Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
In response to the impact of COVID-19 on the job market, Colby College has activated its large network of alumni, employers, families, and friends to help its Class of 2020 graduates find employment and educational opportunities.
“Many students in industries like finance, whose recruiting season is typically earlier, were well on their way to full-time jobs, but perhaps starting remotely,” explains Michael Maher, DavisConnects director of advising and finance adviser at Colby.
“For students in sectors that usually recruit later in the school year—in spring as just-in-time hiring and those recruiting based on business needs—they hit a brick wall, with COVID-19 and the economic impact halting a majority of recruiting. So, while we were not yet dramatically behind historical hiring levels, we could see the oncoming train and so could the students. That is when we knew we had to do something.”
There were other troubling indicators. Maher says that while a relatively small number of Class of 2020 graduates had offers rescinded, there was uncertainty and rumors about the possibility that these numbers could increase significantly.
“However, the numbers that were most striking were those that show what happens to students who start their careers in jobs well below their capabilities,” he adds.
“They often take years to make up the career and economic setback, if they do at all. And we wanted to ensure our graduating seniors started off successfully, not without an opportunity or trudging off to a subpar job they are not interested in.”
On May 6, Colby activated its network through the “Pay It Northward” initiative to provide opportunities for its Class of 2020 graduates. Colby President David Greene stated that the goal of Pay It Northward is ensuring the college’s Class of 2020 is positioned for long-term success. This means providing meaningful opportunities—including full-time jobs, graduate school, internships, short-term projects, or volunteer opportunities—for all 500 seniors in Colby’s graduating class within three months after graduation.
“Roughly 200 [graduating seniors] were all set, with about 300 needing our help,” Maher says. “We launched Pay It Northward, a multi-pronged approach that reached out directly to some 30,000 members of the Colby community and identified some community members with strong, robust networks, who were eager to activate their Colby and external networks.
“That expanded the reach even further. Plus, we held virtual sessions to further educate and answer questions with different Colby committees, boards, and alumni groups, so we did more than just lightly touch folks. Instead, we created a more well-informed mobilization and activation.”
The response, he adds, has been overwhelming.
“I can’t say it is unexpected because I know how loyal and committed the Colby community is, so I would say we have been happily inundated with responses,” Maher explains.
“We had 200 in the initial two days and around 600 or so in less than one month. Many of those had multiple opportunities or connected us with other people who had additional opportunities. In such a difficult economic environment for so many, including some of the responders, it is one of the most impressive demonstrations of community commitment I have seen.”
Led by vice president and dean of student advancement Andy McGadney, the DavisConnects career office team took the lead on the Pay It Northward initiative. Before the campaign launched, the team surveyed students to identify the number needing jobs and their areas of career interest. Each team member was assigned seniors by matching interest with expertise.
“Our DavisConnects team was working remotely, meeting one on one with our assigned students, conducting virtual workshops on things like resumes and networking, developing content that students could reference on demand like video tutorials on topics like cover letters and answering tough interview questions,” Maher explains.
“We also set up alumni mock interviewing schedules and provided resume feedback whether they asked for it or not, all so they were prepared to be successful when the career opportunities appeared,” Maher says.
The DavisConnects career office team also mapped out the key responsibilities and project processes. Once Pay It Northward launched, team members were involved in the virtual sessions to educate the community on how they can most effectively participate.
“Now when the responses and opportunities come in,” Maher adds, “we post the jobs and help identify the most appropriate opportunities for individual students. Our DavisConnects responsibilities are to own this initiative and make it happen.”
Pay It Northward has been Colby’s top priority in recent weeks, so almost every department has contributed. For example, the communications team has helped focus and spread Colby’s message, the alumni and advancement teams reach out to many members of the Colby community, and President Greene has spread the word during his interviews with many media outlets.
“These have been perhaps our closest everyday partners on this, but every area has helped with outreach and identifying opportunities, including faculty and non-staff, like our trustees and alumni committees,” Maher points out.
There are challenges associated with developing such a massive first-time initiative so quickly and reacting to developments on the fly. On the other hand, there have also been pleasant benefits.
“While we expected to be successful, we didn’t know exactly what shape success would take,” Maher explains.
“On the employer side, we were not prepared for so many tremendous opportunities to come all at once at the very outset, so the follow up to get the information and post the jobs was pretty hectic. But it has been great to get to know so many people and build new relationships, not just for this year, but for the future.”
These include alumni who have wanted to help, but did not know how to or others who cannot help right now, but are eager to be part of student career education and support moving forward.
“From the student perspective,” Maher says, “one challenge is that there are industries with fewer opportunities than normal. If students wanted to work in advertising, we have had to educate them on alternatives that give them the same type of relevant experience, like social media roles on client marketing teams that are available, instead of ad agencies.”
The early success of Colby’s Pay It Northward initiative is based, in large part, on two key steps: asking for help and preparing students.
“Career services can’t possibly know every alum and what they can do, so ask, give them a clear opportunity to help, tell them specifically how, and make it easy,” he says.
“Data show that most jobs are found through networking as most jobs are never posted. There are still opportunities and businesses need the help of smart young people, but those of us in career services cannot know all the opportunities. Give your community the chance to help you identify them.”
It was also important to prepare seniors in advance to successfully seize these opportunities when they came along.
“Preparing students for success is our normal job,” says Maher, “but we conducted crash courses so they were ready when Pay It Northward opportunities came looking for them.”