Avoiding a Renege by Building a Relationship

by Susan Brennan

It’s a job seeker’s market for college students, with many returning from a summer internship with a job offer in hand—long before graduation. It’s a rosy scenario, except for the challenges it poses for both sides: Students are against the clock to accept or bow out gracefully, and employers are challenged to hold a new hire’s attention for nine months. But I have seen some creative and smart ways to avoid a renege.

A lot of companies are building retention plans that include multiple touch points from the time of the offer to the time a new employee actually fills the seat. It may be a simple gesture—sending a care package during final exams or a holiday card—or a larger commitment such as a monthly dinner. Either way, it’s about building a welcoming community from day one. Here’s what some of our corporate partners do to keep new hires in the pipeline:

Build purposeful relationships.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, all new hires and interns are assigned a relationship partner, career coach, and peer coach. The relationship partner develops a trusting relationship with the new hire, provides insight on demonstrating high performance, and communicates the value of the PwC experience. The career coach proactively schedules time to meet with the new hire, provides ongoing career counseling, and communicates the importance of developing leadership skills. The peer coach establishes a relationship with the new hire so the individual can quickly feel comfortable contacting them with questions, supports their productivity by assisting them with tools needed to immediately begin adding value, and helps acclimate the new hire to the firm.

Hold networking events.

Networking programs provide a more casual opportunity to get to know colleagues and other new hires. Bentley students who have accepted or have an outstanding offer from Liberty Mutual, for example, are invited to attend “LMI Peer Connections.” It’s a platform to network and ask questions about career opportunities and decisions. (And free food is always a hit with college students.)

Get social.

Setting up an app or using social media is an easy way to keep candidates in touch with what’s going on at your company, and to allow them to ask questions. (I’ve see this as particularly useful if someone is relocating.) Using technology to bridge the gap is something that students are comfortable with, as they can do it on their own time: in the dorm room, on the bus, or in the cafeteria.

Create experiences.

Today’s candidates care about experiences. When EY has done campus recruiting at my university, for example, they’ve brought along a petting zoo. (Yes, real chicks, bunnies, and even a little pig). Some companies will make an offer over dinner at a nice restaurant. Whenever you get the chance to create experiences—big or small—do it. Taking the time to go that extra mile won’t go unnoticed. 

Be flexible.

If you have your heart set on a new hire, you may need to be willing to accommodate requests. If a candidate wants to accept an offer but already had plans to first spend six months after graduation doing meaningful work like Teach America, for example, perhaps it’s possible to defer a start date. You may even find ways to tie the experience into your company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Now some tips you can pass on to job seekers

Candidates can also follow some simple rules of thumb to help them decide whether an offer is right for them. (These may also be useful for employers to look at the other side.)

Do some soul searching.

At Bentley, our students actually begin the “soul searching” process during freshman year; but it’s still an ongoing, lifelong process. Identify your interests, passions, and personality. What’s going to keep you inspired and getting out of bed each day for work? Differentiate between logistical aspects of a job offer—salary, health benefits—and other opportunities like culture, mentors, educational reimbursement, and professional memberships. (Try to get away from expectations placed on you by family and friends.) 

Review the offer with career services.

Once you get a verbal or written offer, make an appointment with a career services professional at your school. They can review compensation and benefits, address any concerns, and discus appropriate next steps. (They can also guide you on offer etiquette—whether accepting or declining an offer—as most schools have policies on both.) 

Set (or re-set) your priorities.

Just because an employer didn’t pop open a bottle of expensive champagne during your job offer, it doesn’t mean that they don’t value your work. Companies have different policies they need to follow. Step back and think about the big picture: Is the company culture a good fit? Do they offer great benefits? Is there opportunity to grow? 

Ask for an extension.

If you aren’t sure whether to accept or reject an offer, companies are typically sensitive to giving you time to make an informed decision. If you have a month or two, for example, take that time to explore what else is out there. In the end, employers will respect the time you took in making a well-thought decision. But, remember, deadlines are set to give employers time to reach out to other candidates, so the sooner you break the news, the better for everyone. 

Have difficult conversations.

