Graduate Student Career Services: Meeting Students Needs

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1 Copyright 2012 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of NACE s Journal. NACE members have the permission of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder, to download and photocopy this article for internal purposes only. Photocopies must include this copyright notice. Those who do not hold membership, or who wish to use the article for other purposes, should contact Claudia Allen, 800/ , ext Electronic reproduction of this article is prohibited. Graduate Student Career Services: Meeting Students Needs By Jacob A. Galles, Janet G. Lenz, and Briana Keller An increasing number of students are pursuing graduate and professional degrees, and career services will need to help them prepare to navigate the job market upon graduation. FEBRUARY 2012 JOURNAL/31

2 The percentage of students finding jobs after graduation has declined over the past few years, with an increasing proportion of students deciding to pursue graduate and professional school, according to recent NACE career services benchmarking surveys. These students want to expand their knowledge and skills in hopes of improving their employment opportunities. Will these students be adequately prepared to navigate the job market? Evidence suggests graduate education does not fully prepare students to make the connection between what they have learned and how that knowledge can be used to earn a living and benefit society. Therefore it is important that steps be taken to improve the career and employment preparedness of these students so they are more likely to succeed in the job search. This article will highlight some factors that can contribute to graduate students successful navigation of career and employment concerns, share relevant survey data on this topic, and provide guidelines to help career centers assess the quality of their graduate student services. Strategies for Success Meeting graduate students career development needs will likely involve a variety of strategies, such as connecting and collaborating with campus organizations that provide career services to graduate students. Career centers, whether centralized or dispersed among various academic departments, must offer comprehensive services that meet the career development needs of all students, including those pursuing advanced or professional degrees. The NACE benchmark survey provides evidence of the increased level of demand for career center services across the country, which has not been met with an increase in services for graduate and professional students. The Surveys To learn more about career center services being offered specifically Jacob A. Galles is a Ph.D. student in the combined counseling psychology/school psychology program at Florida State University (FSU), specializing in career and mental health counseling. He is a graduate assistant career adviser and individual career counselor at FSU s career center and instructor of an undergraduate career development course. Janet G. Lenz is a program director in the FSU career center and co-director of FSU s Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. She is an assistant-in faculty member in the FSU College of Education s Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems. She holds a master s degree in student personnel administration and a Ph.D. in counseling and human systems, both from FSU. Briana Keller, Ph.D., is an assistant director at the University of Washington career center. She has been involved in developing career materials, programs, and resources targeted to a graduate student population. to graduate students and any related trends, the authors surveyed career centers at 100 colleges and universities representing selected regions of the country (e.g., Northwest, Southeast, Midwest). Thirty schools responded and successfully completed the survey, for a 30 percent response rate. Seventy percent of the respondents came from public institutions and the remaining 30 percent were from private institutions. The survey inquired about graduate student career needs, concerns and challenges in working with advanced degree students, specific services offered at career centers, and examples of innovative and successful programs. Another survey was sent to graduate students at Florida State University (FSU) to inquire about their perceived career services needs and career center usage 188 students responded to the survey, 59 percent of whom were Ph.D. students. Although this is a small proportion of the university s graduate student population, the results did yield some interesting findings. Discussion and comparison of the results from both surveys follow, along with steps that may be taken to expand career services based on these findings. Graduate Student Needs Although graduate students needs may vary based on the individual, the specific academic program, and the student s geographic location, it is useful to assess the most prevalent career needs so career services practitioners can develop resources and strategies to meet those needs. Respondents from both surveys were asked what they considered to be the most significant career-related needs of graduate students. A number of themes emerged, and there was some agreement among career center staff and graduate students. The most frequent responses revolved around assistance with both academic and nonacademic job searches. With regard to the academic job search, specific needs listed by career 32/JOURNAL FEBRUARY 2012

