P&Q: What are students now looking for in employers and how has that changed over the past few years, if at all?
I don’t know if it has changed a ton. It’s interesting seeing the articles out there now — and this isn’t necessarily tied to business — but, students have the ability to be a bit more choosey and determine what they want to do. I’ve lived through two recessions now working with students, and right now it’s a student’s market. If they do everything they are supposed to do and have the skill set that’s available to them and take advantage of a lot of the engagement opportunities they have with employers, I think they have the opportunity for multiple opportunities.
Our top students don’t have to settle. Whereas, when you’re going through some of these recessions, it’s not necessarily that they settle so much, but they do have to be a bit more resilient about things and maybe take a deeper dive at looking at what they actually want to do. Now they have the opportunity to think about what they really want to do, but also can do it with confidence that they are going to get what they want.
There has been a lot of conversation about this generation and if they work hard. And, I think they do. I think you have a lot of very hard workers. In my opinion, some things that companies need to pay attention to is that these students come with a lot of skills. If you are not going to challenge them and if they don’t have any meaning to what they are doing, they’re probably not going to be interested in doing it.
I’m amazed that they come in and they are already so accomplished at this age. You look back at when you were there age and I feel like, my gosh, you’ve already sold one company and you’ve cured cancer, so what’s next for you? And there’s still a lot of energy and gumption that they have. And that needs to be fed. And I think students are OK starting at the bottom. Everyone knows they have to start at the bottom, but they need to be challenged at the same time. If you put them in a position where they are not in a role that’s going to challenge them or they don’t see a benefit to it, they’re not going to last.
P&Q: So, to inverse the question, what are employers looking for in students nowadays, and how has that changed recently if at all?
I think in many cases, they want someone who’s ready immediately. And there’s that whole idea that they have to be polished, they have to be professional, they have to be excellent communicators, and then they also have to have all the hard skills, too. That can be a pretty tough package. We have to remember, these are still young adults. There are many students that can meet that goal, but I think what we’re seeing on the undergraduate side is they want it sooner. And I think we all have to step back and remember that we’re dealing with humans that are going through a developmental time in their lives. They don’t know everything. They don’t know what’s right in front of them sometimes and we’re asking them to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
What we are seeing for sure is a lot more anxiety in the students. And from the get-go. We have a freshman direct-admit program and we see students coming in that are already stressed. Their first week, they’re coming into our career center and are like, ‘I need to get that internship.’ And we’re like, ‘you just need to chill out for a minute and get through your first quarter. You need to get your feet on the ground first and then we can figure it out.’ There is just this level of anxiety that’s being stirred up. I think it comes from what they’re seeing in their peers and what upper-classmen have had to go through in order to get really competitive opportunities. It certainly is a competitive environment. That anxiety is something new that we are seeing.
I just think sometimes employers are asking for the finished package — especially with young adults — that they’re not finished with yet. When they do rookie things, like at an internship, of course we need to counsel them, but we also have to remember their age at the same time. It’s fun that you get them at a developing and defining moment in their lives and it’s something that we all cherish and respect and know that it’s important. But at the same time, they’re still growing.
It’s also interesting how the fundamentals are always going to be important. The first thing employers will say is, ‘I need to have someone who can write and someone who can speak.’ And that doesn’t change. But I also don’t think there’s a role out there anymore where technology doesn’t play a big piece of it. The technical aptitude has to be there.
What I always tell our students is no one is going to hire you for the job description. They are hiring you for your potential to go beyond the job description and I want you to be thinking like that. Being able to see around the corner is what’s going to make you the person for the job.
P&Q: Are there any popular employers right now among your students?
Any consulting employer is popular. Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Nike, Google. Anything in tech, in many cases. But also even local tech firms like Smartsheet, (SAP) Concur, Tableau. There are some names that may not be necessarily known outside of this area but are very popular. T-Mobile and Expedia are some others.
