By Blair Yankey
The Career Zone at Western Michigan University is a medium-sized room located on the first floor in Ellsworth Hall, across from the Writing Center. This room has six small round tables at which is seated a staff member prepared to help students. The staff helps with job search strategies, resume and cover letter writing, preparing for job interviews and more.
“This is a place where opportunity is given to all students of all majors, where our mission is to empower students to gain skills necessary to reach their goals,” says Lynn Kelly-Albertson, executive director at the Career Zone.
EVERYONE IS SERVED
The Career Zone is the only place on campus where students can drop in for assistance no matter their major. The Zone’s goal is to serve students with job resources and advice to help them with their career paths. The Career Zone helped 193 students in February, according to Anastasia Diamantis-Lopez, a graduate assistant.
Based on statistics gathered by Career and Student Employment Services, the Zone is fulfilling its mission. More than 3,200 undergraduate and graduate students responded to the survey after receiving help at the Career Zone between August 2011 and June 2012. Of those students:
- 52 percent are employed full-time
- 14 percent are continuing education
- 11 percent are employed part-time, seeking full-time employment
- 11 percent are seeking employment
- 5 percent are in a post-graduate internship
On an afternoon in late February, Erika Nelson, a senior at WMU, walks into the Career Zone. Nelson takes a seat next to Kelli Cummings, a career development specialist.
“How can I help you?” Cummings asks.
Nelson is graduating this spring and her major is organizational communication. She’s having difficulty finding jobs. “I’m constantly typing in organizational communication in search engines to see what jobs pop up, and all I’m getting is either too many results or none at all. How do I narrow my choices?”
Cummings smiles. “This is a common mistake most students make and I have a strategy.” She pulls out her laptop, Nelson scoots her chair closer to see the screen.
“What you need to do is develop some better job search strategies. Let’s take, for example, ‘human resources,’ which is a broad area in its own right; you’ve got training, benefits, payroll and so on. So what about each of these elements of human resources do you find either appealing or not appealing?”
Nelson isn’t sure yet. It would require some serious thinking.
Cummings laughs. “Finding a job is a full-time job,” she says. She advises Nelson to scrutinize 10 or 15 job descriptions to get a better feel for what employers are looking for. “The more you read, the more you will be able to decipher whether they are a good fit for you and whether you’re a good fit for them.”
Nelson thanks Cummings for the help. She says she plans on returning later on this week once she has a better idea of which route she wants to take in human resources.
“Remember in order to receive narrow results, you have to narrow down your ideas and words,” says Cummings in parting.
Nelson thinks the Career Zone has helped her a lot. “It’s amazing how something as simple as a word can play the difference between hours of searching and minutes of happiness.”
BUT FOLLOW UP IS DIFFICULT
It’s now about two weeks after Nelson’s visit. She hasn’t been back to the Zone. She also hasn’t yet narrowed down what area she wants to pursue in human resources. However, she maintains that she will return to the Career Zone if she needs it.
Cummings isn’t surprised that Nelson hasn’t returned. She says that it varies whether or not students come back to the Career Zone. Sometimes, staff will make follow-up appointments with students, or make the suggestion that students return within a week or two once they have made some progress on their own. Some students come in daily. Some come to a single drop-in session and receive enough guidance to feel that they can handle their job hunt on their own.
“We want to be able to give them the tools and show them where the tools are so they can find information about careers on their own,” says Cummings. “It goes back to that adage if you give someone a fish they’ll eat for a day, but if you teach them to fish they’ll eat for a lifetime. At the Career Zone, we want to teach students to fish.”