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  • Boosting Student Skill Development

    April 06, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    A student learns a new language during the coronavirus pandemic.

    TAGS: technology, best practices, operations, spotlight, coronavirus

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Laura Garcia is being contacted more frequently by employers asking what other organizations are doing to communicate with their incoming hires about the status of their position and onboarding in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

    While some employers are simply moving their experiences virtual, internships and full-time positions in other organizations cannot be converted or the employer does not have the capacity to make that transition, says Garcia, associate director of recruiting and external relations in the Emory University career center.

    “This means our students will lose their positions at the end of the year when fewer positions are typically available,” Garcia says.

    “When you take a step back to look at the timeline of the end of students' semesters and when an internship or full-time position typically begins in June, several challenges have become apparent to me.”

    These challenges—ones that do not have answers at this point because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic—include:

    • How students are going to be able to move into cities that are in lockdown;
    • Whether travel is deemed essential if students are getting hired into “non-essential” positions;
    • If the people in students’ support systems are comfortable with them moving into and working in these areas; and
    • Whether students will be able to find a moving company and a place to live when so many of these companies may be mandated to shut down.

    “With the varying projections on how COVID-19 will impact the United States, employers are becoming more cautious with hiring,” Garcia notes.

    “I have heard of a few that are rescinding offers due to lack of demand for products or services, concern for the health of the student and their current employees, and the position requiring the employee to work in person. We will likely see an increase in students who need to figure out something to do for the summer as a result.”

    She says it is important that students who do not have internships or full-time positions continue to develop their skills and competencies this summer.

    “We will come out of the lockdowns, but no one knows how long it will be,” Garcia points out.

    “It is critical for students to identify ways to distinguish themselves from their competition since many individuals will have no ability to work in person. Students who further their skills and competencies will stand out from other applicants who did not take the initiative during this time.”

    Students she has connected with are eager to use their summers productively, but are unsure of what they should do now if they are unable to work.

    “Sharing alternative activities is a way to comfort students that all hope is not lost,” Garcia says.

    “They can still get to where they want to go, but they may have to do a different activity over the summer than they anticipated.”

    Some activities she recommends for students to help develop skills include:

    • Picking up new skill sets through online courses and tutorials;
    • Learning another language;
    • Creating a website or online portfolio;
    • Asking professors if they can help with their research;
    • Volunteering (virtually) in the community;
    • Managing a website or social media for a local organization;
    • Creating sample communications and marketing materials; and
    • Conducting informational interviews with alumni to start building relationships.

    What the student decides to pursue will dictate how this work is included in their resume and how it is communicated to employers. For example, Garcia says, if a student:

    • Picks up a new skill like Java, this could be added to the resume’s “Skills” section.
    • Went through online professionalism training, this could be included in the resume’s “Education” section.
    • Created a project or took on freelance work, the student could create a resume section titled “Independent Projects & Experience” and include it there.

    “Once [the student gets] into an interview,” Garcia says, “this information can answer requests by the interviewer to tell about themselves or to detail a time they showed initiative. It indicates to the employer the student is motivated and it will help the student to stand out positively over others.”

    Garcia also recommends that career services offices be proactive by pushing out messages to students, some of whom may have already had their offers rescinded.

    “The reality is that others may start to [have their offers rescinded] too,” she says.

    “Career services offices need to get ahead of this by using both email and social media to get information out, and they should be partnering with other offices to further spread their messages to make sure it is getting noticed by students, parents and family associations, leadership boards, and others.

    “Be transparent by acknowledging what is happening in the world. Talking about doing a general mock interview or getting a resume critique sounds trite and does not acknowledge that the job market is shifting before our eyes. Messaging that addresses we understand this is going to be difficult shows empathy. It is important to still provide hope that employers are hiring, but we should not be ‘Pollyannas’ about it. It's going to be tough and they may need to do different activities than they planned to do this summer.”

    Garcia has several other recommendations for career services offices to navigate during this global crisis:

    • Gain expertise—Build knowledge on how to create meaningful virtual experiences, and develop recommendations and guidelines that you can share with employers that are considering moving their opportunities to a virtual environment.
    • Help guide employers and students—Make sure employers transitioning their internships to virtual understand the need for strong onboarding and organization, and the need to set clear expectations with new hires. Organize the information you collect and create into something easily digestible and achievable for students to work on over the summer.
    • Share—Make sure to share your information beyond your walls to families, academic advisers, faculty, and departments so they can also help promote your work and alternate approaches to summer work in their conversations with students.

     “I am also beginning to collect a shortlist of industries that are rapidly growing and I encourage other offices to do the same,” Garcia says.

    “Students may need to pivot to working in an industry they did not expect to simply because it is the most viable option for them to be employed. It is also critical for us to push students to develop technical skills now more than ever. The pandemic is going to change the world of work as we know it. More employers may do remote work for cost savings and/or need additional technical skills to deliver their products and services as a result of the disruption of serving clients and customers in person as we know it.”

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