Career Services provides opportunity in uncertain times: ‘We’ll do whatever we can to help’
By Jared Graf
When Jacob Mixon graduated FSU as a biology major last semester, he never would have imagined landing a job as a research associate at a biology lab a month later.
“With everything going on, I just wasn’t very hopeful I’d find a job immediately after graduating,” Mixon said. “But I knew what I wanted to do, so I started applying to places.”
Within weeks of sending out his resume, Mixon was already receiving calls from local labs requesting Zoom interviews. Luckily, the Career Services and Employer Relations (CSER) office at FSU prepared him for the increasingly popular virtual job interview.
“I had a bunch of Zoom interviews, and I was going around closing my closet door, making sure the lighting was right, and checking my internet connection,” he said. “That’s all stuff I never would have thought of if it wasn’t for Career Services.”
During his last semester at FSU, Mixon reviewed his resume with Career Services twice and also learned how to effectively market himself to possible employers.
“I would for sure credit Career Services with helping me get the job I have now,” he said. “They were super helpful, super nice, and really got into the nitty-gritty detail of how to apply for jobs, how to format your resume to get hits, and how to best communicate your skills.”
Prior to the pandemic, Mixon participated twice in CSER’s Suitable Solutions program – which brought employers to campus to hold mock interviews and network with students. The program also rewards students with a $100 gift card to spend on professional attire.
“A couple guys and I went to Macy’s one time and got nice khakis and button-ups,” Mixon said. “That program was really helpful.”
Mixon also credited his past internships – which he acquired through CSER – as preparing him for the workforce and allowing him to get much-needed experience.
“I think getting my foot in the door at other places really helped me in the long run,” he said.
Jill Gardosik, a career counselor and internship coordinator at CSER, agreed.
“Students that complete internships typically Dnd full-time positions a little bit easier and a little bit faster,” she said. “That experience makes you as a candidate more desirable when you’re interviewing at other companies.
“When we’ve got students with internship experience versus students without, businesses tend to get more excited and more interested about students who have had internship experience,” she added.
According to Gardosik, it hasn’t “necessarily” been more difficult Dnding internships for students during the pandemic. “A lot of it is driven by the employer’s site,” she said, explaining that some businesses are better equipped to employ interns.
She also said “there really is no difference” in the way students search for internships or job positions during the pandemic.
Seniors are still encouraged to use LinkedIn, Indeed, and FSU’s Handshake site to find postings and hiring positions. Gardosik said Handshake is a valuable resource for students because it features job and internship offers designed specifically for college students.
Emily Abel, a career counselor, said LinkedIn is a great resource for students to Dfid a company or organization they’re interested in, and then connect with any alumni who may work there.
“That’s always going to give students the leg up – if they’re chatting with people who are actually doing the jobs that they might be interested in,” she said.
Although resources like Indeed and Handshake are helpful tools when job searching, Abel said the process is much more “nuanced” than simply browsing employment sites and looking for positions online.
“It is about reaching out and capitalizing on your existing relationships,” she said. “Networking and utilizing your relationships is the number one way to find a position – whether it be an internship or a job.”
During her experience as a counselor at CSER, Abel said networking tends to be “scary” or
“overwhelming” for some students because they’re unsure of their professional identity. By “helping students Dnd their confidence,” she said she can successfully assist in their transition from a student to a professional.
“That’s always my goal when I meet with students,” Abel added. “I let them know that they have skills, they’re worthy, they have something to contribute, and that they can do it.”
Gardosik said, “We can’t stress enough how valuable it is to be networking. We’re still constantly hearing from employers that they have opportunities available. [Jobs are] still out there. They still exist for sure.”
Rich Davino, director of CSER, said, “Networking has always been critically important. People do get hired when they’re able to have a foot in the door.”
Fortunately for FSU students, Career Services offers networking opportunities – even during a pandemic.
“We’re trying to create opportunities for students to interact with employers directly,” Gardosik said. This is done through virtual job fairs and internships – both at the CSER office and elsewhere.
“We have a variety of internship positions in our office every semester,” Gardosik said. Interns for CSER create content, conduct research to expand resources, and help connect their peers with services.