A student came to me with a job offer in hand; he loved the company but not the actual job he was offered. In a case like this, it’s okay to talk with the employer and explain that you would love to work for them, but perhaps in a different role. Just be sure not to wait until the last minute or send an e-mail. Pick up the phone and have a candid, respectful conversation. (A career services professional can guide you through these kinds of conversations.) 

One last note to employers.

In the end, a renege is sometimes unavoidable—and could even be a blessing in disguise: If a new hire has reservations about accepting the job, they will likely show up unhappy and may end up not performing well if their head isn’t in the game. 

The reality is that it’s a new world order and talented candidates are driving corporate strategy. But retaining the best and brightest during these competitive times is possible. Be solutions oriented, and you’ll negotiate a mutual win.

susan brennanSusan Brennan, Associate Vice President for University Career Services, Bentley University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susansandlerbrennan
Twitter: @BentleyCareerSB
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/bentleycareer/?fref=ts
Website:  http://careeredge.bentley.edu/

Supporting Students in the Race for Talent

by Heather Tranen
It’s  no secret among college campuses that recruiters are investing in talent earlier and earlier every year. I half expect the big banks will soon reach out to my two-year-old for a milk chat to discuss his advanced color identification skills. As the arms race for talent becomes more competitive and the talent pools become younger, how do career services professionals support their students?

1) Help them with their FOMO (fear of missing out). Niche industries have the capacity to recruit en mass early in the recruiting season. Many students may feel they should forego valuable life experiences such as studying abroad to avoid fear of missing out at home during on-campus recruitment. I meet with a lot of students reconsidering their decision to study abroad. Once I do some digging, beneath the surface of their fears I find only a lukewarm interest in the fields recruiting during their time away. I explain to them that they can still have informational interviews with alumni, do research on potential career interests and organizations, and even participate in some sort of experiential learning opportunity in between classes and traipsing the globe during their semester abroad. Once they become educated on the recruitment process and discover ways to remain productive in their career development while away they feel much more empowered and confident in their decisions.

2) Provide support resources. As students get recruited earlier in the process, it’s important that we adjust our services to meet their needs and to ensure they are prepared for the professional world. To be competitive, it will be crucial that students develop their interviewing and professional skills. This means tailoring programs earlier in their college experiences to cover these topics, create awareness among students of resources, and shed light on different internship opportunities available to them. Networking with alumni can be a valuable experience so offering venues for students to meet alumni in a less intimidating, non-recruiting environment can give them the insight they need to make good decisions during the recruitment process. Sometimes just hearing another person’s story can put students’ minds at ease.

3) Offer up offer advice. Students are making big decisions about their careers early in their college experiences. This can lead to rash decision making without the necessary strategic thinking. It’s important for us as career services professionals to ensure students are making good decisions for themselves. We want to avoid the dreaded reneging, which harms the reputations of both the individual student and the university at large, and foster mature and thoughtful career decisions. Brainstorming the right questions students can ask to get the most information about the potential internship experience helps them to consider which is the right opportunity for them. Additionally, working collaboratively with recruiters to create fair and firm offer guidelines helps us protect our students and  ensure a positive experience for the employers.

Many of us will venture into uncharted territory as we during campus recruitment next semester (conveniently, I will be on maternity leave so…..let me know how that all goes). As with all the changes we experience in higher education, it’s important to be flexible, open-minded, and share best practices with each other.

Heather Tranen
Heather Tranen,
Associate Director, University of Pennsylvania Career ServicesLinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heathertranen
Twitter: @htranen

Understanding Future Work Force Trends and Addressing Professional Development Opportunities

by Dorothy Hayden

Our field and the way that we do our jobs 10 years from now will be different from the way we do them today. Last November, I attended a talk by Phil Gardner on recruiting trends. During the talk, Gardner focused on some of the new challenges that employers and career services must address. He notes that employers are less likely to act in an uncertain environment.

Before entering into the information age, employers met potential employees during career fairs and this was likely their only point of contact. Today the search for talent is 24/7 with the advent of ATS, advanced analytics, and social media. For career services, we’ve gone from being the principal provider of information to connectors and consultants (Gardner, 2015). The disruption of innovation is one challenge, but another challenge we must anticipate is the staggering number of retirements that will take place in the next decade by Baby Boomers. Gardner cites a 2010 Pew Research Study saying that about 10,000 Baby Boomers a day will retire. It’s not clear how many Baby Boomers work in career services, but what is clear is that Generation X and Millennials will need to fill the gap in talent. In 2025, the percentage of those born after 1980 will make up around 75 percent of the work force according to Gardner (Gardner, 2015).

