UT Arlington Career Director Interview: Making Your Network Work For You

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
June 19, 2009

The following is the transcript of an interview with Cheri Butler, Associate Director of Career Services at the University of Texas at Arlington. The university, also known as UT Arlington or UTA, is a nationally recognized comprehensive doctoral and research university, offering more than 75 different bachelor degrees, over 70 master degrees, and over 30 doctoral degrees. UTA is situated in Arlington, between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and has a student body of approximately 25,000 students.

Cheri Butler is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has been working in the career field for over 15 years. She holds her B.S. Education (Cum Laude) from The Ohio State University and her M.A. in Career Development from John F. Kennedy University. She has been training adults for over 20 years and has been a featured speaker in local, state, national and international conferences on a variety of career topics. She has served in leadership roles in many state and national professional organizations including President of Texas Career Development Association and President of National Employment Counseling Association. She was recently elected President-Elect on the Board of Directors of the National Career Development Association and will serve as their president for the 2010-2011 term.

Interview Transcript

CityTownInfo: What do you think are the most important services provided by your career office?

Cheri Butler: I think the big misconception among students is that they don't have to come see us until it's time to graduate, but if they wait that long, it's too late. Our message is "come in early and often"; Career Services can do more than just help students get a job when it's time to graduate. We offer many other services, and we encourage students to seek out leadership activities. There is so much information that we can provide. We can also facilitate that interaction with employers and students need to take advantage of that.

I did a presentation in an organizational development class one March, and a student told me, "I graduate in December, it's way too early for me to be thinking about looking for a job." Obviously, I told him otherwise. Everyone needs to be aware of the Career Services offices in their own university, and they need to take advantage of those services early and often.

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

Cheri Butler: A lot of students take the approach of finding out where they can make the most money, and then they take that career path. However, I always tell students that kind of route is a big mistake. Most people will spend over a 100,000 hours of their life working, and that's if they are only working for 40 years. That's obviously a lot of time, so the first piece of advice that I give students is find what they are passionate about and what gives them joy. I ask them to think about what they would do for free if money were no object. Then I tell students to try to pursue that career - that's the first step. Realizing that money is important, however, we then try to find a way to use those skills or that interest and capitalize on it.

For example, a young man came in to my office recently and he just had graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Architecture. He immediately sent out his resume to all of the large architecture firms in the area with absolutely no results. I said, "we are in a recession, the architecture business is slow, who is hiring right now? Government, healthcare, and the education fields are hiring. We also know that there is a lot of stimulus money going to the 'green' economy", so we looked at all four of those areas to determine if any of them hire architects, and the answer is yes. In the healthcare field, architects are needed to build hospitals and outpatient facilities. The same with accountants - banking is not such a hot industry right now, but the education and healthcare fields need accountants too. My second recommendation is that I encourage students to think outside the box in terms of where they can go with their degree, in areas that are currently hiring.

The third thing I recommend to students is that they always need to be looking at what their next step should be, and they always need to have a plan B. I can't tell you how many students come into my office that had majored in biology with the intention of being a doctor, but then they didn't get into medical school.

CityTownInfo: When you say to look at the next step, do you mean just in case the student gets laid off, or are you talking of a more immediate plan, such as what's the next step after graduation?

Cheri Butler: Everything. Students constantly need to be thinking about the future. They can't wait to think about it until they already are down the road; students and employees always need to be looking ahead. The whole Who Moved My Cheese idea doesn't go away overnight. Things change. I once worked with a group of five middle-aged gentlemen who were carburetor mechanics back in the late '70s, and then fuel injection and electronics happened. That didn't happen overnight, they knew it was coming, but they didn't retool. The only job that they could get was doing smog inspections, which didn't pay nearly as much as being a carburetor mechanic. These men hadn't kept their skills up-to-date, they hadn't looked at what was coming next.

CityTownInfo: What do you do to help students discover who they are so that they can find a career that matches them best?

