Interviews, public speaking, case studies and presentations do not make a relaxing holiday for college students. But that’s how 14 Connecticut College seniors spent the final week of their winter break as part of an intense career-preparation workshop called Now Hiring!
Now in its second year and sponsored by the College’s Academic Resource Center, in collaboration with the College’s career services office, Now Hiring! immerses participants in the latest practical and tactical skills used in various disciplines to better equip them for life after college, whether they plan to enter the job market or graduate school.
The five-day program was divided into four sections that covered personal marketing and branding; technology and one’s online presence; communications, public speaking and presentations; and the basics of accounting and finance. Each day, students participated in information sessions conducted by staff, faculty, alumni and parents with expertise in those topics, then worked individually and in groups on assignments that would help them master the material while also building their own portfolios. In addition to other exercises, they conducted analyses of their strengths and weaknesses, wrote and mastered an “elevator speech,” enhanced their resumes and social media profiles, computed personal budgets and credit worthiness. Each student also underwent a mock interview, which was critiqued by a hiring consultant.
The work continued into the evenings, with more group and individual work, including sessions on lynda.com, an online database of instructional videos, as well as the creation of presentations based on their junior year internships and a case study on Preston Ridge Vineyards, a local farm vineyard.
“The schedule is intense, and intensifies as the week goes on,” said Julia Browne, the director of the College’s career services program. “Students are learning a great deal and building on this knowledge every day. By the third day of the program, the difference in their presentation skills is striking.”
The application process for the program is highly competitive and requires a minimum GPA of 3.50 and completion of an internship before students’ senior year.
Wren Manly, an art history major and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, said, “I applied to participate in this program to learn how to market myself to a potential employer. I have spent the past two years working to become a strong candidate for graduate school, so I do not have as much practical work experience. In just a few days I have learned so much about myself and develop my public speaking and communication skills … and change the way I approach a presentation and how I prepare for a network or interview setting.”
Noel Garrett, the dean of academic support and director of the Academic Resource Center, said the 2015 program built on the success of last year’s, with the addition of the mock interviews and critiques, the internship case study, and a greater emphasis on social media. The number of participants grew as well, from 12 to 14.
“The students who participated last year continue to tell us how much the program helped them,” Garrett said. “In fact, two of them came to campus and hosted a table at the opening dinner for this year’s cohort. So we wanted to retain the elements that made such an impact on them and add others that would elevate the program and ensure its relevance in 2015.”
“Things change so rapidly that we have to constantly look at the working world to see what’s new before we present anything to students,” said Lori Balantic, senior associate director of the career services program. “For example, social media is its own ecosystem now, so that became a bigger focus this year.”
One thing that did not change from the first Now Hiring! workshop was the subject of the case study. Preston Ridge Vineyards agreed to participate again after they implemented some successful initiatives that arose from the first year’s case study and even hired some of the students for project work. The vineyard is now working with the career services office to provide a number of summer and semester-long internships for students.
“We were thoroughly impressed with the group of students participating this year,” said Cara Sawyer, one of the owners of Preston Ridge Vineyards. “We appreciate the College using us as the case study and giving us the ability to hear all the interesting and useful ideas the students put together.”
At the end of the workshop, each student was presented with an online toolkit containing all the resources used during Now Hiring!, including handouts, job search and career-related articles, PowerPoint presentations and videos of their presentations and mock interviews. These materials — as well as the sessions, housing and meals — were provided at no cost to participants.
“The typical cost of a program like this would be in the range of $3,000 per student, but we offer it at no cost to students — it’s one way we invest in them and help prepare them for life after college,” said Garrett. “I’m so glad we could open it up to two more students this year and I look forward to continuing to build our stellar career offerings by building on programs like Now Hiring!”
Said Manly, “Even though I set out to learn more about the work force, the skills that I have learned in this program will actually help me succeed in graduate school. I already feel more confident in myself and my accomplishments. The amount of knowledge we are gaining in such a short time period is quite amazing.”