Etiquette, Face-to-Face Networking, and Interviewing Skills Increase Placement Results
By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 12, 2009
The following is a transcript of an interview with Thomas F. Korvas, Ph.D, Ohio University's Director of Career Services. OU is a public university situated in Athens, Ohio and was established in 1804. Ohio University is one of the oldest colleges in Ohio and is also one of the largest schools in Appalachia with over 20,000 students. OU's main campus is nestled in the foothills in the southeastern part of the state and offers a picturesque campus with charming and traditional red brick buildings, paying homage to the history of the school. Undergraduate and post-graduate degrees are offered at OU across a variety of disciplines.
CityTownInfo: What kind of career advice do you give to students entering college today?
Thomas Korvas: Students need to do well academically. I hear too many students say that grades are not important, but they are. In addition to good grades, I think students need to develop their human relation, communication and leadership skills. I think it's very important that students understand the experiential learning and the experiential education component as well. It's crucial for students to get experience, whether through volunteering, interning or doing a co-op. Experience is important to help students build up their credentials, but even more importantly, it gives students a better understanding of what a particular major or career entails. I'd certainly rather have students gain that experience early so they can learn what they like and what they do not want to do, and then adjust accordingly. I think if students come to college with an open mind, do well in those areas and develop those skills, they will be fine.
CityTownInfo: There are instances of people all across the board losing their jobs, so some companies are saying it's unethical to bring an intern to work for free to do the same thing the person who was laid off had done. In that instance, what would you recommend students do in order to be able to gain experience so that they can decide if they're on the right path? Do you have any creative suggestions for them to get their foot in the door?
Thomas Korvas: From the hundreds and hundreds of students and organizations I talk to, I really still feel like students and alumni need to know how to conduct a multifaceted job search. Too many students don't understand the etiquette and the process of a real job search. They need to understand how to pull together the tools that they need to get noticed.
I also still talk about networking skills. I don't think students really understand networking, nor do they work to develop and refine those skills. Research still shows that between 50 percent and 70 percent of individuals find their job through their network. It maybe doesn't sound like a skill set that individuals need to have, but I think it is a crucial aspect.
Developing interviewing skills are also crucial. I think students need to understand the behavioral-based interview and how to respond to it, and they need to give appropriate examples that are necessary to be successful in this very competitive marketplace.
CityTownInfo: When it comes to introverts, how would you help those students build their soft skills, and build their interpersonal relations so that they can grow their network, which is ultimately going to help them in a variety of ways?
Thomas Korvas: Being involved on campus and developing human relations and communication skills through clubs and organizations are very important. I always tell students they need to get involved because it helps them develop their network, and it builds the skills that will help them in their careers. It shows an employer that a prospective employee does more than what they have to do and that they'll do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Some students will ask me how getting involved will help them with anything if they have sufficient technical skills. If they have people skills and show they'll do whatever it takes to get the job done including being involved in clubs and organizations, they will separate themselves from the competition. I think this is especially important in today's market, and we are doing more of this at Ohio University. We are getting into etiquette training and helping students develop the etiquette skills that they are going to need, whether it's in a dining setting, a social setting or if it's in a networking setting. We are spending a lot of time and putting emphasis on giving those students some of the soft skills that they are going to need to differentiate themselves from other candidates, so I think it's really crucial that students are aware of that and build those skills.
CityTownInfo: Do you think an employer would prefer someone who was actively involved in clubs and organizations throughout college or someone who had to work to get through college and didn't have time for many extracurricular activities?
Thomas Korvas: I honestly think it depends on the organization and what type of a job that the students are applying for. I'd only say that the best indicator of a successful future is successful past, so students need to do things well and be successful. Students may have transferable skills, but I would personally would much rather hire someone who's worked, held a job, developed some skills and demonstrated a record of success over someone who's never worked. I think it's important to work and develop skills that are transferable to whatever students might want to do. If a student had to work their way through school and didn't have the time or resources to get involved in any organizations, I think many employers would view the student's work experience positively. Now, that doesn't excuse students from not performing in the classroom as well. I don't think they can excuse having a 2.0 GPA because they had to work three jobs and claim they would have a 3.5 if they didn't have to work. They still need to do well academically, but most organizations will lean more positively towards an individual who did have to work or chose to work and develop some skills that way.
