Running A Great Job Trek: Five Top Tips

Kathy DouglasKathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

\ˈtrek\: to go on a long and often difficult journey

I had the opportunity last semester to lead a regional job trek to the California Bay Area—home to the second largest group of alumni (approx. 250) from our professional school, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, with roughly 360 master’s students (and approximately 4,700 living alumni).

I was a little hesitant at first, thinking that the trek would be more effort than I wanted to expend in the beginning of the new year—potentially a “long and difficult journey.”

Ten students, one alumnus (picked up along the way), and one student from our management school (they were in the Bay area on a much larger annual trek) visited six employers over a two-day period. Visits included working sessions, a lunch meeting, tours, afternoon coffee breaks, and an informal networking happy hour. Employers ranged from a private sector tech company with close to 20,000 employees to an international eco-friendly body products startup with a full-time staff of three.

At the end of the day, the event was a tremendous opportunity for the students who attended. They were able to get a broad view of the environmental careers space in the area in a structured, yet informal way, met more than 50 alumni and employers, and networked with fellow trekkers from our business school.

Thanks to our trekkers and follow-up from our career development team, the event resulted in several very positive outcomes:

  • Several internships that resulted directly from trek contacts (non-trek students are benefiting, too).
  • New employer relationships.
  • Several full-time position postings.
  • Alumni connection made between our school and a peer school for joint networking.
  • Solid first-hand knowledge of the environmental careers landscape in the region.
  • Trekkers benefited personally and professionally, contributed by acting as ambassadors representing the school, and paved the way for their peers.

Five Top Tips for Job Treks

The process for hosting or supporting treks will vary by population, but these are some of the top tips I have to offer based on my recent experience:

1. Manage Expectations

  • During the initial interest meeting, printed guidelines were distributed, explaining what a job trek was and what it wasn’t. It was made clear from the beginning that the trek depended on student leadership and that students were required to provide their own funding.

2. Clarify Roles

  • Some clarification on student roles from the guide: “Student organizer(s) have responsibility for gauging student interest and garnering commitments, coordinating with potential employer hosts, reaching out to alumni in the area, and all other logistics.” On the Career Development Office’s role: “CDO is willing to help with employer outreach as needed. We can also provide sample communications, information on best practices, a finalized schedule, and a checklist for participants.”

3. Empower and Guide Student Leadership

  • My goal was for students to take ownership of the trek. All of the participants volunteered or were encouraged by peers to conduct outreach, finalize scheduling, create a resume book for distribution, and organize an alumni networking event. My role was to advise, suggest contacts, provide sample outreach documents, and assist with outreach as needed—in short, to promote shared leadership and provide structure, tools, and encouragement.

4. Provide Selected Administrative Support

  • After students had created their top list of employers, reached out to contacts, and  set up visits and a schedule, I pulled together the schedule and contact information and added strategically timed breakfast meetings to both days—an hour and a half before the first visit. This really helped ensure that everyone was on time for the trek, and was a great opportunity to share information and strategize about the day.

5. Be Open To Employer Preferences

  • One of our employers wanted to arrange lunch and a meeting with the larger team. Another distributed some materials in advance of the trek and gave students an assignment. One employer invited our alumna who works in their Brooklyn office to participate via Skype. By being open to employer preferences, we were able to create a dynamic experience that provided great information, excellent contacts, a high level of good will, and ultimately, several concrete job and internship opportunities.

Are Happy Faces in Professional Communication So Bad?

Lee DesserLee Desser, career and academic adviser, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

To smiley or not to smiley: that is the question. My first year out of graduate school I became involved in a heated debate around, of all things, smiley faces. As a summer program coordinator for George Mason University’s Social Innovation Program, I was in charge of overseeing ~25 students as they worked on consulting projects for various nonprofits in the northern Virginia area. As part of the program we held several sessions on professional communication.