You may think that this number seems unreal, but Millennials recently (Quarter 1 of 2015) passed Generation X has the largest population in the workforce (Pew, 2015). With the generational shift, we will need to be adaptive and perceptive to changes in the way that we do our work.

As a millennial, I have been reading about this upcoming generational shift since I was in graduate school. However, I have been challenged to understand how I take the next step in my leadership development. Earlier this month I attended the NACE Management Leadership Institute (MLI) with 65 other career services professionals from around the country. This training challenged my thinking about how I view leadership and it also gave me a bit of a road map for how I can best continue to develop as a leader. Through the MLI, I learned more about the Five Practices for Exemplary Leadership Model developed by Kouzes and Posner in the early 1980s. With this particular leadership model, Posner and Kouzes discuss how we all are leaders but that there are five key leadership practices that exemplary leaders regularly practice in their work. The Five Exemplary Practices are:

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

During MLI, we received the results of a 360 evaluation on each of these areas. We were told during the training that the average age that an adult receives a formal leadership training is 42. Many larger for-profit organizations, are now adding formal leadership training in the first one- to three-years for their recent college hires. It’s highly unlikely that every office that hires new professionals will be able to provide a structured leadership training for their new professionals. I also know that not every institution has the resources to send their mid-level professionals to attend a formal training like MLI. What can we do? How can we help our profession’s new professionals gain competency and increase their capacities as leaders? I don’t believe that there is a simple solution. I also don’t believe that millennials are the only generation that needs to work on leadership development. We all can gain from improving one or more of the five exemplary leadership practices.

I would like to share some ideas (with minimal costs) that we can use to maximize our leadership potential.

  • Identify your personal mission, vision, and values. When we do assessment in our offices, we frequently go back to our office mission and vision statements. The practice of going through and identifying your career mission, vision, and values statements can help you to begin the process of identifying areas of success and growth.
  • Learn more about the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders: YouTube has a number of videos by Kouzes and Posner on the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders. I’ve listed a few of the videos that I have enjoyed below, but I would also encourage you to watch videos that focus on different leadership models, ideas, and styles.
  • Be a mentor/mentee. Seek out people who can teach and advise you in your areas of growth. The surprising thing to me about being a mentee is that there is also an opportunity to be a mentor. NACE offers a Mentor Program, but you can also find mentors within your region, state, or school.
  • Develop a professional development plan. A professional development plan can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. The professional development differs from something like the set of annual performance goals that you do, in that no one else but you is evaluating your success. Items you may want to include: Your current vision, mission, and values plus a set of short-term (one to three months) and long-term (six to 18 months) goals that you hope to accomplish. You can also include smaller goals and check points to keep you accountable.
  • Engage on social media. Do you tweet? Do you use LinkedIn? Do you blog? Encourage the new professionals around you to engage with other career services professionals through social media. One of the Exemplary Leadership Practices is, Inspire a Shared Vision. In order to inspire others, we need more people to contribute to the conversation about the present and future in our field.

I know that this is not a complete list. My goal is to share some information about the shift of generations, encourage you to think about your own leadership development, and consider ways to foster leadership potential within your own organization. Please share your ideas for professional development here and feel free to share your ideas on Twitter as well.

Dorothy HaydenDorothy Hayden, Assistant Director, Office of Career Services, Virginia Military Institute
Twitter: @dorothyhayden
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/dorothyhayden

Sources:

Gardner, Phil. “Recruiting Trends 2015-16” Michigan State University: http://livestream.com/msualumni/2015Recruitingtrends/videos/104851985

Fry, Richard. “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/ April 2015.

Dorothy HaydenDorothy Hayden, Assistant Director, Office of Career Services, Virginia Military Institute
Twitter: @dorothyhayden
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/dorothyhayden

 

 

Career Services Programs that Engage Employers

Irene Hillman

Irene Hillman, Manager of Career Development, College of Business, Decosimo Success Center, The University of Tennessee Chattanooga
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/irenehillman

College career fairs can feel like a blur. Hundreds of college students—many of them prepared, but just as many of them unprepared— shuffle in and wander from table to table giving employers their pitch. Employers return the favor and point these young professionals to their websites to apply for positions. It’s a way to build visibility on both sides—company and candidate—but creating a meaningful connection simply isn’t in the cards.

