Cultivating Skills for the Virtual Job Market
A career management badge system at the University of Arkansas prepares students to find jobs in the post-pandemic workplace.
Even during a global pandemic, students continue to graduate, and they continue to seek jobs. But the framework they must follow to find employment has changed drastically over the past year. As students have entered a world of online career fairs, Zoom interviews, and virtual company visits, they’ve needed to be more innovative than ever to set themselves apart. That’s why it’s important for business schools to make sure students can combine traditional and virtual job-seeking skills.
To help students become better virtual job hunters, the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business in Fayetteville created the Career Management Badge. The badge is part of S.A.M. (Students Achieving Milestones), the college’s career readiness program. Initially piloted to help supply chain management students prepare to meet employers in the virtual space, the badge program has been expanded to allow all business students to participate.
As we created this badge program, we discovered that some students understand better than others what it will take to find positions in today’s market. The Career Management badge is optional, but some classes participating in Leadership Walton, our undergraduate professional development program, promote the badge as part of their point structure. Students have options to do other, similar work instead, but so far 100 percent of students who participate in courses promoting the badge have participated in parts of the badge program. However, we also have found that all students can benefit from enhancing their tech savvy and learning more about what it takes to effectively navigate their virtual job searches.
Steps for Career Success
The Walton College has invested in several software platforms to help students check résumés, conduct mock interviews, and search the jobs submitted to the college’s career fair 24 hours a day. These include Handshake, a global job search platform; and VMock, a platform that uses artificial intelligence to provide feedback to students on their résumés, interviews, and LinkedIn profiles based on their career goals and credentials.
We also use the Suitable app, which helps students track their badge-related activities. At each stage of the process, students submit screenshots of their documents to the app. As they complete the required activities, they create electronic portfolios of experiential learning activities and earn badges that they can include on their résumés or LinkedIn profiles.
To earn the Career Management badge, students must complete the nine-step process described below. Keep in mind, while our college uses the software mentioned above, schools could adapt their own badge programs to other similar software platforms. Schools could even ask faculty, staff, or career coaches to collect information and issue badges to students manually.
Step 1: Create a Handshake account.
When students first launch the Suitable app, they are prompted to set up a Handshake account. They then submit screenshots to the Suitable app to verify that they have created their account profiles.
Step 2: Create a VMock account.
New, incoming freshmen were introduced to the Suitable app last summer with welcome boxes delivered to their home addresses. This year, new freshmen will learn about the app at New Student Orientation and will complete a S.A.M. Scavenger Hunt as a requirement in advance of the fall semester; they also will learn more about the S.A.M. program and Suitable in their Freshmen Business Connections (FBC) course in their first semester. We also direct them to a video that explains how the app works with S.A.M. The app can be downloaded onto their phones or accessed via the company’s website. Students use the same logins they use to access their University of Arkansas student accounts. From this point on, they upload their professional documents to this Suitable account, so that they can receive customized feedback.
Career coaches from Walton Career Services meet virtually with students to provide feedback and guidance. Students then write 200-word reflection essays on the feedback they received.
Step 3: Sign the student code of conduct.
Students sign the document as an Adobe PDF, and then submit a screenshot of the signed document to the Suitable app. By agreeing to our code of conduct, students commit to the Walton College EPIC values, which include excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. Additionally, students agree to provide accurate information to potential employers and to Walton Career Services. Students are advised to consult with career coaches after they accept any job or internship offer to discuss the commitment their acceptance entails.
Step 4: Submit a résumé to VMock.
After receiving initial scores and feedback on their résumés, students verify that they have taken this step by sending screenshots of their résumé scores to Suitable.
Step 5: Participate in a virtual résumé review.
Career coaches from Walton Career Services meet virtually with students to provide feedback on their résumés and guidance in other areas, such as interviewing skills. Students then write 200-word reflection essays on the feedback they received from their coaches and submit screenshots of those reflections.
Step 6: Receive a minimum “résumé score” of 70.
After receiving feedback from career coaches, students revise their résumés and resubmit them to VMock to receive updated scores. Once their scores surpass 70, they can submit screenshots of the updated versions, including their new scores, to Suitable.
Step 7: Craft and deliver an elevator pitch.
For this step, students find job postings relevant to their qualifications and career goals on job search platforms such as Handshake, Monster.com, or LinkedIn. They then create elevator pitches of between two-and-a-half to three minutes. In these pitches, which are delivered via a video link that is available within VMock, the students describe why they would be perfect candidates for those positions. Once they upload their pitches, VMock offers them guidance for improvement; students then submit screenshots of that feedback to the tracking app. This process helps them not only improve their presentation skills, but also see what additional skills they need to develop to land jobs in their areas of interest.
We want students to have the ability to use electronic résumé submission systems, present themselves well in virtual interviews, participate effectively in virtual meetings, and maximize the impact of their professional online profiles.
Step 8: Assess the strength of their LinkedIn profiles.
Students use a feature in VMock called Aspire, which leads them step-by-step through an assessment of their professional profiles. They submit a screenshot of the results to Suitable. While we do not ask faculty to check that students revise their LinkedIn profiles after this assessment, students are encouraged to take professional responsibility for the quality of their profiles to increase their opportunities for employment.
Step 9: Hone their professional virtual etiquette.
To ensure that students know how to present themselves well online, the Walton Business Communications Lab has created an online presentation on its Facebook page that covers topics such as how to position webcams at the best angle, what to wear on camera, and how to project a positive attitude via video. After watching the presentation, students write 200-word reflection essays on their top three to five takeaways and the steps they will take to improve their own virtual etiquette.
Learning by Doing
We created this program at a time when students are concerned about what it will take to find jobs in the “new normal.” We want them to have the vital skills they’ll need in today’s job market, including the ability to use electronic résumé submission systems, present themselves well in virtual interviews, participate effectively in virtual meetings, and maximize the impact of their professional online profiles.
So far, student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as they report to us that they now feel that they are better prepared for their career searches far earlier in the process, when they still have time to identify and work on their weaker skill sets.
There have been some challenges. For instance, some students—fewer than five percent of participants—struggled with using the software. During the pandemic, another small number of students experienced mental duress, and some were emotionally unable to finish all the steps to earn the complete badge. However, all of our students completed portions of the badge. During the pilot program in summer 2020, 60 percent completed the entire badge, while 95 percent completed more than half of the program.
Employers have told us that the students who earned Career Management Badges are presenting themselves more confidently and are making strong first impressions, at a time when first impressions are more important than ever. The badge does not just signify to employers that our school is committed to enhancing students’ professional skills. It also signals that our students have the skills to be desirable candidates for the jobs to which they apply.
The Career Management Badge has helped our students land better jobs—and attract stronger salary offers—even during a pandemic.
|Carole Shook is a teaching assistant professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business Information Systems Department in at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.|
Karen Boston is senior assistant dean for student success and chief student officer at Walton College.
Renee Clay is director of career services at Walton College.