NACE Journal, May 2019
Henry David Thoreau once said: “The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.”
This quote has resonated with me as a career counselor, and its sentiment has guided me in developing various tools for my professional use, including the student engagement opportunity outline.
The outline was developed in fall 2017 and was piloted with the assistance of my office colleagues in spring 2018 for our career counseling, resume critique, and job-search appointments with undergraduate and graduate students. The outline compiles key information about extracurricular activities and on-campus employment opportunities to help students identify options and become involved on campus. Each of these outlets provides students the capability to foster their own career development, build their career readiness competencies, and, ultimately, help them achieve positive career outcomes.
Extracurricular Activities and Leadership Opportunities Section
Graduating students face an array of expectations: Not only are they expected to succeed academically, but employers also look to them to develop interpersonal proficiencies. Liptak (2005) articulated that college students must cultivate an expansive repertoire for future success within their career, personal, and social applications. Emotional intelligence (EI) emerged as a centralized component to this ideal. Goleman (1998) defined EI as the capability to understand the proficiencies of our own internal awareness and regulation, being empathic, exhibiting ambition, and having flexibility when engaging others. Employers seek such attributes in their candidates: Majeski, Stover, Valais, and Ronch (2017) articulated EI as a prerequisite to performing within a team setting and achieving common objectives. Considering how these capabilities are transferable to all positions and industries, EI is a necessity for all college graduates.
Higher education can serve as a venue for students to attain EI through extracurricular activities. Jamal (2012) indicated how extracurricular activities provide students the opportunity to enrich attributes such as their own self-efficacy, as well as negotiation, being empathic, decision making, and conflict resolutions skills. Additionally, similar benefits were identified from specific programing designed to engage students’ emotional intelligence competencies. Grant, Kinman, and Alexander (2014) recognized how purposeful interventions and activities can potentially increase students’ empathy and reflective ability. Engaging in each of these outputs serves as an influential factor toward students’ potential employability.
However, in order for students to tap into extracurricular activities as a means of building their emotional intelligence, they must have an understanding of what activities are available. Rowan University hosts more than 100 student-operated organizations and programming services. Unfortunately, there was never any clear explanation of how these could enhance students’ emotional intelligence. This deficiency led to the creation of the extracurricular activities section of the student engagement opportunity outline. (See Figure 1.)
One goal of this section is to assist students and career professionals in understanding the university’s leadership certificate program. At Rowan University, students can earn three separate leadership certificates, each with its own focus (personal values, group values, and societal and community values of leadership) and requirements for completion. The student engagement opportunity outline helps students to navigate this process by detailing how to apply for each certificate, its requirements, and the benefits of completing each assigned activity.
This section also includes student-operated organizations, which are listed by their college of association, e.g., College of Education. Each listing includes a synopsis of the organization’s purpose—each is geared to a specific type of position, such as editor or teacher, or field, e.g., communications—activities, and professional development opportunities, plus information about how to join. This enables students and career professionals to have a conversation and explore potential extracurricular activities together. Sharing this dialogue is a key step for students in identifying and prioritizing activities to pursue and creating an action plan for becoming involved.
On-Campus Employment Opportunities Section
A cornerstone of higher education has traditionally been the academic enlightenment and self-discovery of its constituents. However, economic stressors both internal and external to higher education have placed increased accountability on graduates’ career outcomes. Recognizing this, NACE (2015) developed a definition for career readiness and outlined associated competencies—critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, digital technology, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, career management, and global/intercultural fluency. NACE also monitors employer feedback regarding the career readiness of graduates. Employers responding to the NACE Job Outlook 2018 survey found students, overall, need improvement in a number of the career readiness competencies. For example, while 95.9 percent of responding employers rated oral/written communication skills as essential, less than 42 percent rated their new hires as proficient in this area. Similar findings were echoed through Sidhu and Calderon’s (2014) Gallup report: Only 11 percent of 623 U.S. business leaders strongly agreed that graduating college students have the necessary aptitudes to meet their current business needs. Consequently, it is important to examine how career services can support students in developing these competencies.