So, how can colleges support the authentic engagement needed for their students to build relationships that will help them launch careers and their employers to gain in-depth access to a targeted and valuable candidate group? Here are some methods being used by the College of Business at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to provide some inspiration.

Take the Freshmen Employer Tour

The Company Tour Program was developed specifically for entering freshmen to help tie them into both the UTC and business community very early on in their college careers. The college develops a schedule of bi-weekly tours for approximately 20 students (lasting one to two hours) into the facilities of the area’s top employers and these students gain access to companies to learn more about the area’s economy, explore potential employers, and network with Chattanooga’s business community in a very familiar and engaging fashion. This encourages students to think about how their degrees can be leveraged and their academic learning can be applied following graduation, motivating them to be better students who are engaged in networking within professional circles of the city.

Invite Employers to Lunch

Through Bridge Luncheons, the College of Business invites businesses seeking a way in which to connect with current students, pending graduates, or alumni to sponsor a business meal. This series brings business students and local or regional organizations together in an intimate setting over a served lunch where candid and interactive dialogue can occur. Typically this is used by companies as a recruiting venue for open positions. Such events are an effective means for companies to spend quality time with multiple candidates at once and serves, in many cases, as a first and simple step in the vetting process. Bridge Luncheons are by invitation only based on the criteria set by the sponsoring companies and students receive e-mails requesting an RSVP if they care to attend. It is also an ideal place to practice business meal etiquette.

Jennifer Johnson, UTC accounting student (Class of 2015), says “The luncheons have given me an opportunity to connect with local businesses and to build relationships with their owners and employees before joining the work force.”

She adds, “I am very thankful that UTC has provided me with the opportunity to participate in these luncheons because they have helped ease my apprehension interacting with potential employers and colleagues.”

As an additional perk beyond assisting students transition from students to professionals, colleges can consider such luncheons as a minor revenue stream since a reasonable flat rate can be charged to companies and remaining funds (after catering and room costs are covered) would be retained to support other career services activities and events.

Pair Students With Professionals

The Business Mentor Program is available to sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate students. Experienced professionals support students who are paired in a mentoring relationship based on common professional interests in order to guide students toward best practices for career success. Valued employers are encouraged to nominate a seasoned professional to the Business Mentor Program. The program provides a great opportunity for professionals to counsel and influence the next generation of business leaders and increase the work force readiness of future recruits. Undergraduates may even engage in the program for academic credit (one credit). The course integrates academic learning with business world application and experiences. Students meet in class for one month to prepare for the mentoring relationship and then pair with mentors for the remaining weeks of the semester.

Use Feedback From the Professionals

The semiannual Resume Week and Mock Interview Week events are another way to help recruiters and students engage in effective networking and develop significant dialogue. During Resume Week, the college seeks out a few dozen professionals (hiring managers or recruiters) whose careers align with the College of Business academic programs and invites them to participate in the event. Students visit the centrally located student lounge with their resumes to give managers and recruiters from participating companies a chance provide their professional opinions through a 15-minute resume review while networking one-on-one with these high-impact business people.

Bios of the volunteers are provided to students so they can plan who they want to meet. We encourage students to dress professionally and bring a business card to make a great first impression on our visitors.

Abdul Hanan Sheikh, UTC human resource management student (Class of 2015),  summarizes the impact that the Resume Review event has had on his career launch: “By attending this event, I received remarkable feedback, which helped me make adjustments to my resume. This event helped me get more engaged in networking effectively. It was a great opportunity for me to make connections with business professionals from around Chattanooga. Furthermore, I believe these events helped me land my first internship last fall and then my summer internship as well, and those positions gave me the experience I needed in HR to feel confident about finding a great job after graduation. So now I have a strong resume and solid experience.”

A month following Resume Week, the college holds a similarly arranged series of events for Mock Interview Week. Not only do students walk away with invaluable advice on developing a robust resume and interviewing successfully, but they get a chance to ask questions about launching their careers to people with realistic answers. And the hope is, as a result, a connection is made and networking flourishes between the student and the professionals with whom they have met.

