Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
Student employees are the backbone of Rutgers University Career Services (UCS) as their support allows the office to maximize its resources.
“Our nearly 70 undergraduate and graduate student employees are completing tasks on a daily basis, which allows our office to reach and engage with more students and employers,” explains Melissa Blake, associate director for strategic communication and marketing.
“Our student staff allows UCS to provide a five-star customer service experience to all of our constituents: current students, campus partners, and employers.”
Blake explains that some student employees—including photographers and marketing ambassadors—serve on an as-needed basis, while others manage programs, provide resume critiquing assistance, staff the front desks in various locations, provide phone and e-mail support for students using various online career tools, and more.
“Their efforts allow us to respond to our constituents and assist them in furthering their career goals or, in the case of our employers, assist them in recruiting quality candidates,” Blake notes.
Each position that UCS hires for has a job description that outlines the qualities and qualifications it is looking for in a candidate. The position descriptions usually quantify the time spent on specific projects, knowledge of applications or software that is required, and desired skill level. For example, students who apply for marketing and design positions are asked to submit a portfolio and complete a “design challenge” as part of the hiring process. Graphic design candidates are given an assignment to make a poster about an event UCS is hosting.
“Candidates are provided with a few graphics to use, a branding guide, and a deadline for the challenge,” Blake says. “After a review of the submissions, our office invites successful candidates in for an interview.”
Another example is the UCS process for hiring editorial assistants. Candidates are required to complete a copyediting test and those with a top score are invited for an interview.
“Given the tailored position descriptions and very specific functions within our office, students who are looking to gain “real-life” experience in a particular job or industry are a great fit,” Blake points out. “We depend on students to complete important work right alongside our full-time staff. We also look for students who are motivated, hard working, and committed to our mission.”
All UCS student hires are onboarded and participate in an orientation by the assistant director for administrative services. During the onboarding process, students are provided with a student employee manual, staff polo, name badge, and welcome package comprised of a drawstring backpack, portfolio, and branded pen. Student staff are provided a professional e-mail address and a work space in the office.
After student employees receive their basic orientation, each supervisor provides additional “job-specific” training. For example, students on the UCS technical team learn how to set up hardware to swipe students into workshops. Front office staff members learn how to operate office phones and respond to commonly asked questions.
The new supervisor handbook—developed by a student intern majoring in human resources—also puts in place a mechanism to ensure student employees receive quality feedback that can help them get the most out of their experience. Supervisors have an expectation-setting session with students to discuss responsibilities, professional guidelines, learning objectives, and both short- and long-term assignments. An overview of the performance review process is provided. Students then have a mid-year and year-end evaluation meeting with their supervisor. They also receive a written evaluation for each of these meetings.
“Throughout the year, student employees take part in planned enrichment workshops provided by our office,” Blake says. “Workshops topics are based on student feedback. This year, career advisers delivered a workshop about developing a professional online presence, a topic which is popular among students. Students are also encouraged to meet with a career adviser in our office at least once a year to discuss their career goals and progression while ‘on the clock.’ ”
According to Blake, the UCS is structured with an operations unit that comprises the following areas: technology, assessment, marketing and communications, administrative, and business services.
“This unit supports the operations of everything we do and the services we can offer to our constituents,” she explains. “Although more and more career services offices may be moving toward this model, it is not always possible for these functions to be represented within a department.”
If a career services department does not have these roles represented by full-time staff, Blake suggests it considers augmenting its staffing structure with students to achieve strategic goals and advance the departments’ progress.
“If you cannot fund a student position for an entire year or semester, consider hiring a student on a freelance basis for a particular project,” she adds. “This opportunity will be beneficial to you and to the student who gains important experience working on the project.”
Blake says limited resources may cause career center staff to believe they are not able to have a large-scale student employment program. If this is the case, she suggests collaborating with other departments within the university and getting creative.
“Ask an HR class to take on developing a student employee manual as a project,” Blake says. “Work with a communication class to develop promotional tools as a class project and use their finished project. Most universities have a federal work study program, which will subsidize the expense associated with hiring student employees.”
Another common misconception is that student employees are not knowledgeable enough to provide a high level of assistance. However, Blake counters that while a good student employment program should always include training, students are much more capable than some give them credit for. In many instances, she says, students bring new ideas and more in-depth knowledge to certain tasks (e.g., social media administration and technology awareness).
“Every day on campus, students are participating in leadership opportunities where they work with a team to coordinate large-scale programs, concerts, fundraising events, and even conferences,” she explains. “This is what career services offices do to attract employers to recruit our students. So, trust in the training you do and trust that student employees can get the job done if you provide the necessary support.”
UCS supports students in the process of discovering and achieving their career goals. It is committed to ensuring each student who works for UCS gains technical skills; experiences interpersonal growth; and has real, tangible examples of problems they have helped to solve.
“For this reason, we believe that students who work in our office should have an exemplary internship or part-time job experience,” Blake says. “After working with us students are able to showcase relevant work projects and experiences to future employers.”
Last year, UCS was awarded the top employer award by the student employment office for on-campus employment.
“If an exemplary student employment model is at the core of what you do,” Blake says, “the structure that you put in place to implement this philosophy will achieve results.”
For example, as a component of UCS’s career cluster initiative, a recent major development was the integration of UCS with the First-Year Interest Group Seminars, which are one-credit courses taken by nearly 2,000 first-year students. Blake explains that these courses are career interest-specific, and help students learn about the university and explore future career pathways through that particular interest area.
“These courses thrive because of the 88 undergraduate peer instructors who are the sole teachers within these courses each year,” she points out. “They go through extensive training and take a three-credit course while performing their duties as instructors. This is another example of how UCS at Rutgers University leverages student employees to expand our reach across a campus of 50,000-plus students.”