3 center respondents included: creating curriculum vitae, writing cover letters and essays, developing teaching and research portfolios, networking, and preparing for academic interviews. These findings were further supported by the graduate student respondents who indicated an interest in learning more about academic job-search strategies (62 percent) and curriculum vitae preparation (59 percent). Career centers might assume that academic programs and faculty advisers are addressing these concerns for graduate students, but this may not always be the case. And as states and higher education institutions continue to face shrinking budgets, the competition for faculty and related academic positions will likely increase, and services that help students prepare for the academic job search will become more important. Students may decide to pursue careers outside of academia for various reasons. The needs of these students may be different from those of undergrads because they want to use specialized knowledge and skills developed through their advanced degree programs. Finding their niche in the public or private sectors may be challenging. In the current job market, where there is an oversupply of job seekers, employers may perceive advanced degree holders as overqualified for nonacademic positions. Many career center staff members who completed the survey noted specific needs associated with a nonacademic job search, including identifying transferable skills, learning about different nonacademic options, and developing job-search strategies. One particularly revealing statistic from the graduate student survey was that 61 percent of the respondents indicated an interest in learning more about job hunting outside of academia. This suggests that both career center staff and current graduate students are aware that graduate students need to obtain the knowledge and develop the skills necessary for navigating a nonacademic job search. The good news is that career center staff members are already well equipped to assist with job-search strategies such as defining job targets, preparing professional materials, identifying potential employers, networking, and locating specific job opportunities. However, graduate students often have unique needs, such as converting a CV to a resume, effectively marketing transferable skills, and networking outside of their academic discipline. Other graduate student-specific career needs that emerged from the career center survey included help with securing postdoctoral positions, obtaining fellowships and research grants, navigating faculty relationships, and surviving and thriving in graduate school. While career centers may not have the programs and personnel in place to readily respond to grad students specialized needs, it is important to be aware of these needs, provide what is possible given available resources, and have referral sources on hand. Challenges Respondents to the career center survey were asked to indicate the most challenging aspect of providing career services to advanced degree students. The most common responses related to budget cuts, staff reductions, and limited staff knowledge and resources. This is not surprising given that some schools have experienced an increase in graduate student population without an increase in career services funding. Career centers may need to explore more cost-effective strategies to allow them to expand their outreach and prepare some or all staff members to more effectively respond to the career needs of graduate students. In some cases, working with grad students requires a longer time commitment, more specialized knowledge, and more extensive resources. Not all career centers will have the resources to fully respond to these increased demands. This may perpetuate the misperception that career center services are only for undergraduate students, which in turn may make graduate students less likely to seek help from the career center. Of the 188 graduate students surveyed, 87 percent reported they had heard of the career center, although only 23 percent had actually visited. When asked which services the respondents had used (including online and outreach services), 55 percent reported they had used none. These findings support the notion that graduate students may be less likely to view career centers as a helpful resource; therefore, developing strategies to combat this misperception is essential. Some have suggested graduate students are more likely to seek out services and resources they believe are designed specifically for them. Marketing career services to faculty, departments, and students to increase awareness of available resources for graduate students, and connecting with students early in their academic enrollment may help change this perception. Creating guides and handouts focused FEBRUARY 2012 JOURNAL/33