Engaging with employers need not be an awkward or hurried venture that happens once a semester. When students are provided multiple opportunities for directed networking, relationships can unfold in an enriching manner for our students and our employers!

 

 

The Differences Between Working in Higher Education and Corporate America

kelly d. scottKelly Scott, Campus Recruiter at Liberty Mutual Insurance
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kellykonevichscott

I never thought I would do anything other than work in higher education. With a background in educational counseling psychology and a job as a career counselor and assistant director within a career center at a Boston-area university, I had no need to look for a life outside the ivy-covered walls. But then an intriguing opportunity presented itself and I made the leap to corporate America. And I now find myself as a de facto spokesperson for corporate America among my higher education friends and colleagues. The information that most piques their interest is: “What are the differences between working there and here?” And I always tell them, while there are differences, the two worlds aren’t as far apart as you might think.

It’s a different kind of fast paced.

I thought there was only one kind of fast paced, but I was wrong. As an assistant director at a career center, I had a lot to do. There were student appointments, large- and small-scale events to plan and facilitate, workshops, class presentations, semester planning, and ad hoc projects. As a recruiter, it is also fast paced with numerous projects to complete, yearly planning, interviews, and regular meetings with various stakeholders across the organization.

So, what’s the difference then? The difference are the deadlines. I can’t speak for all universities because I’m drawing from personal experience, but overall, I had a lot of autonomy when it came to deadlines. “When do you think you could have that done?” was a question I was frequently fielding as a career counselor. Additionally, it was acceptable to spend a semester or two hammering out a new program or idea and generally the only people you were answering to were those in your department and the students.

Deadlines in corporate America are much less fluid. Many of the decisions and projects that I’m working on directly affect a team in a completely different department or business unit. As a result, deadlines are determined by a group and driven by quarterly business needs and recruiting cycle timelines. This creates a different sense of urgency than what I experienced in the higher education sector. Not better or worse, just different.

The private sector is more formal.

This shouldn’t be a shocker: it’s more formal. Working with college students makes for a much more casual environment than working with business leaders in a Fortune 100 company. The casual nature lends itself to forming deep personal connections with co-workers and, in my opinion, is one of its most appealing attributes of working in at a college or university. It wasn’t uncommon to share personal successes and even heartaches and frustrations with your direct co-workers or even your supervisor. Mind you, you’ve got a bunch of counselors sharing feelings, so it’s probably not that unusual, but when you’re in the mix of it, you don’t realize what was going on until you leave.

There’s not so much sharing in the corporate world. While there is a huge emphasis on respect, integrity and development—and my colleagues are incredibly supportive and caring—the mushy-gushy feeling of my last department is gone. I have a few co-workers that I am thankful to have developed very close friendships with over the last year, but corporate culture doesn’t support oversharing the way education does. Again, neither one is better or worse than the other, but there are recognizable differences.

People move around a lot more in corporate.

My personal experience in higher education is that a lot of people stay put or climb the ladder within their particular function or department. My former boss had been at the university for more than 15 years—almost entirely as a career counselor with notable promotions within her department. Her boss was there just as long and on the same path. Many of my co-workers were self-proclaimed “lifers” and stayed within the academic counseling field in some capacity. You get to know your co-workers really well and they have in-depth knowledge about the organization and the department history.

Corporate works a little differently. Since I started a year ago, multiple people have moved to completely different business units and taken on very different roles. My company puts an emphasis on professional development and growth, so it isn’t surprising that there is a lot of movement. In fact, people are encouraged to explore new opportunities that will challenge their professional growth within the organization. The drawback is that people move around a lot and it seems as though as soon as I think I am getting to know somebody, they get promoted or move on to another part of the organization. Definitely all great things, but it is a stark contrast to what I saw working in higher education.

Both the corporate and higher education cultures have their pros and cons and I think it really all comes down to what you value in work and in your career. There are certainly things I miss about higher education (holiday break) and other things I certainly do not miss (freshman orientation). That said, work values and skills change and develop as we grow professionally. Who knows what the next 10 years will bring, but for those of you wondering, corporate is not as scary as you think and has almost as much free food as you get in higher education.