Cheri Butler: There are a lot of assessment instruments that we can use, but one that we implemented last year was a system called "My Plan", which is an online assessment tool that has four components to it: interest, skills, personality and values. It compiles all of the results of those four elements, and then it comes up with certain possible occupations to explore. It links to videos with information about various occupations, and chat rooms and communities where students can talk to people online who have been in that same situation. Students can also read about what the workers like and don't like about their occupation or industry. We offer "My Plan", and we have a lot of other tools that we use informally. We also have discussions with the students and ask different questions to determine how we can help them best.

CityTownInfo: What kinds of exercises do you use to show students how to be more resourceful?

Cheri Butler: We try to help students be resourceful and I also try to give them a reality check. Some students have this expectation that, first of all, I am going to get them a job, and I can't do that. Second of all, some students believe that they can just post their resume on Monster and sit back and wait for the phone to ring. That's not reality either.

Related Article: Job Seekers Using Social Networking Sites

Laid-off workers are utilizing social networking Web sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to search for new employment.

The Los Angeles Times reports that according to David Hahn, LinkedIn Corp.'s director of product management, job searches on the site rose 51 percent in February over December, while the number of job applicants doubled in the last six months. Even people who are employed are worried about layoffs and are adding connections and getting recommendations, Hahn said.

"As people are feeling less secure and more concerned about their careers, they are really investing in their professional network," he told the LA Times.

Many recognize social networking sites as a valuable tool for aiding job-searchers. ABC News notes that LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are "potential gold mines for putting people in touch. Plus, they offer easy ways to track the industry, companies and executives you're interested in pursuing. Bonus: All three are free to use."

(Click to read complete article.)

We try to bring in as many alumni as possible back to campus to talk to the students; the students listen to them, possibly because their age groups are closer. Alums tell the students, "if you don't have a 3.0 GPA, you are going to have a harder time getting a job, so you had better study." The graduates also tell the students how to properly use social networking tools - LinkedIn is a biggie these days with recruiters. Recruiters can seek out students who are about to graduate on LinkedIn, so that's definitely a good tool to use professionally. Students can even use Facebook professionally, but they need to be careful with what they post. Employers are looking to see what the prospective employees have on their Facebook profiles and can use inappropriate posts as an elimination tool.

We are also trying to reach out to some of the departments whose graduates struggle more, like Liberal Arts, for example. What's an English major going to do if they don't want to go on to law school or graduate school or if they don't want to teach? We are trying to reach out to those students and talk about what they could do to help themselves. We try to help them think outside the box, because there are some employers who really don't care what their employees majored in. If a student has a degree, then the employer knows the student has worked for their degree and can learn.

CityTownInfo: Are there any particular programs or majors whose graduates are finding it easier to find jobs than others? You had mentioned healthcare, government, education and green jobs?

Cheri Butler: Right. MBAs also have an advantage.

CityTownInfo: Do you think that MBAs are too common though - do you think an MBA really makes a candidate stand out that much more?

Cheri Butler: Interestingly enough, I just had lunch with the Director of the MBA Program here on campus, and she is still encouraging the students to go that route if they wish. She said that at least 25% to 50% of the MBA students now are getting a dual degree with an MBA, such as a specialty MBA with an MS in accounting, or an MS in HR management. We also have a really good Healthcare Administration Masters program, and students are getting six-figure jobs with those degrees, but they don't have to have a background in medicine. As a matter of fact, hiring employers would rather that the candidate isn't an MD.

CityTownInfo: Right, one doesn't necessarily have to have to be a physician in order to run the office side of a hospital or a healthcare facility.

Cheri Butler: Yes, not at all.

Related Article: Some Sectors Reporting Job Growth

Although layoffs and hiring freezes are boosting the unemployment rate, some states and industries have added jobs at a vigorous rate.

USA Today reports that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4.4 million people found new jobs in January, and 3 million more positions were still open. While the numbers reflected a significant dip from December 2007 and were not enough to offset the 4.9 million people who lost their jobs in January, they also pointed to growing industries offering career opportunities.

"Government and service jobs are the big places to get jobs today," said John Connaughton, director of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte Economic Forecast. He noted that service jobs include health care and education.