CityTownInfo: It's nice that clubs have always been available, and hopefully they will continue to be there in the future so that if jobs aren't available, students will still have opportunities to shine.
Thomas Korvas: Different people have different situations, and maybe leadership skill development is most easily accomplished for certain students via the club and organizations route. For others, working is what they had to do, so students all have different things to market and sell. They have to understand that and make sure they learn how to effectively market their skills and abilities to organizations. I had a student come up to me recently who told me all he ever did was work at a gas station and get good grades, but he never had an internship. I asked him what he did at the gas station, and I found out he had some customer service skills because he marketed all the products there. He had been there four years, he was responsible for training new employees and he had to close down in the evenings, and so on. He did a lot of things that demonstrated initiative, some leadership skills and reliability, so those skills were transferable to the areas that he was looking at as far as a career after graduation. We just had to look at what he had done, analyze it and look at what would be transferable to a potential career or employer.
CityTownInfo: Why do you think more colleges and universities don't make visiting the career offices mandatory among students? I know some universities have a population of 20,000 students or more, but have you heard anything about why visits are not mandated?
Thomas Korvas: I think it certainly depends on the institution, and I am not aware of a number of institutions mandating a visit. What we do here at Ohio University now is what we call UC 115 class, which is basically a freshmen experience orientation class. For every student that takes the class, part of their curriculum is a visit to the office of career services, where students are exposed to the programs and services we offer. They have specific objectives or learning outcomes that are earmarked in that class which requires students to explore careers. We are fortunate at Ohio University to have a beautiful new state-of-the-art Career Services Center, and also to have a strong relationship with our freshmen experience class. I think that's a positive point that separates us from many institutions.
CityTownInfo: For the students, having somewhere they can go to help them learn how to utilize their skills in the best possible manner is invaluable.
Thomas Korvas: In addition to our counseling, we consider ourselves very much a teaching office. We teach on a one-on-one basis, as well as through our seminar program. We just developed a new seminar series last year called "Tool Kit Tuesdays", which is a four seminar series run every other Tuesday afternoon. It deals with topics related to the job search, and part of one of those seminars on interviewing is teaching students how to effectively market themselves. It teaches them how to use transferable skills and to be positive about who they are and what they have to offer, because that's part of the job search game. If students don't come to an interview prepared to market themselves, and if they don't feel positive about their education, work experience, skills and the abilities that they have to offer, an employer is certainly not going to feel positive about the student's experiences either.
CityTownInfo: There is so much information coming at students so quickly that it's hard or them to absorb everything, so it's priceless that they have the "Tool Kit Tuesdays" opportunity.
Thomas Korvas: There are so many great resources here at Ohio University. I mentioned the state-of-the-art facility and state-of-the-art technology that we have here to assist them, and it is all offered at no charge. There are many great services to take advantage of.
CityTownInfo: What kind of technology do you offer?
Thomas Korvas: We have computerized career guidance programs where students can enter information such as their skills, abilities, interests and values, and then get printouts as to what types of careers the students' interests could be transferable to, and this helps them explore options when they are not sure what they want to do. We have some superb technology that lists over 20,000,000 organizations around the world where students can research the various careers and industries available. Then they can ultimately start researching specific organizations that are a good match for their skills and education. There is a wide variety of technology here that can help students in this competitive marketplace.
CityTownInfo: If someone comes to you and they are unsure of what they would like to major in, what kind of programs do you recommend?