We brought on a guest speaker who was serving as a consulting intern at Deloitte. She said, “There’s a space for happy faces in communication: texts, Facebook posts, and the like, but they should never be included in professional e-mails.” I had no idea the furry that would come as a result of this statement. One of our rowdy environmental studies students chimed in, “I disagree. Happy faces show approachability. They can help you connect with your colleagues and show appreciation of their hard work. There’s nothing unprofessional about them!” A public policy student said, “I agree! My teammates like a little winky. What’s the harm there?”

To this the consultant said, quite definitively, “No. Smileys shouldn’t be included in e-mails. It makes you look immature and unprofessional. It’s best not to include them.” At this point it was summertime in Virginia and about 80 degrees outside and we were drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and eating white powdery donut holes. I thought they were going to fly across the room. OK maybe that’s an exaggeration! But I think both sides made solid points: Is it appropriate to include any emojis in e-mails? I wouldn’t want my lawyer to include them in briefs or my doctor in medical evaluations: Her cancer is in remission : ) That’s surely not appropriate…

However, I’ve struggled with this from time to time thinking, “Maybe it lessens my professional image by putting smileys in my e-mail” to “This e-mail totally calls for a smiley (maybe even two!).” What does it come down to? Ultimately, I think it’s somewhat industry (and office!) dependent. While certain conservative industries, such as finance and accounting, may be less accepting to a dose of smiley fun, other ones, especially creative and artistic industries and even education, are more accepting of personal vehicles of expression.

Ted Bouras, the Dean of Advising, Career, and Student Services at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, introduced me to the M.B.A. students in this way: “Lee’s first day was yesterday and she will shortly send a note to students about her availability on Zocalo. Until then you still have to put up with me as your adviser : ).” Notice the smiley? Was it absolutely necessary? No, but I thought it was a nice touch, especially for a summer e-mail.

So for me, to the question of whether to smiley or not to smiley to students in emails, I’ll smiley : )


What Do Students Really Want Out of Their Summer Internships?

Jessica KoersJessica Koers, Social Recruiting Strategist, Booz Allen Hamilton
Twitter: @jrkoers

Gabrielle Gaeta

Gabrielle Gaeta

This summer, my team at Booz Allen Hamilton was joined by a summer intern, Gabrielle Gaeta, from the University of Michigan. While she was working with us, I took some time to ask her a few questions about what students are looking for in an internship program and what kind of professional development resources they look for on campus.

Tell me about your internship search and what you were looking for in an internship program.

Searching for an internship is a double edged-sword—it’s exciting to learn about the high-tech products companies are developing or the important causes they’re advocating for, but at the same time, it’s a downright stressful experience since I know how competitive the most desired programs are.

This past year I was able to get some help in my internship search through the University of Michigan’s Public Service Internship Program (PSIP). This is a year-long professional development program run by our career center whose mission is to arm students with the skills they need to get summer internships in Washington, D.C. In the fall, PSIP sent us a spreadsheet listing hundreds of companies in the D.C. metro area, which helped me focus my internship search. This resource is actually how I found out about Booz Allen in the first place!

As I browsed this spreadsheet and various online job boards, there were four main criteria I used to evaluate each company’s internship program: 1) the quality of the work experience, 2) the company’s culture, 3) professional development opportunities, and 4) company benefits.

Above anything else, the quality and value of the experience I’d gain from an internship was the most important thing for me to consider. I wanted to learn as much as possible during the summer, so I didn’t want to spend my time cooped up in an office doing stereotypical intern work—making copies, answering phone calls, filing documents, etc. I wanted to be working on real, meaningful projects that would challenge me and help me develop new skills. At the end of the summer, I wanted to have tangible results that I would be able to share with recruiters in my next round of job interviews.

A company’s culture and work environment were also a huge consideration for me. I was looking for an organization whose employees love coming into the office every day and would be excited to talk to me about the work they’re doing. I was also interested in companies that encourage collaboration; I hoped to work with fellow interns as well as more senior leaders of an organization.

Professional development opportunities were also really important aspects of an internship program. I looked for companies that match their interns with mentors and provide interns with regular feedback from their managers and co-workers. Again, I wanted to learn as much as I could during the summer, so receiving constructive criticism and career advice was a must for me.

