Twenty years in the career services business and Mark Sorenson-Wagner, director of the Undergraduate Business Career Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, has seen a lot change over the years. For starters, technology has dramatically improved things. Instead of online postings and job searches, students once came to his office to scour job opportunities that were posted on an actual job board; as in a physical wall.
Today, there are opportunities galore and systems in place to make it as easy as possible for students to navigate their way to their dream jobs. Terrific in theory, but Sorenson-Wagner says he sometimes wonders if simplifying things has an unintended consequence whereby students are stripped of their inclination to explore and cast a wider net for career opportunities. Another area of concern is the tendency for students to be too formulaic in their approach versus pursuing careers they’re truly passionate about.
Nevertheless, Sorenson-Wagner tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads there are several shifts he’s seeing among Carlson’s undergraduate students when it comes to careers and jobs. First, more students are seeking work that is mission-driven or positively impacts the world in some way. His advice to employers: let students know how your company is making the world a better place by including it in your job posts. Secondly, students are starting to look beyond large, decades-long established companies to smaller tech companies, startups, nonprofits, and government agencies causing Sorenson-Wagner’s work to grow more robust as the school develops relationships with a wider range of organizations.
Sorenson-Wagner shares these and other career trends currently seen at the Carlson School in the one-on-one interview below.
P&Q: What are some of the services and resources your office offers students?
Sorenson-Wagner: We start working with students and their parents in orientation as freshman, letting them know it’s okay to not know what you want to do. You have time to explore and we talk about the resources and programs we have in place to provide easy access for exploring and taking the stress and anxiety out of it.
The outcome of college is getting that first job so there’s a lot of stress on students. As a student, if I don’t get the job I want, or a job right away, then that’s a failure. That’s not the way to look at it.
From there, the first thing we offer all of our students to take a career skills class that’s offered through the career services office. That’s where we start to dig deeper with students to help them understand the recruiting process, how to network, and how to get connected.
P&Q: Can you elaborate more on the career skills class?
Sorenson-Wagner: It’s a required class that’s 15 weeks, an hour and 15 minutes per week. It’s a full academic class and right now it’s just a pass/fail course. We cover everything from writing resumes and cover letters to doing skills and values assessments and strengths finders.
The thing we’re trying to do and build more into the curriculum is making it a lot more about reflection. There are a lot of technical things they can learn on their own so let’s talk about what it means; the why of it.
All of our career coaches teach. They all teach several sections and we hire adjuncts as well. We tend to lean on people who know us and can talk about our different resources at the university. We also bring recruiters into the classrooms to do practice interviews and other activities.
We’d love for all students to take it sophomore year. That’s the most popular time. If a student wants to take the class as a freshman, they have to do a petition. Some clearly know what they want and where they’re going so we make them articulate that. Others may put it off for junior or senior year.
P&Q: What do you wish students would do more of or less of in the recruiting process?
Sorenson-Wagner: It’s hard to generalize, but the thing I wish they’d do more of is explore more beyond companies that come to campus. I think a lot of times we do a really good job bringing in local and national companies to our campus. Part of my job is to make it easy for them, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a little too easy.
We tend to see about 70% stay in Minnesota for their first job. I’m not trying to drive them out, I love Minnesota, but a lot of alumni say they wish they had thought about going east or to the West Coast. Because we make it so easy, are they truly looking at all of their options to help them see other things that may be a good fit for them? Can we make sure they see all the different opportunities that are out there?
P&Q: What are some of the most common mistakes students should avoid when going through the recruiting process?
Sorenson-Wagner: I’d say the biggest thing we hear from companies is that we have great students who are high achieving so they want to know the formula for success. What steps do I need to take between the first day of college and graduation to get the opportunities that I want? Sometimes it becomes a little too formulaic as opposed to what they’re passionate about or what will help them make a difference in the world.
I’d love to remind students just to experience things that make sense to you. We don’t want you to do it just because it’s the right thing for your resume. Employers too. In the interview they want to see you, your passions, not just what we taught you on how to answer an interview question.
P&Q: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in students over time?
Sorenson-Wagner: Broadly, students are more diverse in their interests. I think students coming in today have a lot of information at their fingertips. It’s easy to Google ‘how to write a good resume’ so they have the ability to do a lot of that. We’re finding it’s necessary to have a lot more of the why conversations. Why are you doing this? Why is the process in place?
We’re getting away from the tactical and moving toward the big picture in order to help students navigate the system and bring out more of their personalities. It’s getting them to ask themselves, ‘How do I spend my time communicating myself as an individual rather than a typical Carlson student?’
P&Q: And what about current student trends?
Sorenson-Wagner: For us, because of our location — which is a great advantage for us — a lot of our students end up at Fortune 500 companies. But we have more and more students who are mission-driven. Whether they’re working in consulting, investment banking, or a manufacturing plant in rural Minnesota, they want to see the work they’re doing is making an impact in some way. When recruiting students, we tell employers to put language in their job descriptions to articulate how the company is making a difference in the world.
Another trend is that students are starting to ask more questions about other types of employers. A lot of our emphasis is on Fortune 500 companies, but as the Twin Cities employer market changes to include more tech firms and startups, more and more students are starting to look at these firms as well as nonprofits and government agencies. The bulk of our work is with big companies who are large like us and some of the smaller companies feel they don’t have a place with us. Now, our work is to go out and say, ‘We do have a place for you.’ Our work is changing a lot in terms of relationship building by moving into tech, nonprofit agencies, and government agencies.