In August of last year, the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Access, Success, and Diversity Initiatives, joined with Career Services (formerly, the Career Management Center) to further our mission to support and empower students’ access to and success in higher education and career development.
Vice Provost, Jerry Doyle, is passionate about developing pathways for students’ success here at Illinois Tech and as alumni, so naturally he was excited to reimagine Career Services and create new partnerships with employers and organizations off-campus, as well as departments and offices on-campus, in support of students’ career development.
In the interview below, Jerry relates some of his advice for students and goals for Career Services at Illinois Tech.
Q: What role do you think Career Services fills in a student’s experience at Illinois Tech?
We are in the midst of a real revolution in how we think about Career Services, historically this has been an office where you go to find a job, but I think today the larger part of it is helping students identify and articulate what matters to them and why it matters. It is our role to work with students to have a clear idea and individual plan of how to get there.
This is an era in which we need to help our students to take meaningful risks. Illinois Tech has been at its best throughout its history when its students and alumni have been courageous. When we haven’t practiced how to tell our stories – that’s when it all gets muddy and it does our students a disadvantage in finding lives that matter to them.
I think we need to move away from thinking about the life one wants to lead as something that happens in the Career Services office – that kind of conversation needs to happen everywhere. Everyone can be a mentor. That is not defined by what position you have or your level of education; that is an honest conversation that we should all be having with each other.
Q: At what point should a student start engaging with employers? Can you give students an overview of the typical recruitment process for companies?
I think the process should really begin before students even arrive at the university. One of the missed opportunities is the months after students decide to come to Illinois Tech. At that point students are vested, and before they arrive at the university they have the time to be expansive about the idea of their careers, and if we can capture that I think we would serve our students really well. Beyond that I think a student’s focus should be on answering the questions that will help inform the direction of their career and how they would like to see their life unfold. Then they can circle back and build their employer list.
When we can get those alumni to come back and have them act as a bridge between students and their companies, that is the real future of employer relations
Employers have also gotten very refined and clear about whom they are recruiting, but you should still be asking questions. One company said they were looking for people with a computer science background, but when we pressed them they were really looking for someone with object-oriented programming experience or the capacity to learn that. I think it has also been fascinating to see our young alumni coming back with their companies and being able to describe those possibilities to students. When we can get those alumni to come back and have them act as a bridge between students and their companies, that is the real future of employer relations that we would like to be able to sustain at Illinois Tech.
Q: Illinois Tech’s undergraduates are 29% international and that number increases to 61% for graduate students; with this in mind how does the Career Services staff help these students navigate a more challenging job market?
I think we have a lot more to do in that regard. We need to signal to employers that have not yet hired international students how easy it is, and we can do more for our students by defining that process with employers earlier. We also can utilize Chicago as a global city and work with our international students more to connect with the rich histories that they bring with them. For instance, one student had a strong connection to a company in Illinois, because the company was also in their home country. If we better understood who our students are then our students and faculty could be better assets than we have previously realized.
Ultimately, I think we need to see these numbers as a strength. Too often people have looked at them as a problem that we need to solve, but I think it is an advantage that we need to sell. We have a group of students who are bringing in an enormous, global network. They understand global issues and how you conduct business in a world that is challenged by differences in the way we think. The fact that we have students who have studied with and worked with people from a diversity of backgrounds and understand differences in ethics, culture, and citizenship – that is a tremendous resource for companies as they seek to do business in the world.
Q: A lot of students are unable to find internships or part-time work in their field while they are in college. What is your advice for these students? What can they do to make themselves more competitive job candidates?
One of the easy ways for students to practice building their networks is through informational interviewing. I do think we need to set up some formal pathways for more opportunities for students, but they also need to utilize everything that is around them. We need students to begin to utilize their projects in class and their IPROs. I think students should absolutely get involved with professional student groups within their field or a related field, because they’ll learn new things about themselves and have experiences to share with potential employers. I would recommend for students to attend conferences related to their major or a theme they are interested in. They should get involved in Chicago professional organizations and with alumni in Chicago who are actively looking to mentor students in their field. There is a lot that is available and I think students just need to schedule that time together through residence life, greek life, or through any other community.
Take the given circumstances in which you find yourself and identify your goal and figure out how to solve it within your circumstances.
I think sometimes we think there are not enough opportunities, and we get locked into that mindset. One alumnus recently said to me that one of the lessons that he believes that IIT students and young alumni could learn more about is this notion of resourcefulness. Take the given circumstances in which you find yourself and identify your goal and figure out how to solve it within your circumstances.
Q: It has been almost a year since you began managing Career Services; can you tell me about some of the new programs that have begun? What do you see as Career Services goals for the upcoming academic year?
We’ve done a lot to meet students where they are – we moved some services into Galvin Library and Crown and we are considering weekend hours and seeing what else we can do. I would have no problem if we had very few students actually visit Career Services but the quality of service that students felt increased significantly. I think going to students both physically and in terms of their own thinking is an enormous step that we need to take.
One of my goals for the upcoming year is to continue to spend a lot of time listening to students and our alumni. I think if we listen to our students, then we can find the things that they are most interested in and solve for those things instead of starting with a preordained idea of what we should deliver. We will be spending a lot of time talking to faculty and other administrative offices as well to see where we can develop synergies through cross-institutional collaboration. I hope that we will be talking to faculty members about drawing on their strengths and ultimately be able to provide them with the resources needed to direct their students. I think what we will do this year is run a lot of pilot programs and if they get traction we will do more of those programs.
Helping alumni and students have meaningful lives that matter to them professionally and personally – that ought to be our success. How we deliver that we should expect to change, and evolve, and not expect it to be defined by the set of hours we spend, what the team looks like, nor where we sit at the university.