Finding employment has always been a concern for college students. But in the current economy, those job jitters have been magnified.
At Penn, at least, students can breathe a bit easier knowing that Pat Rose and the Office of Career Services are working on their behalf.
Rose has worked at Penn for 30 years, first making her mark by setting up a program for humanities and social science Ph.D. students seeking business careers, and later by working with MBAs in Wharton’s career center.
Since 1982, she’s directed Penn’s Office of Career Services, leading a full-time staff of 27, in addition to part-time and student workers. Last year, the office sponsored 259 programs and workshops and coordinated 361 employer presentations. Career Services works with all Penn undergraduate, graduate and professional students in nine schools, as well as alumni and post-docs in three schools.
“Our goal is to help Penn students define their career goals and help them take the steps necessary to achieve those goals,” she says. “We don’t place people, but we work with students to help them define their goals. We do everything we can to help them make the initial step.”
The Current spoke with Rose about just how she goes about making that happen.
Q. What kind of work do you do with undergraduates?
A. We tend not to work with first-semester freshmen so much. We are more likely to work with students during the second semester of their freshman year. A lot of times, students come in at that point, they’re trying to decide what to major in. They’re wondering what kind of employment options there are.
Sometimes they know what they’re going to study, but they don’t know what career fields might be good for them. We can help them through counseling appointments with our staff to clarify at least initially what they might want to do.
We have an alumni network where students can chat with people about their work. Students can go and learn more about opportunities in a particular field. We have a database of internships and part-time jobs.
Q. What kind of work do you do with graduate students and alumni?
A. We work with [doctoral students] both to help prepare them for academic careers, and to present to them the expanded job market for Ph.D.s.
All of our services, with the exception of on-campus recruiting, are open to Penn alumni. We do a fair amount of counseling. Ten to 20 percent of our counseling [sessions] are with alumni. They attend career fairs, attend our programs. As we put more and more content online on our Web site, like workshops, videos and podcasts, those things will be more accessible to alumni. We also do quite a bit of work with students and alumni over email. We answer—and I mean give a real substantive answer—over 17,000 emails a year.
Q. How do you get students together with employers?
A. We do 10 career days a year. We have a big fall career fair. We have an engineering career day. We have an international career fair for opportunities abroad, Fed fair for the federal government, a biomedical graduate fair. We do a spring fair that’s another general fair, a School of Design career day for architects, a teaching career fair, a social services and policy fair. We host over 400 employers a year who recruit on campus.
Q. How do you craft relationships with employers to ensure they recruit at Penn?
A. We meet with the employers when they come. We also visit them to talk with them about their needs. The best guarantee that employers will come back is our students.
Q. How has the economy affected the number of employers you’re getting on campus?
A. Obviously we are not setting any records this year. Last year we had over 13,000 interviews on campus. We have a huge interview suite with over 48 rooms.
We are doing everything we can to bring employers to campus either to interview individual students or to come to career days, or to do a presentation, or to do all three. We are doing more videoconferencing interviews now as employers are having their travel budgets cut back.
Thirteen percent fewer employers came to campus to recruit our students and hold interviews during the fall semester. On the year our recruiting activity is off about 20 percent.
Even the employers who did come, some of them had hiring freezes and couldn’t make offers. It is a tough year out there. We have been working hard this year; we’ve done a number of special workshops on finding a job in a tough economy. We have been encouraging students to think more broadly about their prospects both in terms of what they want to do and where they want to go. The student who assumed that he or she would go to New York and work for a bank or consulting firm, a lot of those students are not going to those jobs in those places.
Q. Is your office seeing more students opt for grad school because of the state of the economy?
A. We do, although the number didn’t spike up quite as much as you might guess because there’s some concern about funding. If you get accepted to a doctoral program you typically will be funded, but professional graduate programs, those students usually borrow money to go. More students are applying to graduate school. Last year a huge number of our students, 20 percent, went directly to graduate or professional school. Of the remaining students, 68 percent went directly into the workforce. Others were preparing for graduate school—they may be taking classes, something like 5 percent reported.
Of the 68 percent, 90 percent had their offer by graduation. Sixty percent had their offer by December of their senior year.
We won’t have those numbers for the class of 2009 until next summer, but I guarantee you fewer people will report that they found a job by the end of the fall semester or had an offer by graduation.
Q. In this climate, what do students have to do to improve their chances of landing a good job?
A. They have to be flexible and think creatively and broadly. We work with students to help them do an independent job search every year, not just this year.
There are lots of fields, and you have got to identify the employers and network your way in. We’re encouraging students to consider smaller employers, and look at the industries that are least affected by the recession: government, health care and education.
The thing we’re trying to fight is the sense that it’s hopeless. There are all these people looking for work, some of them have been laid off and have more experience. That’s the biggest mistake—to become discouraged.
Our students are extraordinarily talented and they have tremendous skills. They need to believe in themselves, they need to be patient, but they also need to be working hard. Jobs do not fall in your lap.
Q. What sense of satisfaction do you take from your job? Why have you stayed at Penn for 30 years?
A. I have terrific colleagues both here at Career Services and on the faculty. Our students are so talented, it allows me to work with employers and graduate schools that are the very best.
Career Services work is very interesting because it’s about knowing how people make a living in the world. There are so many interesting ways that people have crafted their careers. People are doing really fascinating things, and I feel like I have a license to say, ‘What an interesting job. How did you get that job? What kind of people do you hire?’
Originally published on April 23, 2009