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Colleges reinvent career centers to keep up with a changed job market

Jobs became hard to come by during the

Jobs became hard to come by during the pandemic, including for new college grads with little work experience, but college career centers made changes that helped some land that first post-graduation job. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

In March 2020, Jenna Alma, 21, of Bayside had her whole summer — and her senior year at Hofstra University in Hempstead — planned out.

The biomedical engineering student had been accepted to an internship with Cold Spring Harbor Labs, which would provide her with the research experience needed to boost her resume for a post-graduation job and graduate program applications.

But that internship was one of many canceled due to COVID-19. Suddenly Alma, who is graduating this month with a bachelor of science degree, had a wide-open summer — and diminished chances of getting into a Ph.D. program.

"The schools I was looking into want you to be able to ... show knowledge of how to do research, and I had had only one internship," Alma said.

She got help from Hofstra’s Center for Career Design and Development where she worked with a counselor online to revise her resume to showcase her technical and research skills and get mock interview practice. Since this January, she has been volunteering on site through the Visiting Scholar Program at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset with a principal investigator conducting orthopedics research.

Alma wasn't the only one scrambling to adapt to the disruption caused by COVID. Staff at career centers at Long Island’s colleges and universities reported they had less than a week to reconfigure how they were going to help students.

At Suffolk County Community College, the career centers at all three campuses were merged into one, enabling "Zoom drop-ins" for students without an appointment. Hofstra transitioned its one-on-one student appointments to Zoom. And Stony Brook University held its debut virtual job fair with 60 employers in June — a first.

Online job search programs, mock interview software, and video interview platforms for the initial recruiting phase were already in use at the career centers, and that helped with the transition to virtual everything.

"Last year it was about adapting on the fly," said Thomas Ward, executive director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Adelphi University in Garden City. "But this school year we've had time to make the adjustments and learn what worked and what didn't.''

Improving on in-person job fairs

One of the main changes: virtual job fairs. Now students can use online tools like Handshake or LinkedIn to research companies, then upload their resumes before an event. Before their 10-minute virtual session begins, employers and students already know more about each other than they would have if they'd met at a table in a crowded room, said Cristen D’Accordo, director of the Career Center for Molloy College in Rockville Centre. Her office has hosted two virtual career fairs on Handshake.

"I think one of the silver linings is that the virtual world has made for more personal connections," she said.

As the Career Center at SBU has adapted, it's learned to create more focused events, said center director Marianna Savoca. "We can have more frequent, targeted fairs with a smaller slice of an industry," she said, "like an event only for data science and data analytics."

At Hofstra, the past year has also led to experimenting with other virtual programming, said Michelle Kyriakides, executive director of the university's career center. For instance, her office has a weekly "Network With Pride" series, a small group chat with an employer or alumni via Zoom that’s recorded and shared on YouTube, and mini career topic workshops on Instagram’s IGTV.

Being virtual also means flexibility to make appointments with students and employers before and after work hours. Kyriakides said she recently worked with Hofstra’s baseball team to provide a 10 p.m. alumni panel after practice.

Increased demand

One of the positive changes career centers have had to adjust to is an increase in student interest.

"Students are aware of how the pandemic may have affected employment or internship availability," said Michael Berthel, chief of Student Affairs and Alumni Engagement at Long Island University in Brookville. "Positions may be more competitive and a virtual interview process may be something that is new to them."

D’Accordo said the ease of virtual appointments has played a large role in the 250% usage increase at Molloy by both students and employers. "Our students like that they can get on Zoom with us on a lunch break instead of having to come to campus."

Laurie Joseph, a professor and counselor in the Office of Student Professional Development & Employer Services at Nassau Community College in Garden City, said, "It works out well for our students who have a lot of conflicts in their schedule with full-time work and families."

Accessibility and inclusion

Tania Velazquez, assistant dean of Student Affairs/college director for Career Services at Suffolk County Community College, said a benefit for SCCC students, many of whom don’t have transportation, is that virtual opportunities mean more accessibility to internships and jobs.

"Virtual services have flattened the landscape when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion," said Ward, of Adelphi.

Another positive consequence is the increased opportunity to do remote work for companies that aren't local, said Jonathan Ivanoff, associate director of internships at Adelphi, where students have had remote internships for companies in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Idaho, California and even internationally with nonprofit organizations in Tanzania, Costa Rica and Greece.

And while statistics about how 2020 employment differed from 2019 are still unclear, Ivanoff said, "It's fair to say the `working’ projections of the May graduating class is already way past last year’s and approaching the pre-COVID levels of 2019."

Ward — who said that he and his local counterparts have coordinated this year — expects more partnerships in the future.

"I think it's an exciting time because career services can continue to innovate, including with partnerships with [online] vendors, other schools, employers and students. I think one of the lessons that this past year has taught us is that no one can do it alone."

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