The healthcare industry is growing significantly, with nearly every job in demand, including nurses, lab technicians and physicians' assistants. Virginia's Culpeper Star-Exponent reports that according to the Virginia Employment Commission, healthcare occupations in Virginia are expected to grow nearly 37 percent between 2006 and 2016.

(Click to read complete article.)

Accounting students have traditionally always been very successful, and the Big four were still on campus this spring. They hired mostly interns, but a high percentage of internships turned into full-time professions, so down the road there is a pretty good chance that interns will get hired full-time.

I attended a professional organization meeting the other day, and a financial guru did a presentation on staying positive in tough economic times. He quoted a CNBC Town Hall Event from March 18, and he listed the top five areas that the stimulus package is going to help: 680,000 jobs will be created in construction, 604,000 jobs in retail trade, 499,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality, 408,000 jobs in manufacturing and 345,000 jobs in professional and business services. The number one skill that employers are looking for is leadership and examples of leadership in campus and community organizations.

Here is the list of hot growth areas he named: Accounting, education, entertainment, utilities, home and car repair, industrial repair, alternative energy, repossession, foreclosure and debt collection, law enforcement, community colleges, which is big because some students are opting not to go straight to a 4-year institution, and liquor. One of our administrative assistants used to work for Bacardi in Miami, and she said that the phrase that everyone used was, "when times are good, people drink, and when times are bad, people still drink."

There are a number of industries that are growing, especially involving healthcare facilities. There has got to be someplace for baby boomers to go, that's inevitable. I think that the speech he gave was fascinating. Two of the growing areas he mentioned were auto and home repairs. This makes sense, because people are going to be keeping their cars longer and they are going to be keeping their older homes and trying to increase the value.

CityTownInfo: Would you say that your school is making any program adjustments to deal with the current recession, and if so are the changes focused more on particular programs, or have they been made across the board?

Cheri Butler: One of the first things we did was at my recommendation, because I come from a background where I've done a lot of consulting over the years, particularly in outplacement industry. We have started job search groups for alums, and we meet bi-monthly at the same location. The alums come back and we hold a small support group for them. We have an agenda: people give their 30-second self-promos, the highlights and lowlights of their week and share any information with the group regarding open positions they may have heard about. We try to hold them accountable; we give them goal sheets for what they are going to try to accomplish in the next two weeks, and then we see if they completed the goals the next time we meet. I don't collect information; it's just a way to encourage alums to make goals and to meet them.

CityTownInfo: What about the people who already have jobs, do they come in as well?

Cheri Butler: No, these are just people who have been laid off. A few are underemployed, but mostly they are people who have been laid off.

CityTownInfo: It may be good to include employed guest speakers or alumni who have been able to find work again. It might help those who out of work to build their network.

Cheri Butler: Right. We are encouraging them to come back and share their stories, and we had several folks getting interviews this week, so it's working.

CityTownInfo: Do you think that the economy is opening up a little bit?

Cheri Butler: I think that we are really lucky here in Dallas Fort Worth, because we really didn't start feeling the pinch until the beginning of this year, and it looks like we are going to come out of the economic slump by the end of the year.

CityTownInfo: Which online resources do you wish were available to help students with their career selections?

Cheri Butler: I can't think of anything besides what's already available - there is so much in existence that we are trying to make our students aware of. I use O*NET all the time, which is the online version of the old Occupational Outlook Handbook. It's a wealth of knowledge that the students can use in a number of ways. For example, if students think they might want to earn a biology degree, they can go on O*NET, type in biology and all the related occupations will come up. Students can search a specific occupation, and there are pages and pages of information about the skills that are needed, the required training, the nature of the work, salary expectations and the level of required education. I also encourage students to use O*NET to look up the targeted occupation because the site suggests thousands of keywords that the students can use on their resume to get themselves noticed. Students really need to target their resume.

I think that O*NET is an amazing tool because it helps students think outside of the box. For example, a traditional student came in and she said was so frustrated because she really wanted to be in a position related to the healthy environment and conservation. She said she couldn't find any jobs in a related field, but she had only looked up "conservation" in Google. So instead we Googled "green," and there are hundreds of companies that have to do with a green economy.