The goal of student internships is to provide a quality experience and adequate supervision, as well as ensure the skills taught are “good quality employability skills,” Davino said.
Each semester, Career Services hires office interns based on their needs that semester. Gardosik said that in the past, they’ve employed a “variety” of interns, including videographers and event planners.
Last semester, senior and communication arts major Jenna McMahon worked as a marketing and event planning intern at CSER. Her job entailed creating layers to promote events, attending Career Services’ sponsored events, and helping the oPce with marketing efforts.
As the only intern in her Deld, McMahon said she was able to work both in person and remotely throughout the week. She also said it seemed as though students were still taking advantage of CSER’s resources.
“I think that students still utilized Career Services during the pandemic to make sure they have their resume and cover letter done,” McMahon said.
She stressed the importance of having a resume prepared to send to employers at all times and encouraged students to apply for at least one job whenever they visit LinkedIn or Indeed. She also reminded seniors that it’s never too late to use Career Services.
“With [some employers] opening back up, it’s hard to Dnd what companies are offering jobs,” McMahon said. “Our counselors have great ways of finding connections and helping you Dnd jobs you could apply for that best fit you.”
Career Services’ motto, echoed by Gardosik, is simple – “Connect early and often.”
Abel said, “We’re a friendly oPce – an oPce that cares.
“I feel so passionately about helping students through this journey, because I myself was a first-generation college student and remember so clearly the stress and confusion that comes around this
whole process,” she added. “So, I care a lot. I want to help students.”
Davino said the goal is for students to “feel comfortable” and willingly use Career Services’ resources. “As much as students can utilize us, we’re going to be there. But we get if we are not a student’s priority right now,” he said.
Although Davino began his role at Career Services in January, he said staff told him that in March of last year, “there was definitely a drop off ... at least initially” in the number of students using Career Services’ resources. He said this was because students weren’t physically at the University, and many were dealing with other worries at the time.
Now, Davino said, “Students are definitely taking advantage of Zoom and they’re definitely still scheduling [appointments] with us.
“I think students are doing the best they can with everything that they’re dealing with,” he added. “And we have no idea how much they’re potentially dealing with beyond Framingham State.”
Jessica Grady, a senior computer science major and technical intern at Career Services, vouched for graduating seniors such as herself who may feel overwhelmed by school and other stresses.
“I’m only taking three courses this semester but feel like I have a full course load,” she said. “Add Covid and responsibilities at home to that, and I never feel like I have the time or patience to sit down and spend some time [job searching].”
Grady, who has interned at CSER for four years now, believes the most common challenge students face when searching for a job is not knowing where to begin looking. She suggests dedicating a little bit of time each week to job searching and reaching out to career counselors for help.
“We all have stresses and other things we need to do outside of searching for a job,” Grady said. “As May inches closer, I definitely start to get anxious about my next steps.”
Robert Johnson Jr., a former professional writing intern at Career Services who graduated as an English major last semester, offered words of encouragement to seniors.
“As somebody who is always worried about the future, especially during this time, I just want seniors to keep the faith and keep their heads up,” Johnson said. “If you don’t look ‘desirable’ to one employer, someone else will adore you and what you represent.”
When Johnson interned at Career Services for the spring 2020 semester, he updated the FSU website with current information, convinced students to make use of CSER’s resources, and wrote blog posts – until the pandemic had other plans for him.
“The pandemic shifted my focus to completing my intern legacy project,” Johnson said.
For his legacy project, Johnson created a directory of newspapers and magazines in the New England area, so students seeking jobs in those fields can easily contact publications that may be hiring.
“This project had me scouring the internet for very sparce bits of information,” Johnson said. “I wanted to provide a service for any journalism student who wanted a job in the Deld during or after college.”
Gardosik reminded students that companies are still hiring, but with such a competitive job market, it’s important to follow up on applications.
“Technology has made it so easy to apply for positions ... that businesses these days receive a very high volume of candidates for all their positions,” Gardosik said. “It’s crucial that students are following up on a regular basis.”
