect Work, and Real People, Real Jobs. There are a bunch I recommend. And I am a book lover, but I am advising more and more students to go on the Internet and find this kind of information because that's what we are working with, it's where students are going to be first.
CityTownInfo: Are students using the internet for career research?
Julie Komack: More students are doing internet research, and for instance there are all the different websites that I was saying to both of you that I would like to ideally see combined; those are the sites students are going to. BLS.gov - the Bureau of Labor Statistics - provides a very user friendly website for the students.
The University at Tennessee in Knoxville has a publication called 'What Do I Do in a Major'. If you Google that you'll come up with a PDF which is so thorough and amazing; it's a complete and utter love of mine which I utilize almost every day.It's also helpful to belong to the NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Most career professionals get a lot of resources on there that help them with students.
CityTownInfo: In economic downturns you hear about would-be employees trying creative methods to get their foot in the door at companies, from working for free for a few months to volunteering, or similar tactics. Are there any other unusual ideas that you would advocate students to try in difficult times?
Julie Komack: It's interesting, because I also run all the internship programs here, and many of them are for credit and not for money. There has been in a downturn in hiring interns, because companies can't lay people off and then hire someone else to do the work for free, ethically. I always recommend getting in the door with an internship, and then if the student shows how much they've got, something might open up soon enough.
Also, another creative thing to do is for students to use their creative talents to do a lot of contracting, and try to open up their market, so to speak. Again, it goes back to utilizing transferrable skills and thinking outside the box so students are not just targeting specific companies. Think of the smaller companies and the growing startups in the energy fields or the STEM divisions.
CityTownInfo: I would think internships would be the opposite, that there would be more opportunities in a recession. I know when I was in school I would have loved the opportunity to do anything even remotely related to what I was interested in.
Julie Komack: It's really difficult though. Some of our non-traditional students are single parents, which makes it really hard to be able to work for free at an internship when they have to work for pay also.
CityTownInfo: What are the most common mistakes you believe students make at an interview?
Julie Komack: Number one is perception. When students walk in the door, they don't have the right outfit on or they don't know how to shake someone's hand. I just did two workshops with 60 students recently, with a focus on handshakes. I made every single student come up to the front of the class and shake my hand and introduce him or herself to me. I do it every time. A weak handshake is a very common mistake, so is not asking the right questions and not following up afterwards.