4 on graduate-student career issues and career center website resources specific to graduate students also will help eliminate this misperception. Another challenge could be dealing with graduate students career expectations, particularly at the Ph.D. level. Doctorate students may have enrolled in graduate school with the goal of achieving a tenure-track faculty position. In some geographic regions and disciplines, these positions may be in short supply, especially as some states look to hire more contract or non-tenure track faculty, and/or reduce their curriculum offerings. As noted previously, advanced degree students may need to consider nonacademic career options. This places increased pressure on career services to have detailed information on what these positions might entail and where to find them. Faculty advisers may be knowledgeable about academic positions but may not be able to advise students on career alternatives outside academia. Career center staff must have the knowledge and skills to help these individuals with both academic and nonacademic job-search strategies. Another noteworthy challenge identified by career center respondents involved working with international graduate students who wish to remain in the United States. Helping these students navigate the visa process and figure out where they can and cannot obtain employment is a crucial piece of specified knowledge for any career service professional. Moreover, international students may feel alienated and isolated due to a lack of appropriate support networks and the lack of services available to them elsewhere on campus and in the local community. These concerns are especially relevant for campuses with a large proportion of international students, so career center staff should be aware of the resources and support available. Services Offered To determine how career centers are already meeting the career and employment needs of graduate students, career center survey takers were asked to check all services from a list of 16 items offered specifically to graduate students. (See Figure 1.) Findings revealed that the majority of career centers offered services to graduate students that are typically offered as basic services to all clients (e.g., developing and critiquing cover letter and curriculum vitae, searching for jobs in nonacademic settings, networking assistance). Fewer career centers offered services specifically to assist students preparing for careers in academia, such as assistance with academic job search and finding faculty positions, access to a credentials service, assistance with salary negotiations in academia, and assistance with teaching and/or research statements. About half of the respondents offered services related to academic and professional development, including advice on continuing from a master s to a Ph.D., assistance with finding pre-doctoral and postdoctoral internships and fellowships, and assistance with portfolio development. Less than 30 percent indicated that they offer services related to well-being and survival in graduate school, such as development of time-management and stress-management strategies, advice on navigating faculty relationships and expectations, and advice on maintaining work/life balance in graduate school. Finally, only 12 percent of respondents said that they offer services specifically for women and/or minorities in graduate school. These findings show that most of the career centers surveyed did offer services to meet the most frequently identified needs of their graduate students. Fewer schools offered the more specialized programs and services. Respondents were also asked to indicate what methods (from a list of nine) their respective career centers used to deliver services to graduate students. (See Figure 2.) All respondents indicated that they use individual career counseling appointments, and some offer drop-in services for graduate students and have dedicated graduate student counselors/ advisers on staff. Most offer workshops targeted to graduate students, and many use guides or handouts specific to graduate student needs. These findings suggest that career centers are developing specialized resources to assist graduate students with career Figure 1: Career centers surveyed offering specific services to graduate students (n=30) Resume/cover letter help 100% Research and teaching statements 60% Nonacademic job search 100% Advice on master s to Ph.D. 57% Writing curriculum vitae 92% Finding postdoctoral internships 50% Networking assistance 89% Portfolio development 45% Letters of recommendation 85% Time and stress management 29% Academic job search 79% Navigating faculty expectations 29% Credentials service 72% Maintaining work/life balance 25% Help with salary negotiation 68% Women and minorities 12% 34/JOURNAL FEBRUARY 2012

5 Figure 2: Career centers surveyed using specific methods for service delivery (n=30) Individual Counseling 100% Workshops 89% Drop-in Services 79% Guides or Handouts 79% Grad Student Advisers 61% Listservs 43% Newsletters 32% Podcasts/Webcasts 21% Discussion Boards 10% development. Fewer schools used marketing, technology, or communication methods such as listservs, newsletters, webcasts or podcasts, and discussion boards to provide graduate student services. This suggests that although the career centers did offer targeted services for graduate students, they are not fully using technological and marketing resources to promote these services. Survey results also revealed some noteworthy workshops offered by career centers to graduate students, including programs to help them find work outside of academia, such as The Career Pathways Symposium, So What Are You Going to Do With That?, and U.S. Job Search for International Students. Other programs included a lecture on the imposter syndrome (students who feel they don t deserve to be in graduate school), and a Lunch and Learn wine and cheese event. Other innovative strategies noted by respondents included having retired faculty review student curriculum vitas, using Gallup StrengthsQuest assessment to help with curriculum vita writing and interview preparation, and hiring graduate students as peer advisers. The results support the idea that career centers across the country realize the need to offer specialized career services for graduate students, and are developing successful and innovative ways to do so. Targeted Resources Demographic trends in graduate student enrollment and employment and results from the surveys conducted by the authors indicate a need to increase and target career services and resources to graduate students. A number of strategies may be used, depending on the resources available and characteristics of an institution s unique student population. One example, developed by authors Galles and Keller, is a guide designed to help graduate students find and use career resources specific to their needs. The guide (http://career.fsu.edu/images/ PDFS/Guides/FindingAndUsingGraduateStudentResources.pdf) includes sections on preparing professional materials, academic and faculty job search, nonacademic job search, postdoctoral positions, professional networking, marketing one s skills to employers, financial aid resources, interviewing and negotiating, and related resources. Career services staff should also inventory their print and web-based information collections, which will help determine if the office has resources to meet the career and employment needs of graduate students. Examples include samples of materials such as curriculum vitae, teaching and research statements, and academic cover letters. Ideally, these materials would be available online and in hard copy. Also, depending on the budget, the office may wish to purchase print or e- resources focusing on developing vitae, obtaining academic positions, finding nonacademic jobs, and similar topics. Another way to meet graduate students career needs is to offer online resources. As career centers review their website resources, they may want to consider sections or categories uniquely targeted to graduate students. An example of how a career center can target graduate students through its web resources can be found on the University of Washington s career center site, GradStudents. As with any external web-based materials, career services offices should establish criteria regarding the resources to include and provide a disclaimer that indicates the listing does not imply an endorsement by the center. Sample general career and employment websites relevant to graduate students include: com In addition, a meta-site like the Riley Guide (www.rileyguide.com) can help graduate students target websites that include job postings related to their field of study. Beyond the traditional job search, it is not uncommon for graduate students to seek help with locating and obtaining postdoctoral positions. This requires networking with professionals in one s field, university professors, and department or agency personnel. Other resources include the National Postdoctoral Association (www.nationalpostdoc.org), www. postdocjobs.com, and Some graduate students may feel isolated or disconnected from others FEBRUARY 2012 JOURNAL/35

