Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
June 6, 2012
As the director of a small office with a small budget and an aggressive mission, Lisa Lambert Snodgrass knew that she needed to think creatively and find ways to expand Purdue University’s Liberal Arts Career Development (LACD) office’s services beyond its means.
“I went back to my roots and my passion—engaging and empowering students,” Snodgrass says. “I have always believed that undergraduate students are underused and have incredible skills, and I needed to find a way to harness that talent.”
In 2009, Snodgrass launched the LACD Peer Partner program as a way to expand the office’s services. At first, it was a simple ambassador program with students serving as representatives for LACD at events and with visiting parents, employers, and others.
While the program was successful, Snodgrass envisioned peer partners engaging students through presentations, interacting and mentoring through resume reviews and interview preparation, and leading by advancing the mission of LACD.
“With that vision in mind and the help of a core group of ambassadors, the Peer Partner program was born,” she says.
Students interested in becoming peer partners apply by submitting a cover letter, resume, and a 60-second video pitch of a workshop or presentation idea to the program. Selected candidates then proceed through a three-stage interview process that includes a traditional interview with Snodgrass and two senior peer partners, a 15-minute presentation, and a 90-minute group case-style interview.
“We look for candidates that bring skills and talents that balance the existing team, and who offer fresh and engaging ideas,” Snodgrass notes. “There are five LACD peer partners each semester. They serve as volunteers, but may earn college credit for their experiences.”
Students selected to become peer partners undergo training that prepares them to assist in fulfilling the mission of LACD.
Each semester, LACD peer partners have weekly resume review walk-in hours, set appointments for mock interview practice, attend two College of Liberal Arts (CLA) organization meetings to promote LACD services, and host and present one career-related workshop/seminar. Peer partners also write a weekly career-related blog post.
“For LACD, the peer partners are just that, partners, and invaluable ones at that,” Snodgrass says. “As a department of one, I simply cannot meet all the needs of nearly 5,000 undergraduate CLA students alone. The LACD peer partners help bridge the gap in services that would otherwise go greatly unmet.”
She says peer partners report that they gain skills from the program that they will take with them into the workplace.
“From formal to interpersonal communications skills to presentational speaking to critiquing and problem solving to advanced writing skills, the peer partners build skills that are marketable well beyond the LACD,” Snodgrass says.
In addition, CLA students have explained that having a peer offer resume advice or critique their interviewing skills is less intimidating than an adult professional doing so.
“The peer partners speak their same language and are seen as a more accessible resource by many students,” Snodgrass says.
Snodgrass’ assessments of the LACD Peer Partner Program show its effectiveness. This year, the office sent out two electronic surveys—one to CLA students who had interacted with the peer partners and one to CLA students who had not engaged in any peer partner activity.
Of respondents who had interacted with the peer partners, 100 percent reported that they would use resume and interview prep services again if needed, 96 percent noted that they would attend future workshops/seminars, and 84 percent indicated that they had promoted the services to friends and roommates.
Among CLA students who had not used the peer partner program, 37 percent said they were not aware of the services, 13 percent indicated they had not needed the services, and 46 percent reported that time commitments and class schedules kept them from using the services. When asked if they would use the services in the future, 88 percent of respondents from this group reported that they would use at least one of the services offered by the peer partners.
Snodgrass also assesses the program by interviewing the peer partners each semester when they meet as a group, evaluate services, and brainstorm ideas and strategies for increasing student participation.
“The peer partners rate the program highly, citing increased resource accessibility for the CLA student body and advanced marketable skills for them,” Snodgrass says.
She tells the story of a senior peer partner who worked with a student on resume and interview preparation. The peer partner received an e-mail from the student indicating that he had received a job offer and thanking the peer partner for her part in his success.
“[She] was hooked and her own career path changed directions,” Snodgrass says. “She is now in recruiting and human resources and tells me that it was that very first success that helped her discover what she really wanted to do and who she wanted to be.”
Snodgrass believes that for any similar program to reach its full effectiveness, the peer advisers have to have room to develop themselves as they assist others.
“My advice is to mentor, not manage, and to allow the students to shine—to allow their skills to blossom and to trust in their talents,” she says. “Harnessing the power of student talent doesn’t mean restricting it; it truly means carefully selecting outstanding peer partners, providing them with extensive training, giving them a seat at the planning and evaluation table, and then serving alongside them as true partners.”