I was at a conference in San Antonio last week, and I met this lady who is a guru on the green economy. Her website is www.greencareercentral.com, and she has tons of information in the emerging industries related to the greening of the US, and also jobs that are in traditional industries. For example, hotels, hospitality firms and convention centers are hiring interns to come in and help them make their environments greener - things like using earth-friendly utensils and doggy bags.

There are all kinds of green initiatives going on, and the student and I were able to find tons of information. I was amazed that someone my age had to show someone her age how to best use the Internet.

I am sure that there are tools out there that we could all use in addition to what is in existence, but my job right now is to encourage students and help them find the resources that are already here.

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

Cheri Butler: I have some books that are my favorites, but the reality these day is that most of the time you can't get students to read a book, but I can recommend one: Jake Greene's Whoa, My Boss Is Naked! It tells about the whole premise of career development.

For online resources, I recommend O*NET and I like CareerBuilder, but not just for posting resumes. There are wonderful articles on CareerBuilder about job searching. For example, there was an article on how to find a job for students with crazy majors. I encourage students to go on CareerBuilder and Monster for the articles, but they can also use the Internet in a better way than just posting resumes. Let's say students look up certain job categories and they see who is hiring. They can use that information to try to network their way into those companies instead of just posting for that position. In addition, those job postings are good sources of relevant keywords so students can make sure that those words are in their resume. Recently, I had someone recommend listing keywords that would make the resume stand out. The person suggested making those words white so that they don't appear in print, but they are picked up when the document is scanned.

CityTownInfo: That's "illegal" on web pages, but very clever for a digital resume.

Cheri Butler: I don't necessarily tell students that this is a great technique, but I am sure people use it.

CityTownInfo: In economic downturns, you hear about jobseekers trying other creative methods for getting their foot in the door at a company, such as doing some volunteer work, having a very creative resume or offering to work for free for few months. Is there anything you would advocate to your students to try to get a leg up on the competition?

Cheri Butler: As a matter of fact, it's funny that you ask that question and that you use the term "foot in the door". I have an alumna who is in public relations. She came to the first meeting of the job search group and we talked about being unique. She decided to go to an inexpensive shoe store and bought a pair of gold sneakers. She put them in the box, wrote a cover letter with her resume, and sent the package to a company with a note that read, "Just trying to get my foot in the door." She got an interview by being clever. In fact, the company had already made an offer to someone else before she mailed her resume, but they brought her in because they were so impressed with her technique. They told her that if there is ever anything open in the future, or the other candidate didn't turn out, they will call her. She did a similar mailing again for another company and she got another interview. That's pretty creative and it works for somebody who is in PR, but it wouldn't necessarily work for an accountant. There are other ways to draw attention and to be unique.

CityTownInfo: What is the most common error you believe students make during an interview?

Cheri Butler: It is that they don't listen. It seems like some students have an agenda and they want to be sure that they get all that information in, but they don't really listen to what the questions are. In every question, there is an underlying question, and it's important for the students to know what that is to be able to craft the best answer.

CityTownInfo: So if the student hasn't done the research on the company, they won't understand what the employer was really trying to get at?

Cheri Butler: Yes. Exactly.

CityTownInfo: Along those lines, it's important for interviewees to listen to what is being said in the interview so that they can think about what they can do for the company as opposed to what the company can do for them. They need to listen and then spin their message to state, this is what I can do for you, this is how I have done it in the past, and this is how I am going to do it again for you.

Cheri Butler: I read an article recently that said that a lot could be learned from salespeople, as applied to the interview process. If the customer wants A, but the salesman tries to sell him B, there is no sale. Just as, if the employer asks for A, but the interviewee tries to sell them B, then that person is not going to get the job. The interviewee needs to identify the employer's needs and illustrate how s/he will address those needs. Along those same lines, students also make the mistake of not realizing that an interview is a two-way street. Students need to determine if the company is a good fit for them, not just if they are a good fit for the company.

If students "come in early and often", Career Services can give practice interviews, as well as provide many other services. There is a wealth of free information that we provide to benefit students and help them network.

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