Employers partner with Career Services

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Amanuel Fekade meets with LarsonAllen tax specialist Ben Horak

LarsonAllen LLP is among the many employers from Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities who willingly give their time to help St. Cloud State students prepare for an increasingly competitive job market. Here, Amanuel Fekade, of Ethiopa, who earned his MBA this spring, meets with LarsonAllen tax specialist Ben Horak (left) during an on-campus interview.

Students entering the job market can be forgiven if they feel stressed. “There are a lot of messages out there about how bad things are,” said Andy Ditlevson, associate director of St. Cloud State’s Career Services Center (CSC). “They don’t need the message anymore that these are tough times. Instead, we’re focusing on what they themselves can do to improve their odds.”

One of those “can do’s” is taking advantage of offers by company leaders in Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities to share their time and expertise with St. Cloud State students.

“Employers are so willing to work with our students,” said Addie Habstritt Turkowski ’86, CSC director. “We’re grateful for that, and we want to find ways to give our students the benefit of these professionals’ expertise without undue demands on the employers’ time,” she added.

New approaches to help students enter the job market are often the result of collaboration between CSC staff and area employers. As an example, CSC staff told the center’s advising board that the economic downturn had dramatically increased the number of students asking for the center’s help. The 20 employers on the board promptly replied, “We can help with that,” and Feedback Fridays were born.

Feedback Fridays bring employers to campus for a day to answer students’ questions, critique resumes, make job search suggestions or help them network. Because students raced to sign up for 30-minute time slots with ING Direct, Walgreen’s, Cargill and General Mills, CSC responded by scheduling Feedback Fridays with Target, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Frito Lay and is planning more.

“Employers tell us St. Cloud State does a great job of preparing students academically,” Turkowski said. “But if they lack anything, it’s professionalism and polish.” Acting on that observation, CSC is now the only one of the state’s seven public universities that requires students to complete a “career fair prep” program before they can sign up for a statewide career fair. During a prep event, employers like Macy’s and Target offer students guidance on resumes, professional dress, interview skills and how to conduct pre-interview research. To make it even easier for students to prepare, a five-minute “prep video” is in production and will soon be online.

“Employers also tell us that the number one shortcoming of the young people they hire is unrealistic expectations,” said Ditlevson of a finding of the annual Minnesota Job Outlook Survey conducted by CSC.

Now the employers themselves are helping CSC develop “a day in the life” videos, shot at company locations, to give students a better “on-the-job” understanding of a variety of careers. St. Cloud State alumni at LarsonAllen, for example, helped demonstrate a day in the life of an accountant and alumni at internet marketing firm W3i participated in a video on marketing.

Speed Mentoring (think speed dating) is another new way to help students while conserving employers’ time. The two-hour events hosted by the Alumni Association include eight 10-minute rounds during which students practice introducing themselves and making a good first impression with employers. Nearly 30 employers gave their time for the first alumni speed mentoring event, including alumni from Health East Foundation, KSTP-TV, Weber Shandwick, Flaherty & Hood, P.A., and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Every bit of the help employers provide to CSC is of value to students, who will face tough competition when they enter the market. “Students need any edge they can get,” said Turkowski, who pointed out that during the three major career fairs held in Minnesota every spring, “Employers may talk to 500 students – and have 5-10 openings.”

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