Thomas Korvas: We have some assessments similar to the Strong Interest Inventory, an online career guidance program called FOCUS 11. We use another program called CareerBeam that in addition to a career exploration component has a career development section which talks about exploring various careers. It helps with researching and provides information about network building and getting tools together to conduct a job search, as well as the information on over 20,000,000 organizations around the world. We typically sit down with a student, recommend various technologies that we think best suits their needs and then get them started. Then the student would continue to meet with us as often as necessary to refine their career goals and their job search, and go from there.
CityTownInfo: So it's tailored on an individual basis?
Thomas Korvas: Absolutely. We have a lot of flexibility to tailor to the particular needs of students.
CityTownInfo: If they wanted to research on their own, do you have any books or websites that you recommend to them?
Thomas Korvas: Honestly, one of my favorite websites is our Ohio University website, because we have about a hundred pages of information relative to the career development and job search process. I really think it's one of the best sites I have seen.
CityTownInfo: Is that something available to the public or just to the students and alumni of Ohio University?
Thomas Korvas: It's online and freely available to the public.
CityTownInfo: Are the career services that you provide open to just current students and alumni, or do you offer those services to the community as well?
Thomas Korvas: Our services are just for Ohio University students and alumni. We literally work with thousands of employers every year to help them with their human resource needs, but our counseling and advising services are primarily for students, alumni and the employers that we work with.
CityTownInfo: How would you do a long-distance consultation session with one of your former students?
Thomas Korvas: A couple of different ways. A lot of our information is online, where a student could access our resources online such as CareerBeam. They could certainly have a phone counseling session with us as well. For example, some students might even work with a university in their current area. Many university career centers will grant reciprocity to students who are not graduates of their institution, but are living in the area. An individual could send a letter to that particular career center that they are interested in getting some assistance from, and many career centers will grant them some limited services. We certainly try to help students out from other institutions. We can't always offer them everything we can offer our own students, but most career centers will offer some type of services to assist them.
CityTownInfo: What are the three most important things that a student can do to prepare to find a job?
Thomas Korvas: We talked about learning how to conduct the multifaceted job search, and the students need to know themselves. They need to know what they want and why, and they need to be able to express themselves clearly. I think interviewing skills are crucial as well. Students need to understand behavioral-based interviews and be prepared to give examples.
I always tell students at my seminars that one of the most important things they'll need to understand is the behavioral-based interview. Most organizations will tend to ask questions to determine whether or not the person they are interviewing has the skills or abilities to be successful in a particular job. They'll ask interviewees to give examples, and I always tell students to remember the STAR acronym. Describe the situation, the task that they were confronted with, the action that they took and the result. I always tell students to remember that and to be prepared to give examples from their work experience, their education, their volunteer work and their extracurricular activities. As I said earlier, the best indicator of successful future is a successful past, so if students have done things well previously, they will probably be successful in the future. If they can give examples and speak to that experience, they will be better off than many of their competitors.
I also recommend that students research the organization that they are interviewing with. One of the biggest complaints I get from organizations is that students don't always know about their organization. In addition to researching themselves, students need to research that organization so they can speak intelligently as to how they can help that organization out. They need to pinpoint how their skills, abilities and interests can specifically help the particular organization, and if they can do that they'll be in good shape.
CityTownInfo: What are the most common errors you believe students make during an interview?
Thomas Korvas: As I mentioned earlier, not being prepared. Not looking appropriate for the industry is a common error as well. We always talk about dressing for success and so on, but I also tell students that they need to understand the market that they are selling to. Appropriate dress is different for Corporate America, education, nonprofit, social services, and so on. I recommend that students do their homework so they understand what's appropriate etiquette for a particular field. I think if students research and ask well thought out questions reflecting their knowledge of an organization and an understanding of the position, they will be fine. The questions they ask reflect their knowledge, research they've done and the serious attitude that they have. I also tell students not to bring up money questions right away - that can be discussed in a later interview.
CityTownInfo: What kind of differences do you see between students of today versus years past?
