Two long-time counselors in the Department of Career Services sat down with UConn Today last month to discuss how students are faring in today’s troubled economy.
Larry Druckenbrod, assistant director of counseling services, has been at UConn for nearly 18 years. He has a master’s degree in counseling.
Laura Evangelista Newbury, an assistant director and manager of employer relations, has been at UConn for 11 years. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and, prior to her UConn experience, worked in industry in human resource management.
Q – How’s the job market?
Newbury – There are still plenty of opportunities for students. I think what has changed in this economy, though, is the length of time it takes for students to procure employment. The process has also changed. Where traditionally students had used technology like HuskyCareerLink, our online job posting system, or Monster.com to find opportunities, now they have to use different tactics like networking and interviewing people. Really using social media to make those connections. In the past, when things were a little bit more affluent, when the market was better, they didn’t have to go that far into their tool bag to find opportunity.
Q – Have we had other down cycles this steep?
Newbury – There was one in the early 1990s. The economy wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as depressed as it is now.
Q – What about the recession in the early 2000s?
Druckenbrod – There has been nothing like this. This particular period just doesn’t compare to anything we’ve experienced. I can only benchmark this experience. I feel it, I see it. I just don’t recall the others as being much of a blip. This one we’ll remember, absolutely.
Q – Has it been picking up at all lately?
Newbury – We still have companies coming to campus. The career fair on Oct. 16 was at full capacity with a short waiting list. We have on-campus interviewing opportunities this fall that are fairly steady. We are seeing things slowly turn.
Q – What are the best majors right now to get a job?
Newbury – We don’t generally do forecasting because it’s too simple a perspective. Four years ago everybody said health care professions were great. Everybody wanted to become a nurse. Now we’re finding that nursing jobs aren’t as easy to get. There are so many seasoned nurses who aren’t retiring but are working per diem, so students are struggling to find employment in that field.
Druckenbrod – Five years ago health care was booming. Baby boomers were nearing retirement. It looked like a solid choice at that time.
Newbury – Before that it was engineering. There were plenty of opportunities in engineering, especially in computer science technology. Our philosophy in this office is to focus on education. We want to assist students who are figuring out a course of study that will be fulfilling and then link that to the world of work so they have the education, the self knowledge, and the experiential education to be well informed consumers when they finish their degree, so they will make good decisions in the job search.
Druckenbrod – We initiated a career development program, EXPLORE, in the spring of 2000 that specifically targets sophomores going into their junior year. It helps them with some of those initial questions and, toward the end, prepares them for the job search.
Recognizing that we have such a large population with career development needs as opposed to placement, we revamped the EXPLORE program and are rolling out a new version next spring. We’re going to market this version to second semester freshmen. We’re going to target students who are undecided on their major or unclear about a career, so by the end of their third semester we will have taken them through, perhaps, 24 hours of discovery programs.
We’ll be doing workshops focused on their interests or values or skills. They’ll be able to write a résumé and understand the importance of that document. We really push résumé writing because it’s playing out what their college experience is going to look like. We’re trying to focus more on students looking at career development kinds of issues. If we can get at those issues and resolve some of those things, they can make the most of their college experience.
Q – As the economy has fallen, have you been seeing more students?
Druckenbrod – That’s a really complicated question. I would say – and this is anecdotal – that I think the numbers actually have gone down some, especially for the juniors and seniors. And I think one of the reasons for that is because students who are juniors and seniors have been experiencing this economy for three years. They’re coming in with the idea that there are no jobs, so they don’t have to worry about career services. They say they’re just going to enroll in graduate school, or they’re just taking a year off to travel, or they’re going to do community service.
A lot of them are talking that way now. They’re going to join the Peace Corps, they’re joining Americorps, and they’re going to give back. So we’re seeing freshmen and sophomores as a result of our First Year Experience interventions. We see more freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors, which is the opposite of what we saw five, six years ago.
Newbury – This is occurring nationwide, and some counselors think it’s because many students have parents and family members who had worked in their professions for many many years and have now been downsized. And if their mother or father who has “X” amount of years of professional experience can’t get a job, what is the entry level college student going to do? There’s a lot of despondency. I’ve seen a rise in anxiety. We partner very closely with counseling services, because we’ve seen a lot of students with high anxiety that we haven’t seen before.
Q – Do you know how many students are getting jobs or internships?
Newbury – We do a survey for internship placement. That’s interesting because when we see a shift away from the job search, we see an increase in other services such as graduate school guidance, transitional year guidance. So I think the traffic has remained steady. It’s just the topic that has changed.