P&Q: For students that are really trying to take advantage of what your office has to offer, what are some important points for them to take advantage of?
On the undergraduate side, we can’t necessarily require anything. Our whole focus is early and often. The earlier that you come, the better we’re able to assist with what you’re hoping to do. We integrate really closely with our academic advisors, so our academic advisors sit right next to us in the office. There is a lot of engagement. Our Freshman Direct Seminar is co-taught between a career coach as well as an academic advisor. We start with our freshman direct students with that foundational career coaching there.
But the majority of our student population come in as junior admits. And that is where early recruiting comes in. That has been a really, really unfortunate experience for the students and for the employers and career services. No one wins. Especially for us as a two-year program. We struggle with that. You come in as juniors and internship deadlines are happening the first week of school. What we’ve tried to do is build a lot of programming in the spring of their sophomore years to build awareness and to get them a little more prepared. I think the challenge you run into with young adults though is that they’re not thinking about that during springtime. They just got into the program, that’s next year, you know, that kind of thing.
We have started to do a lot of programming the week before school starts. Our consulting bootcamp is a prime example — we always do that the week before school starts. Being on the quarter system also puts us behind on the recruiting timeline.
P&Q: What influences you all in deciding which programming to implement and when?
I think you’re going to see that it’s a lot of constant fine tuning. Your population is always changing — it’s never constant. You always have to go back to the well and see what works and what doesn’t. We don’t do resume workshops anymore. It’s not something that is worth our time to just spend the hour and only a handful of students show up. We can weave it into a variety of other ways like partnering with student clubs or having a part of our seminar programs or coming into classrooms to do it.
One thing we’ve leaned on a lot in our office is our student workers. They are our students and it is not uncommon for us to have focus groups, not only with them, but also with the rest of our undergraduate population. But they are always the first people I go to to say, ‘hey, I’m thinking this is great, what do you think?’ And they’re like, ‘this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, we won’t be doing this then.’ It’s just a really quick gauge to know if this is really going to make sense or not.
The core of what you see going on is from employers and alums, though, particularly alums. They’ll come back and they’re really good at sharing things that were extremely beneficial that they pulled away from the program and how we might be able to fine tune that or emphasis it a bit more. I always look at it this way: it goes back to developing their professional selves as young adults. I need to model a lot of behavior for them. I always tell my coaches that I see them more as facilitators, not as the ones giving the workshops so much. There are times when they are, but in many cases, it’s going to be much more beneficial and powerful and, candidly, we’re going to get a lot more interest, if it’s an employer or an alum.
And, to me, that is magic, because they see how that young adult is on the other side now. And what they’re saying needs to be on a resume automatically sticks, even though you’ve been telling that student the same thing.
P&Q: How much has the pressure and insecurity surrounding work visas played a role in what you all do?
I’m not an employer, but if I was an employer, I think I would need to look at where are my needs. In undergraduate business, you don’t see a lot of sponsorship happening for accounting and things like that. When you talk to employers, where they’re going to put their eggs in a basket is software engineers. That’s an assumption on my behalf, but if I was going to play my cards as an employer, that’s where I’m going to put my eggs.
P&Q: What do employers say about Foster graduates?
It’s funny, we have our fall recruiting wrap-up coming up, so I don’t have the newest feedback, but for the most part, I’d say it’s extremely positive. They continue to be impressed with our students, to be honest with you. I know I’m impressed with our students. It is not uncommon for alums to say, ‘if I were trying to get into your program now, I wouldn’t be able to get in.’ And there’s probably some truth to that, looking at some recent acceptance rates for undergrads. They all come in with such a strong skill set and they’ve done hundreds of volunteer hours and they’ve formulated their lives and skill sets more than a young adult back in my generation, that’s for sure.
They are and will continue to impact the workforce in a way the workforce hasn’t seen. And, I’d like to say, yes, that’s all Huskies, but I think you’re seeing that nationwide, too.