Finally, company perks and benefits were important to me. If a company paid their interns, I was much more likely to accept an offer from them.

Why do you think more students don’t use their career services office regularly?

I know a lot of people who have met with career advisers, but didn’t feel like they gained very much from their meetings. They didn’t think the advisers provided adequate guidance to help them make career decisions or to make connections with alumni working in that student’s desired career field. In addition, a lot of my peers and I would rather receive advice directly from employers since the future of our careers lies in their hands.

Also, I think there are a number of students who simply don’t know about all of the resources their career services office provides. We’re told about these services at freshmen orientation, but I’d venture to guess that most of this information is lost on first-year students who can barely even find their way around campus. I think career services offices need to market themselves more effectively throughout the school year—especially to older students—and encourage professors to direct their students to these resources.

What else could career services offices do to increase student involvement?

Bring in the companies! I would use my school’s career center more often if they provided more opportunities to interact directly with employers. I’d love to see recruiters come to campus to do resume reviews and mock interviews. Since these recruiters have the power to determine if you’ll have a future with their company, I think it’s invaluable to receive feedback directly from them on how to improve your professional presentation. I’d also like if my career center hosted industry-specific alumni panels so my peers and I could network with alumni who are established in their career fields while also learning about the various places our degrees can take us after graduation.

What do you think Booz Allen does that all internship programs would benefit from?

Booz Allen makes its senior leaders as accessible as possible to interns, which I’ve found really incredible. Between networking events and panel discussions organized specially for interns, I’ve been able to have one-on-one conversations with leaders who have been with the firm for 20-plus years. I’ve found it really helpful to hear their stories and learn about their journeys from entry-level workers to senior executives. It’s encouraging to know that if you stick with Booz Allen, the company will invest in you and help you create the kind of career you want. If companies value their interns and hope that they will return as full-time employees after graduation, I think it’s important that interns feel recognized and important. Having senior leaders take the time to talk to interns is a great way to show them your company cares.

What has your experience as a Booz Allen intern taught you?

My summer at Booz Allen has really shown me the value in communication. At first, I was a little hesitant to reach out to employees outside of my team, but I quickly learned how eager members of the firm are to help you succeed. Whether it was to provide me with information for a project, to teach me how to use certain technology, or to give me mentoring and career advice, all of the people I’ve connected with at the firm have been more than willing to take time out of their days to talk to me. All I had to do was establish that line of communication with them. Between e-mailing people in various departments, introducing myself to employees at company events, and even starting conversations while waiting for the elevator, I’ve been able to create a Booz Allen network that has guided me throughout my summer here, and will hopefully help me find new and exciting opportunities in the future. If I could give all students one piece of advice based on what I’ve learned, it would be: don’t be afraid to make a connection with employees in your company or professors and alumni from your school. More often than not, they’ll want to give you advice and help you succeed in your endeavors.


Gabrielle Gaeta is a student at the University of Michigan studying computer science and economics. During the summer of 2015, she worked as an intern at Booz Allen Hamilton. During her time with the company, she supported the University and Military Recruiting teams, researching new ways for the firm to engage with STEM students at universities across the country.


Is Career Fair Networking Really So Hard? Four Tips for Students

Kathy DouglasKathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

If you are in a Google group, are a member of a family, or met someone at your college or university orientation who is still your friend, you already know how to network. We meet, form bonds, text, and call our friends to share good news. As a species, we are natural networkers—our survival depends on it.

Schmoozing at career fairs and events is what most people think of when defining networking—standing out in a crowd or making a lasting impression that will land you a job or internship. The reality for most mortals is, however, that although it is important to practice small talk and have good interpersonal skills, most of us do not exude extraordinarily magnetic personalities.

Working magic in a crowd, in fact, is not the most important part of networking.

Great networkers know what any career fair recruiter will tell you: At the end of the day, recruiters’ feet hurt, their voices are raw, and aside from a few exceptional interactions, they have spoken with so many individuals they don’t remember who they spoke with about what.

This is why the real art of job-search networking comes in after the actual fair—in the follow up.