Offer Deadlines for Students

Kayla Villwock_Kayla Villwock, Manager of University Outreach and Recruitment at SAS
Twitter: @KaylaRenee8
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaylavillwock

 

Striking a Balance Between Deadlines and Decision Making With Grad Offers

In a previous blog post, I shared my perspective on the potential implications surrounding a student’s decision to decline an offer after accepting. This blog gained a lot of attention from both the career services and employer audience, and even resulted in The Wallstreet Journal reporting on the topic. It became clear that it wasn’t only the implications of offer reneges that was a hot topic of discussion, but there was a great deal of commentary around one of the root causes of this trend—offer deadlines.

So what is the proper amount of time an employer should allow students to thoroughly assess an offer? I’m certainly not going to claim that I have all of the answers here, but I would like to give my perspective on toeing the line between reasonable and unreasonable when it comes to offer deadlines. Also, I would like to touch on some trends I have seen specifically regarding the decision-making process students go through when selecting their first career post-graduation. Lastly, I will provide some advice for employers, students, and career services in relation to offer deadlines and the offer decision-making process.

The Highly Sought After Talent—Earlier Recruitment and Multiple Offers

The organization I represent targets two of the most sought after skillsets in the student market today: analytics and computer science talent. With a growing need for these skills, students in these fields have many choices when it comes to potential employment opportunities thus resulting in multiple offers…. especially for the top talent.

It is a race to access this top talent as early as possible. Most employers that are seeking May grads are recruiting in the fall for their openings. Employers are also using internship programs as pipelining opportunities to lock in the top talent before they begin their final year of school. I have even recently heard of employers actively interviewing graduates over a year before they even graduate! Not all employers have nailed down the proper work force planning that is needed in order to understand hiring needs this far in advance, especially those new to university recruiting. This said, they may be jumping in to recruit students in late fall or early spring. You can see the recipe for issues: offers are going out earlier, and students are being asked to make decisions before all companies have put their stake in the game.

So what timeframe is considered reasonable for offer deadlines so students can feel comfortable accepting an offer without regrets?

Here’s my take on it: when employers are making offers for May graduates in early in the fall, say August—October, giving students until at least Thanksgiving before they are required to make a decision is reasonable. Universities typically host fall recruiting events in September, so students should be well-educated on employer opportunities by that time. I envision a student sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with their family talking about their offers and coming back from the holiday with a decision.

When it gets later in the recruitment season, say December/January, I think it is appropriate to give shorter deadline windows, but in my opinion, no less than two weeks.

Here’s the challenge: most employers cannot wait for an indefinite period of time to hear back from students regarding their offer decision, and the longer the student has to decide, the likelihood of finding another great fit will be lessened. The key here is transparency. Regardless of the deadline selected, it is important that recruiters explain to the student the reason for the deadline. I have phrased it this way with students before:

“The offer you have received is filling a spot at our company. The later the deadline we give, the harder it will be for us to find another rock star like you who is still available to fill the position. You may have a classmate or friend that is very interested in this opportunity and if we give you too much time, they may not have access to the opportunity if you choose to decline (which we hope you do not do).”

This helps the student better understand the reason for the deadline instead of thinking that the pressure is being put on them for no reason. It also helps them understand the bigger picture regarding the opportunity cost of them sitting on an offer.

 “Exploring All Options” vs. Strategic Career Goal-Setting

Many times I find that students want to “explore all of their options” before they commit to an offer. The more options the better, right? Or is that true? I personally get overwhelmed when I have too many options to choose from.. so why is exploring all options such a common direction for students seeking full-time employment? Is it so multiple offers can be put up against one another in order to negotiate a higher base salary? Student loans are crippling these days (I speak from experience!) so I can understand why this would be a factor.

Then I think about the heightened attention around the cost of higher education and how this may play a part in influencing students to shop around. The Higher Education Opportunities Act requires universities to conduct first-destination surveys, which provides data regarding the career outcomes of students at a particular university. What college does not want to report that they have the highest starting salary in the nation? And that their students, on average, receive 10 offers? I am not insinuating that this is definitely happening, but this would motivate the universities to advise students to shop around. But is this the right thing for the student?