If two weeks pass from the date of applying, Gardosik recommends students reach out to the employer themselves. Doing so ensures the application got to the employer without technical difficulties and also clarifies the employer’s timeline.
“Gone are the days of sitting patiently by the phone and waiting for a company to call,” Gardosik added. “You have to work at it – it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight instantly.”
Abel encouraged seniors to use Career Services’ resources in order to alleviate some of their worries. “All of them should make an individual appointment with us so we can help them build their confidence, quell some of their fears, and give them an action plan,” she said.
Abel also offered some advice to seniors who are anxious about their next step.
“Try not to compare yourself to your peers,” she said. “It may feel like everyone around you has a plan or knows what they’re doing – in my experience, they don’t.”
Typically, Gardosik said it takes college graduates six to nine months to Dnd a job. In a pandemic, this could be even longer.
She reminded seniors that even as alumni, they can still use the CSER office for any employment needs.
“Everyone’s going to find something – it just might take you a little longer than the person next to you in class,” she said. “And it has nothing to do with you personally.
“Things might have slowed a little bit in certain areas, but absolutely, there are still plenty of internships, plenty of jobs ... and businesses still have hiring needs,” she added.
But in March of last year, this wasn’t exactly the case.
Due to ever-changing COVID-19 mandates and regulations, many employers didn’t know what their hiring process would be and were uncertain of the future. This made it challenging for some of last year’s seniors to find a job after graduation.
“Last spring, I was meeting with seniors who had carefully cultivated a plan and taken all these steps sophomore, junior, senior year, and then that plan just absolutely went out the window,” Abel said. “That was devastating for some students.”
According to Davino, entry-level opportunities “evaporated overnight” and some employers were forced to rescind offers.
Although most companies adjusted to remote work by last fall, Davino said some employers have “folded” in certain industries. Specifically, he said the restaurant, event planning, and entertainment industries have all taken a “massive, massive hit.
“Again, jobs evaporated, and those were for full-time folks that had been working there for a long time,” Davino said. “So, taking on entry-level people who were just graduating became a really hard task for employers to do.”
Due to the uncertainty of the job market, Abel encouraged students to pursue their “plan A, but also have a really strong plan B.”
With different job responsibilities and a reduced work force at some companies, Davino acknowledged that job searching can be tough. However, he does believe some changes in the employment market are beneficial.
“As much as the pandemic has been tragic in so many ways, I think it’s going to open up doors to students and graduating students that weren’t even a thought before,” Davino said, explaining how remote job opportunities allow people to work for companies that may be based across the country.
In addition to more students being allowed the flexibility to work remotely, Davino said statistically speaking, more college graduates are starting their own businesses.
“The pandemic’s been bad – it just has. However, I think there are some silver linings that could come over time,” he concluded. “I think remote work and hybrid work is here to stay.”
Despite so many changes in the employment market, Davino said much of what was applicable in 2019 is still crucial for job searching today.
“A great resume is still a great resume,” he said. “Being really comfortable with interviewing, whether it’s phone or video, is ... even more important now.”
Davino said Zoom is “critically important” to the interview process, because it’s allowed students to become comfortable communicating and reading body language virtually.
One of the biggest changes to the hiring process is the number of companies using programs such as HireVue, a website that provides questions to applicants without human interaction and records their responses. Davino called this process “really awkward.
“It takes practice to be comfortable doing that. And that’s why I think being forced to Zoom so often and talking at a screen is incredibly valuable and incredibly helpful,” he added.
While it’s important to face the excitement of getting interviews, Davino also said it’s important to face the reality of rejection.
“The despair is real, and I’m never going to minimize that,” he said. “You’ve just got to accept that you’re going to face a lot of rejection, and it’s not necessarily about you. And I know that’s really, really hard to embrace.”
For seniors who may feel discouraged or worried about their future, Davino offered words of sympathy and advice.
“There is loss,” he said. “For the class of 2021, they have missed out on what would have been a very different senior year. So, feel that loss, embrace that, but somehow don’t let that prevent you from taking whatever those next steps are.”
[Editor’s Note: Robert Johnson Jr. is a former Arts & Features Editor for The Gatepost.]