When advising students on strategies for two major annual career fairs (one for 1,300+ students from eight universities; one for 250 students from two universities), I emphasize four things:

  1. Strategically select top employers to visit: Quick Internet research provides information to help determine which employers align best with your career goals. Arrive early and visit your top choices while you (and the recruiters) are fresh.
  2. Ask good questions: Advanced research will help you prepare smart questions. After a quick introduction, ask a question about recruiting level or specific practice areas to be sure you are not wasting your time or theirs—Are you hiring at the masters level? Are you interviewing for your renewables practice? If you already know what they are recruiting for, start there—“I’d like to learn more about the project areas for the policy internships.”
  3. After discussions, find a place to stop and take notes: Notes don’t have to be extensive. I use business cards and/or a small notebook to write the reason I want to follow up, contact information, and content of conversation.
  4. Follow up within a few days: Decide which leads are of interest and follow up with an e-mail that picks up where the discussion left off. If you have been directed to an online application, complete it, send the recruiter a thank you and let them know you applied. If you connected personally with a recruiter, but there is no immediate opportunity for you, send them a thank you note and a LinkedIn request. There is no need to follow up on every single contact. It’s okay to be strategic.

If you have taken good notes after a productive conversation, it is easy to follow up. And most often you are doing the recruiter a favor. The work you put in to making the recruiter’s job easier, whether it results in an immediate outcome for you or not, is a positive and generous act.

And you never know where follow-up will lead. Through courteous follow up and strategic networking, job seekers get interviews, discover the hidden job market, and learn the inside scoop on organizations.

NACE members can pick up a free student-directed copy of this blog for use online or in publications.

When the Changing Professional Culture Is Challenging

katie smith at duke universityKatie Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center,
Twitter: @ksmith258

Checking the morning e-mail flood, there’s one from*, the alias of a student that I met with recently. He asked how to network appropriately with an alumna who had just sent out a job opportunity.

His question is typical. His e-mail address, not so much. It made me smile, but gave me pause. Is it professionally appropriate?

I have a “bad” resume example that I use when teaching students about resumes, and the group usually giggles over the address. We can agree that it’s not a very professional address, and we all know it’s a pretty tame example.
If this student was looking for an opportunity as a programmer at a small, funky tech company, the gaming reference might be appreciated and I might have let it go. However, since he’s looking into a more conservative field, I decide to bring the e-mail address to his attention, reminding him that some people may not see it as professional. It turns out that the student is surprised I can see his e-mail alias at all—he thought he was communicating through his school-sanctioned account, which is linked to his personal account.

What’s “professional” seems to be an increasingly challenging question for students to navigate. When it comes to communication, traditional advice has retained traction; employers and alumni visiting Duke’s campus consistently share anecdotes about the importance of writing skills, professional e-mail communication, and appropriate uses of social media to represent oneself and one’s company.

We think we know how to advise on writing professional application materials, until a student asks which “Game of Thrones” character she should feature in her short essay, or when another student asks for feedback on the poem he wrote in place of a cover letter—two examples of students responding to company prompts.
A recent job description that came through my e-mail recommended, for example, that students submit: “A resume (if you have one), your year in school, a list of relevant coursework, your favorite movie, a city/country you’ve never been to but want to see, your favorite programming language, and your favorite breakfast. Get into it, I love breakfast.”

It is fun, yes, but it’s confusing. Should a non-breakfast-eating student be honest about his preference? How will that be perceived? What would a student who doesn’t watch “Game of Thrones” say?

As advisers providing feedback on these type of questions, conversations regarding organizational culture and authenticity are often invoked. Students walk a fine line between demonstrating personality and maintaining professionalism.

Gone are the days when we can turn students around at the door of an open career fair because they aren’t dressed professionally. The employers themselves often tend to show up in branded T-shirts, jeans, and even goofy hamburger-shaped hats, and many are seeking students whose casual dress reflects their own organizational culture.
I’ve seen students conduct successful in-person interviews with the top tech companies in the world…while wearing sweatpants. Traditional advice suggests dressing one step above what you expect your employer to be wearing, but what does one wear to a career fair when one target company is wearing T-shirts, and another is wearing a formal business suit? How does one introduce herself when one company is expecting jokes and magic tricks, and another a traditional elevator pitch?