I would much rather that students be guided to spend time prior to the job search figuring out what is most important to them in the career they are seeking. Is it the company? Is it the role? Is it location, compensation, the culture of the company? If students are well-educated on what they are looking for and then seek out the roles that meet these criteria, then they will have a basis for accepting the right opportunity once it is offered, or declining an offer to continue to seek out the role of their dreams.

It seems that much of the time students are asking for offer deadline extensions because they want to continue to “explore all of their options.” I would rather that the student proactively know their career goals and seek them out rather than explore all of their opportunities and then make a selection.

Career Services Policies—Providing a Baseline for Offer Deadlines

Several universities have begun enacting policies around offers that I find to be very beneficial in regulating the pressures that students are feeling from overly-aggressive deadlines. I have noticed a trend where universities are implementing an “earliest deadline date,” so an employer cannot require a student to accept an offer prior to the November timeframe. I have also worked with a few career service centers not allowing students to hold more than a certain amount of offers at the same time. I think these are great policies to put in place that help level set expectations around timing of offers between employers and students.

In summary, here are some thoughts on how we can support students in being able to make the most thorough and appropriate career choice for them:

Employers:

  • Give deadlines that are reasonable to allow the student the opportunity to fully review the offer and understand if it is right for them.
  • Be transparent regarding the business justification behind the deadline date.

Career Services Professionals:

  • Educate employers on the importance of reasonable deadlines so students do not feel pressured to make a decision.
  • Help students narrow their focus and target employers and roles that align with their career goals so the decision-making process can be clearer.
  • Consider implementing policies such as an “earliest deadline date” to ensure that employers allow ample time for decisions, and so employers have a benchmark on when they need a stake in the game in order to access the talent.

Students:

  • Spend time prior to the job search to understand what is important to you. There are many aspects of a career. You should know your top three career priorities, and do your best to accept interviews only with the companies that meet your career goals.
  • Be transparent with recruiters about your career goals and any reservations you have about accepting the offer. This way, they can set an appropriate and fair deadline that allows you to feel comfortable with making this very big decision in your life.

Below is a sample list of job factors to rank in order to help you evaluate offers:

Compensation
Benefits
Location
Type of work
Manager
Work/Life balance
Culture/Values of the company
Industry
Travel as part of the job
Opportunity for advancement
Global opportunities
Job stability

A student-directed version of this blog is available to NACE members for their websites.

Coding Interview Prep for the Career Adviser Who Doesn’t Code

katie smith at duke universityKatie Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center,
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ksmith258/
Twitter: @ksmith258

As a career adviser who works primarily with undergraduate students in the STEM fields, I meet frequently with engineering, computer science, and other students who are preparing for technical interviews. Technical interviews are used in a variety of fields and can vary significantly between industries, companies, and even individual interviewers. For the purposes of this post, the focus will be specifically on a certain type of technical interview, the coding interview.

Let’s start with a confession. I’ve never taken a computer science course. I’ve watched some online videos, but the only programming I do involves room and food reservations and facilitating presentations, not algorithms and data structures.

Without knowing how to code, helping students prepare for programming interviews can be challenging, and even a little intimidating. However, coding interviews aren’t so different from other types of interviews, so don’t overlook the skills you have as a career adviser!

Here are some tips for helping students prepare:

Don’t forget the traditional questions

Many technical interviews include traditional interview starters such as “Tell me about yourself.” “What do you know about our company?” and “Why are you interested in this position?” These are great ways to warm up when helping a student prepare, as students should always anticipate these questions.

Practice communicating and decision making

To succeed in coding interviews, students must know how to talk through problem solving. Interviewers present a question or scenario, and expect students to ask questions, consider responses and possibilities, weigh options and ideas, and make decisions, all aloud. It’s less important for students to come up with the right answer than for them to show a clear thought process, an ability to problem solve, and strong communication skills.

Ask questions and pay close attention to your student’s response. Does he ask further questions to better understand the target client (age, needs, interests), any restrictions (such as materials, budget, timeline), and resources available? Does she think creatively about client needs and how to address them? Does he weigh his ideas and mention why he chooses to go in a particular direction? Does she present something innovative? Does he address how he’d approach building the model he suggests?

Your student doesn’t need to invent the next piece of technology and regardless of your level of technical knowledge, you should be able to both ask and provide feedback on answers to basic design questions.