Thomas Korvas: In some sense I think students are even more prepared today. The abilities and opportunities to study abroad, having a greater sense of diversity in our culture and in our world, and how we have more of a global impact with most everything that we do. I think students have a greater understanding and appreciation of that than maybe 20, to 40 years ago. From that standpoint, I think they have some great exposure to the world and an understanding that many of us didn't have in the past, and I think that's a good thing. I also think students are very bright today. I am not one who lives in the past, but I think there are just a tremendous amount of super students today, and their understanding of the global culture that we live in and interact with daily is great.
CityTownInfo: Do you think that students are more prepared as far as the major that they've chosen compared to students 15 or 30 years ago?
Thomas Korvas: At least at Ohio University, I think students are a little more focused on career exploration and have a greater understanding of what's available to them. Learning for the sake of learning is great, and that's what we are about, but I think it's also important for students to have a sense of where they want to go, what they want to do, and what they need to do to get there.
CityTownInfo: How would you say the recession is having an impact on student enrollment? Are you seeing the enrollment going down because of financial reasons, going up because people realize how competitive things are, or are they staying in school longer because there aren't jobs available?
Thomas Korvas: We have seen all of the above. I have not seen any decline in enrollment at Ohio University as of yet. In difficult economic times, many students who considered going on to graduate school might pursue that route sooner as opposed to later. From that standpoint, I am seeing more students considering graduate study. I am not sure what the future will bring with potentially more families losing jobs, but I am taking the optimistic approach that the market is going to turn around here shortly. I am feeling optimistic that it is going to be a good year next year.
CityTownInfo: Do you think that you are holding steady or has the enrollment gone up?
Thomas Korvas: We pretty much cap our enrollment here, so they keep it at roughly 20,000, and that's where they want it. It's basically steady, whereas at selective institutions not everyone who applies will be accepted, so at the moment our enrollment is holding up nicely.
CityTownInfo: Do most of your students tend to stay in Southeast Ohio, or are they more likely to relocate to find jobs after graduation?
Thomas Korvas: I think about 90 percent of our students come from the State of Ohio, so many of them will stay in Ohio or the Midwest upon graduation. Southeast Ohio is rural, however, so there are not a lot of places for students to work. We preach to our students that they need to go wherever the jobs are, so our students look for employment all over the country and really all over the world. A sizable percentage will stay in the Midwest and specifically Ohio, but a lot of our students go all over the country.
CityTownInfo: What kind of advice do you give to students regarding reciprocal networking?
Thomas Korvas: I think there is more information coming out on networking. I think some students and graduates tend to overlook some of their networks. I don't think anyone really has a strong a network as they think they do. We really need to go back and make contact with all the individuals we have met along the way. For example, we need to maybe swallow our pride a little bit and talk to our friends from high school or college who we haven't seen for a while. We need to let them know where we are, what we are looking for and request any ideas or suggestions they may have. We recommend that students go back and work hard at finding those individuals that they knew from high school and college. Sometimes it's tough for us to let them know that we are a little bit down on our luck at the moment, but I've found over the years that people love to help one another. If they can be of any help in anyway, they will. They will give a tip or a suggestion or something they have heard about, and 99 times out of a 100 they love to do that and they feel good about it. I think people really need to simplify networking to some extent and go after those types of contacts, because they can be really beneficial.
CityTownInfo: Can you explain the difference between talking with your advisor versus a career counselor?
Thomas Korvas: Academic advisors help students find out what they need to do from a course standpoint to complete their requirements and graduate on time. Career counselors are much more open-minded; we want the students to be self-directed. We are not going to tell them what to do, but we are going to give them options and help them explore those options according to their skills, abilities, interests and values. We might think outside the box a little bit more. Just because a student is majoring in a particular subject, we might think the student could do a lot of different things with that education and we would help them explore those options. It's different than just being focused on a particular major and what the student can do with it after graduation. In today's market we want students to think outside the box a little bit more.