On-campus employment opportunities can be part of the answer. Most institutions, regardless of their characteristics, have the potential to provide volunteer and internship opportunities as well as federal and/or institutional work-study jobs for their student population. It is not uncommon for students to work while pursuing their education. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2017) reported that 43 percent of full-time students and 78 percent of part-time students between the ages of 16 and 24 were employed in 2015. Consequently, on-campus employment can be an avenue for students who need or want to work. Moreover, the exposure gained through work helps students acquire and mature their career readiness competencies. According to Hansen and Hoag (2018), student employment is a venue for all learners to apply their education in a professional setting, while enriching their own career readiness capabilities. Brooks and Youngson (2016) recognized that the actualization of these skills is an influential aspect to students securing employment post-graduation. Goleman (1998) reinforces this credence in how establishing these aptitudes is a universal requirement for employability in the global economy. Considering how these experiences provide momentum to secure employment upon graduation, it is also important to acknowledge the sustainable benefits from their involvement. The Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 “Great Jobs, Great Lives” report detailed how students increased their capability to maintain their personal well-being if they had specific experiences throughout their college career. Gallup defined well-being as continued participation and advancement within an individual’s physical, purposeful, social, community, and financial attributes. Research from this report detailed how graduates were 1.8 times more likely to be engaged in their profession if they had a position in college that allowed them to apply their learned coursework in an employment setting.
To develop this section of the outline, it was necessary to first track down when the various opportunities were housed. While the majority of federal work-study positions were filled during the first two weeks of the fall semester, there was no overarching structure or comprehensive source for the 40 other on-campus opportunities that are consistently offered each year. These are now captured in the outline, in the on-campus employment opportunities section. (See Figure 2.) This section includes all of Rowan University’s volunteer, internship, and institutional work-study positions (on-campus jobs), which are listed in the order of their application period, plus relevant details for each—which website the opening is listed on, compensation status, eligibility requirements, job responsibilities, and interview insights—and tips relevant to that specific job that can help the student in the interview. Listings are updated on an ongoing basis.
This section of the outline also incorporates the career readiness competencies. Each opening includes information about the top four career readiness competencies that can be strengthened through the experience. (This information was gleaned through discussions with supervisors.) As a result, the outlineprovides a blueprint to all on-campus employment opportunities and reinforces how attaining these proficiencies is transferable to future career aspirations.
The Tool in Use
The following scenario provides an example of the tool in use: A sophomore student, who is the first in her family to pursue postsecondary education, entered school as an undeclared major but later became an education major with a specialization in health and physical education. The student scheduled a resume critique appointment during the fall semester to fulfill a classroom assignment.
The first session concentrated on reviewing the student’s resume, which, among other issues, showed that she was not involved in any extracurricular activities and had no employment experience. In fact, the resume was largely empty of the type of information employers seek. After critiquing the resume and discussing possible revisions, the conversation expanded to include discussion of these missing pieces, which could be significant barriers to her future employability.
Using the outline, we initially inspected the extracurricular activities section and the bronze leadership certificate program, in particular. We discussed that this certificate concentrates on the individual values of leadership and requires students to attend eight leadership seminars and complete reflections throughout the academic year. The certificate takes 30 hours to complete, and all events need to be attended by the end of the spring semester. This would enable the student to include a leadership section on her resume.
We also discussed the various student organizations that are associated with the College of Education. After evaluating the club options with the student’s career goals in mind, the student identified two that seemed to be a good fit. The session concluded with the student planning to update her resume and consider her options for participating in extracurricular activities. A follow-up appointment was planned to review her revised resume and discuss those options further.
During the follow up, the student indicated that she was interested in pursuing the bronze leadership certificate. We used the outline to identify how to go about this, e.g., who to contact, and what related activities she would need to complete by the end of the fall semester.
We also reviewed her revised resume; while she had updated it to correct format issues and remove irrelevant information, it remained largely empty. We discussed that while extracurricular activities can help students develop and demonstrate career readiness competencies, employment experiences demonstrate their employability.
The remainder of our appointment involved exploring Rowan University’s volunteer, internship, and employment opportunities. Using the outline, we examined the roles that fit the student in terms of eligibility and identified 13 volunteer and compensated positions for which she could apply. We then reviewed the volunteer or compensated job status, application period, and the essential responsibilities to each role. Assessing this information allowed the student to identify and prioritize the top two jobs—peer tutor and academic success coach—in which she was most interested.
The next phase to our discussion involved explaining NACE’s career readiness competencies and then examining the student’s perceived proficiency level; the student used a Likert scale. (very proficient, proficient, somewhat proficient, not very proficient, not proficient at all) for each career competency. The student rated herself as very proficient in teamwork/collaboration and digital technology; proficient in oral/written communication; somewhat proficient in professionalism/work ethic, career management, and critical thinking/problem solving; not very proficient in leadership; and not at all proficient in global/intercultural fluency. (See Figure 3.)