Internships are absolutely valuable. We have two staff dedicated to driving home the importance of that. They offer workshops. We have an internship clearing house. HuskyCareerLink posts available internships. The internship clearing house focuses on those bigger, larger programs that wouldn’t necessarily post on individual schools’ job posting websites, places like The Smithsonian, Walt Disney.
We also really want to push experiential education, because it helps students develop skills. Even opportunities where they decide ‘this isn’t for me’ are still a learning experience that gets them closer to what is the right place. Students will tell us ‘I thought I liked this but it isn’t for me and I wasted my time.’ We disagree, and talk about what they didn’t like, because that’s going to give them some clarity. And once they have that epiphany, it’s a really powerful moment.
Druckenbrod – Candidates with internship experience are considerably more likely to receive job offers than those who don’t, and graduates with internships will receive a significantly larger starting salary – $7,000 more – than those without one. It’s well documented. We have 300 internships listed on our website just in HuskyCareerLink. Then on internship.uconn.edu there are thousands more.
Q – What about ‘green’ jobs?
Newbury – I think that many students come here and they want to have the ‘make a difference’ career – affecting the world in a positive way. So it’s Peace Corps, it’s Teach for America, the green jobs, saving the environment. We have a lot of students very much into environmental issues on campus and they want to carry that over into their professional vocation.
Q – Is it better for students to take any job rather than stay unemployed waiting for that dream job?
Druckenbrod – Absolutely. A new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) just came out and there’s a stat that says 40 percent of seniors who took a job offer said it was not the job they were looking for. But they understand, and we tell them as well, that it’s easier to find a job if you already have a job. It’s easier to tell an employer you’ve been developing skills, you’ve been developing business acumen. It’s OK to say ‘I’ve been traveling in Tibet for a year,’ but you’d better be able to say what you’ve learned from that and you’d better have been doing something during that time, because even in a bad economy employers want to see somebody who has been motivated.
Q – You hear so much about English majors or archaeology majors, and where can they ever get a job?
Newbury – The answer is everywhere and anyplace. In liberal arts there is no linear path. Some jobs are traditionally associated with each of those majors but there is such a wealth of transferable skills a student gets as a liberal arts major, they can apply that education and those skills to virtually any occupation, and that’s scary to students. They want to know ‘if I go to school and major in this, I will be that.’ I try to encourage them, liberal arts is wonderful because it’s an adventure. You’re not limiting yourself. The world really is your oyster. And you can change your plan anywhere along your career. You may have to go back for training or a graduate degree, but it’s such a strong foundation.
Druckenbrod – College is more than four years of attending class. It’s being involved, joining groups, and getting an internship. If you have that package you can talk more lucidly about contributions you can make, what skills you can draw on, how you have taken hold of the opportunities presented to you. Involvement is really important.
Q – How much time do you spend with the students?
Newbury – It varies. We have 15 minute walk-ins daily. Come in and see any of us. Through that we triage. What does the student need? Is it a quick question – résumé or guidance? – or is it something in more depth, such as choosing a major and figuring out how that fits into the world of work. That may be an hour. And it could take a series of one hour meetings. As long as it takes.
Q – What can parents do to help?
Druckenbrod – The first thing that comes up is to support their child’s choices. I think parents can simply support what their child’s interests are and let them make their own decisions. That’s the number one thing I’d say to them. To put pressure where you think there’s going to be a job when you graduate because it happens to be at the top of the latest list … it’s just not the way to go through college.
Q – How about alumni? Can you help them?
Newbury – We do. Right now, graduates three years out and under can receive all of our services.
Druckenbrod – For the most part we deal with an 18 to 22 year-old population. We help them pick a major, learn about careers. So [for alumni] we try to gather resources that focus on adults in transition. Those resources are on our website and we make that information available.
We’ll meet with them and we’ll let them know what we can do for them, what resources are available. Any alum can use our online job system. Alumni can go to our events, go to our career fairs. If it’s long-term counseling, that’s an area where we just cannot provide service. But information we have. And many times that’s all they need. They say ‘Can I apply for jobs on your website?’ Yes, they can.
Laura – The Husky Alumni Network is invaluable. About 500 alumni have self-selected to support outreach to undergrads and fellow alumni. So we also tell undergraduates and graduates to look at Husky Alumni Network, to see if somebody in a different geographic area or profession has anything available. Also, we have many active alumni chapters. So if somebody is relocating to California or Michigan or wherever, they may find some help. When people ask how they can break into the job market, the first thing we say is check Husky Alumni Network, check HuskyCareerLink, and check for an alumni chapter. They would love to have you.