6 in their field. Career professionals can help students network with fellow students, colleagues, and experts in their field. One useful resource is www. gradshare.com, an online community for social and professional networking specifically for graduate students. Students get their questions answered, get expert advice, and connect with other students. Finally, while graduate students often connect to professional associations related to their field of study through their academic department, it may also be useful to help them broaden the types of organizations they are focusing on to expand their networks and the number of employment opportunities. Campus Connections Another way career services can help meet graduate students career and employment needs is to develop strong relationships with other campus organizations and to tap into universitywide resources. Some universities have a general student organization for graduate students. For example, at Florida State University (FSU), there is a group called the Congress of Graduate Students. Campus-wide and department-specific graduate student groups can play a role in helping students find assistantships, fellowships, research grants, and other financial aid. In addition, they may offer professional development workshops on career and employment topics the career center can seek to jointly sponsor these or offer specific programming for the group. Some campuses offer workshops that help teaching and research assistants prepare for faculty positions. The career center can offer expertise on marketing one s qualifications and developing a professional portfolio for both academic and nonacademic job searches. For example, at FSU, Lenz is the career center liaison to the graduate school and regularly updates members of the graduate enrollment management group on career center Sources of Additional Information Austin, A. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. Journal of Higher Education, 73, Bieber, J. P., & Worley, L. K., (2006). Conceptualizing the academic life: Graduate students perspectives. The Journal of Higher Education, 77(6), Lehker, T., & Furlong, J. S., (2006). Career services for graduate and professional students. New Directions for Student Services 115, Quarterman, J. (2008). An assessment of barriers and strategies for recruitment and retention of a diverse graduate student population. College Student Journal, 42, resources and programs relevant to graduate and professional students. She has also given presentations to the assistant and associate deans for graduate programs on how the career center supports graduate students. Connecting with the school s international center is also crucial to help meet the needs of international graduate students. Finally, career center staff can explore opportunities for collaboration and referral with the campus counseling center as one component of helping graduate students deal with the unique academic and personal challenges they may face as they advance their careers. Conclusion Clearly there is a growing need for career centers to adapt their services to effectively serve graduate students. Recognizing the unique needs and challenges of advanced-degree seekers is an important first step, and identifying gaps in graduate student services offered is crucial for any career center. Various strategies can be used to meet the career services needs of graduate students; however, all career professionals should have some specific knowledge about certain topics. With the job market challenges facing recent graduates, many may choose to pursue advanced degrees despite the added cost. These increased numbers of graduate students are likely to look to career centers for support in obtaining employment to achieve a return on their investment. College and university career centers are encouraged to explore creative and effective ways to expand their services to meet the career and employment needs of their graduate student population. 36/JOURNAL FEBRUARY 2012

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