We then used this information to compare and contrast the top four NACE career competencies that the supervisors of her target jobs highlighted. For instance, the coordinator for the tutor position prioritized the top four NACE competencies as critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, and leadership. This, coupled with the student’s Likert scale results, empowered a conversation about how the student could improve upon these competencies; we also discussed how the peer tutor role could enrich her perceived weaknesses. We then used the same methodology to understand the coach position.
Also using the outline to identify deadlines and application requirements, we established a plan of action to secure these opportunities, one that allowed the student to create specific internal deadlines based on her available time and resources.
Developing the Tool
To gather feedback and identify options for improving the tool, a survey was conducted in October 2018 among seven users in the Office of Career Advancement. The survey was anonymous and contained six open-ended questions. The responses were analyzed through a thematic analysis framework to identify patterns within the answers.
Findings from this survey illustrated three main themes within participants answers:
1. The tool, initially designed to be used in real time with students in one-on-one appointments, was used in a variety of ways, including incorporating information from the tool into academic classes and office workshops.
2. Participants noted the comprehensive nature of this tool, citing this as its most effective attribute. Previously, information regarding student clubs, on-campus jobs, leadership programs, and the like was siloed in specific offices, resulting in critical information being scattered. The tool enables users to review such information in one location.
3. Unfortunately, the third theme to arise from participant comments is the inaccessibility of the tool in its current form. Currently, the tool is formatted in two Word documents and available only as a hard copy. There is no online access. One file contains 16 pages of information regarding a leadership program and student organizations, and the other 18-page document primarily includes on-campus employment opportunities. Moreover, due to the tool’s length, it was decided not to give students personal copies of these documents. Consequently, only those students who schedule an appointment, are exposed through a classroom discussion, or attend a workshop can access this information. The lack of an online version coupled with students’ inability to review the resource on their own are its main inadequacies.
Understanding the use and limitations of the tool has helped identify options for improvement. Chief among needed improvements: greater accessibility. This will be achieved through an online version of this tool; the tool is expected to be available online in summer 2019. Hosting this information on a career center’s website will empower students to search and pursue these opportunities through their own initiative.
Another proposed change included revising the information to share in the online version. As a result, the interview insight information that was listed in the employment section of the original tool will be removed; the information was perceived as potentially providing students who have used the tool with an unfair advantage in interviewing for on-campus jobs. This ensures a level playing field for all students applying for the position.
Creating Your Own Outline
As higher education professionals and employers concentrate on increasing students’ employability, career services professionals can make a unique contribution toward this solution. Within each of our institutions there are student organizations, programs, and employment opportunities that host valuable student enrichment experiences. As such, it is our responsibility to guide, as well as advocate for, students to become involved. Developing your own comprehensive outline can be a step in assisting your students achieve positive career outcomes.
Brooks, R., & Youngson, P. L. (2016). Undergraduate work placements: an analysis of the effects on career progression. Studies in Higher Education, 41(9), 1563–1578. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1080/03075079.2014.988702
Gallup-Purdue Index. (2015). Great Jobs, Great Lives. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/185924/gallup-purdue-index-2015-report.aspx
Goleman, D. (1998). Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Grant, L., Kinman, G., & Alexander, K. (2014). What’s All this Talk About Emotion? Developing Emotional Intelligence in Social Work Students. Social Work Education, 33(7), 874–889. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1080/02615479.2014.891012
Hansen, S. L., & Hoag, B. A. (2018). Promoting Learning, Career Readiness, and Leadership in Student Employment. New Directions for Student Leadership, 2018(157), 85–99. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1002/yd.20281
Jamal, A. A. (2012). Developing Interpersonal Skills and Professional Behaviors through Extracurricular Activities Participation: a Perception of King Abdulaziz University Medical Students. Journal of King Abdulaziz University: Medical Sciences, 19(4), 3–24. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.4197/Med. 19-4.1
Job Outlook 2018. National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Liptak, J. J. (2005). Using emotional intelligence to help college students succeed in the workplace. Journal of Employment Counseling, 42(4), 171–178. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=19221288&site=ehost-live
Majeski, R. A., Stover, M., Valais, T., & Ronch, J. (2017). Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Online Higher Education Courses. Adult Learning, 28(4), 135–143. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1177/1045159517726873
National Association of College and Employers (2015). Career Readiness Defined. Retrieved from www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/
National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The Condition of Education 2017. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_ssa.pdf
Sidhu, P., & Calderon, V. J. (2014, February 26). Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from https://news.gallup.com/poll/167630/business-leaders-doubt-colleges-prepare-students.aspx