They’re tricky questions.

Students will benefit by knowing that there is never a single “right” answer, and that they can help themselves each step of the way by preparing and conducting research into culture and expectations prior to contact or communication. Career professionals can, and should, do the same. While not everyone is ready to ditch professionalism as it was once known, we do need to be prepared to help students navigate new environments effectively. Having an understanding and appreciation for burgeoning creative, casual, and open cultures will help us all prepare students for the jobs of the future.

*E-mail address has been changed to protect student privacy.

NACE15 Revisited: Putting Learning Into Action

joe hayesJoe Hayes, Assistant Director, Employer Relations & Internships, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Twitter: @_JosephHayes

You know a conference was beneficial when your return flight home is delayed several hours and a 4 a.m. arrival doesn’t feel that bad. Perhaps the long delay was a needed blessing in that it forced reflection on all things learned at NACE15. I’d almost go as far to say “thank you” unidentified airline for the delay, but those would be words uttered by no one ever.

The 2015 NACE Conference provided many nuggets of information that I hope (and some I have already begun) to implement into our work—ultimately benefiting the student-employer relationship.

COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere
First, Lindsey Pollak’s keynote was inspiring. There could honestly be an entire blog on this alone. From the Millennial shift from traditional employment to “tours of duty,” and the basic skills that need to be taught (the handshake, how to answer a phone, and interesting items such as “how to fail” and “how to resign.”)—Ms. Pollak was the right speaker at the right time to kick off the first full day at NACE.

A quick takeaway and action item from Ms. Pollak’s talk centered on how to connect with the largest work force in America—Millennials. Here, Ms. Pollak described COPE, “create one, publish everywhere.” This mantra illustrates the importance of connecting with students in a manner that best resonates with them—which to Millennials, can be everything and anything. For example, in career services we often create professional development trainings for students. Following the COPE method, we will continue to host training events, but will look to make it more lasting. This may include not only having the event, but live tweeting from it, streaming the event live, recording and re-using it on our website, pushing it out via audio recording, publishing the text translation, featuring it in a future newsletter, and so forth. In other words, use technology to the fullest to target those that may prefer to get their information in various formats.

In addition to COPE, and in similar fashion, customization toward the user/student was a central theme of NACE15. In other words, asking your target audience for feedback and customizing it toward them can and will be critical for success.

On my first day back from NACE, our office, the Academic and Career Development Center, was looking to further increase student usage of our office-run job and internship listing system—UNO Career Connect. One suggestion was whether our current branding was customized in messaging to students. We examined the listing system tag line—“UNO Career Connect: Connecting UNO to Career Opportunities” versus a shortened alternative title.

Following the theme of customization, we ran short focus groups around campus—asking students, faculty and staff what best resonated with them. To our surprise, nearly 80 percent of faculty and staff supported the former and nearly 80 percent of students (the intended audience) supported the latter—with feedback from students stating, “Say what it is,” and “Less is more.” This complete opposite feedback is making us rethink how we target to and get buy-in from students, and ensure our services are customized.

NACE15 left a positive impression and provided many lasting takeaways that can easily and effectively be implemented in our daily work. Now if only NACE could help solve airline delays!

Innovation Labs Pull Standing Room Only Crowds


image6“Sparking insight and innovation”–the theme for NACE15–came to life at today’s Innovation Labs, a new offering for NACE’s yearly conference.

NACE15 attendees looking for information on recruiting, data collection, salary negotiation, student success, and new technology packed two ballrooms.

Attendees sat in chairs and on the floor, and stood three-rows deep along the walls.

Innovation Labs sparked animated conversations among attendees and with presenters. Attendees had to lean in to hear what everyone was saying because there were so many discussions going on.

Thanks to the interactivity of the labs, presenters and attendees alike shared the excitement and energy.