Types of questions that I’ve found to be particularly useful for this type of conversation are open-ended brainteaser, design, and scenario.

Some examples:

  • How many basketballs are there in the state of North Carolina?
  • How many quarters would it take to create a stack as tall as the Empire State Building?
  • Design a phone for an avid traveler.
  • Design a new voting system for a college student government election.
  • Design an alarm clock for a person who is deaf.
  • If you were to create an app for students who want to see and sort all events on campus, how would you go about that process?
  • How would you learn more about the technical needs of students with disabilities on your college campus?

Do you have recommendations of other types of interviews or examples of process-oriented interview questions to use in helping students communicate problem solving? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Consult technical resources

There are plenty of resources online for students to take advantage of for practicing specific technical questions. Leetcode.com helps users prepare for coding interviews by presenting practice questions and allowing users to submit their code for review. A wide range of other sites have programming questions to use for practice, including: Programmerinterview.com, Career Cup, and Geekinterview.com, which feature technical questions for a variety of other engineering fields as well.

A simple search of “coding interview” on YouTube will result in a wealth of interesting videos with experts speaking on the coding interview process, as well as some individuals sharing examples of walking through coding interview questions.

Several books worth checking out are Cracking the Coding Interview and Cracking the PM Interview both by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, and Elements of Programming Interviews: The Insiders’ Guide, by Adnan Aziz, Tsung-Hsien Lee, and Amit Prakash. Revisiting foundational textbooks on programming and algorithms can also a good way for students to brush up on the basics.

Recommend practice, practice, practice

Tell student you recommend they find a practice buddy. Students who are preparing for coding interviews will be more prepared and have a richer learning experience if they are practicing with a peer who can offer additional ideas and feedback.

As an additional point, students in a coding interview should anticipate coding on a piece of paper or a whiteboard instead of a computer, a skill they’ll want to get plenty of practice in before it becomes time to interview, and also a good one to practice with the feedback of a knowledgeable buddy.

In an in-person interview, students should expect to write code on a blank sheet of paper or on a whiteboard. This can be challenging since, prior to interviewing, most students have done all of their programming using a computer. Coding by hand will take some getting used to, and students who invest the time practicing prior to an interview will be glad they did.

Notably, if the interview is conducted over the phone or virtually, the student may be asked to code on a shared online document, viewable by both the candidate and the interviewer.

Collaborate with your partners

Does your office partner with a faculty member in computer science? Do you have active student organizations with student leaders who have successfully navigated coding interviews? How about an employer at a technical company eager to connect with students?

Last year, a conversation at a networking event turned into a local engineer generously visiting our (Duke University) campus to give a presentation on coding interview tips for students, a program that had a huge turnout for both undergraduate and graduate students. The engineer gave advice on approaching the interview process and specific technical topics that far exceeded my own technical knowledge, a great benefit for all attendees.

Share the programming love

Most interviewers leading technical interviews are engineers and programmers themselves, and they’re the perfect audience for geeking out. Engineers tend to enjoy swapping programming stories and challenges with others who share their interests. Engineers love asking and hearing about students’ technical experience, specific projects, why they enjoy programming, and interesting challenges or bugs they’ve encountered and overcome. Students should prepare to give specific examples of why they enjoy coding, how they’ve developed the interest over time, and interesting challenges or bugs they’ve encountered, and how they found, diagnosed, and fixed them.

Show your work!

Have your students been working on an app, a website, or other accessible code or technology? Taking out a phone or computer during an interview may go against just about every piece of advice we typically give, but showing examples of projects during an interview can show evidence of skills while leading to a rich conversation about challenges and ideas.

Students should check with their interviewer to ensure this is appropriate, and only do so if they are given approval. They should also be sure everything is already opened and readily accessible, with all other apps and programs turned off.

Don’t forget about testing

Several employers have mentioned that students rarely bring up testing in an interview setting, but those who do tend to impress their interviewers. When students write code for class or projects, it often does not undergo the same testing and maintenance necessary in industry, and not all students will think to bring this up. Students should think not only about writing the code, but how to check it as well.

In sum, you don’t need to know how to code in order to help your students prepare for coding interviews. Work collaboratively with your students to understand the coding interview process, and what they can expect.