Innovations in Career Planning

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Thursday, May 20, 2021
By Claire Curry
Photo by iStock/YinYang
ASU shifts from a short-term “transactional” career services model to an integrated approach that serves students throughout their careers.

To prepare for careers in today’s complex and ever-changing business environment, students at every level need much more than a résumé, cover letter, and sharp suit. They need a strategic mindset and a comprehensive portfolio of tools they can use to showcase their assets—not only their work experience and academic achievements, but also the characteristics and talents that set them apart from the competition.

Considering how the world has changed, especially over the past year, students need to take a holistic approach to their career planning, says Sharon Irwin-Foulon, executive director of career management and employer engagement at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe.

“We don’t know where the world is going,” says Irwin-Foulon, adding that the pandemic and inevitable market shifts are creating new careers that never existed before. In a world where employers’ needs are ever-changing, she adds, business schools must encourage students “to look at themselves like they are a product going to market.”

Rethinking the Career Planning Process

To that end, the W.P. Carey Career Management and Employer Engagement (CMEE) team has designed a different approach to supporting students and alumni on their career journeys and lifelong professional development. First, the team oversaw the launch of an interactive new website. Next, it introduced new career-planning courses, boot camps, and direct connections to employers through a recruiting platform and virtual recruitment events.

“Old school career management was about helping students get the résumé, cover letter, and interview,” says Irwin-Foulon. “It was very transactional.” In contrast, she explains, the business school’s new career development program is designed to be “an integrated, successive program” that follows students through their academic journeys in a more efficient and focused way. “The goal is to ensure they are confident and capable of reaching out to the market at the right time and to differentiate themselves for all the right reasons.”

The new model mirrors the process of bringing a product to market—except, in this case, the product is the student. The CMEE team walks students through four steps in this process: strategic development, market research, product development, and product launch.

Boot Camps Begin the Journey

The CMEE team uses a boot camp model as the basis for new career-planning courses and workshops for students at every level. For example, the Career Navigation Program for undergraduate students features a required course taken during each of the four years. These include Introduction to Career Development; Career Navigation Design; Networking Foundations; and Career Transition Management, which prepares seniors to enter the workforce.

Incoming MBA students participate in a 15-hour boot camp before they take their first class. “The boot camp introduces the career action plan in a condensed fashion. Then, we integrate that same set of concepts through every step they take,” explains Joseph Kimes, associate director of career services.

Likewise, the school recognizes that students’ career goals “can change at any moment for many reasons,” Kimes adds. “We make sure to circle back and revisit so the students can update their action plans and make sure their goals still fit with where they’re going.”

“The boot camp serves as a space for students to understand with more clarity what they bring to the table and where they will thrive. It is foundational to all of our work.”—Sharon Irwin-Foulon

Students enrolled in the business school’s specialized master’s programs also can opt to take a series of three workshops, where they establish their career goals and craft go-to-market communications and job-seeking activities. In addition, the school has designed a similar two-hour boot camp just for alumni; the first such event was held in February.

According to Irwin-Foulon, these classes and boot camps are taught workshop-style rather than lecture-style. “The first class focuses on self-reflection and goal-setting, using guided reflections, mind maps, and role play,” she explains. “The boot camp serves as a space for students to understand with more clarity what they bring to the table and where they will thrive. It is foundational to all of our work.” Too often, she adds, people either rush through or dismiss altogether this part of the career-planning process, which she calls “the bedrock of a successful approach.”

So far, students have reported that they have valued the opportunity to approach their career planning more thoughtfully and deliberately. One master’s student who took the pilot boot camp during the school’s fall semester said that the program “helped me put everything in perspective.” Another noted that being able “to sit down and reflect helped me understand my motivations and drive for success.”

One participant in the alumni offering was a 2019 graduate of W.P. Carey’s full-time MBA program. “The CMEE career boot camp offered applicable real-time exercises, such as networking, skills assessments, and mind-mapping,” noted the alum, who works as a project manager at a Fortune 500 company. “Through these exercises, we uncovered tools to help us plan for the next phase of our careers.”

A One-Stop-Shop Website

In January, CMEE launched its comprehensive new website. The site consolidates several platforms and provides a wealth of new resources that students can tap at every step of their academic journeys.

For example, in addition to learning about the CMEE career management model and corresponding curricula, students can access detailed information about their majors, schedule appointments for coaching sessions, find internships or job opportunities, and get in-depth industry information from resources such as the catalog series Vault Guides. They can discover student clubs, sign up for upcoming events, and connect to Big Interview, a platform for video-recorded interviews.

“We have built communities for students that are based around their class years and their majors or programs, so that we can create content specifically for them,” says director of career management Toni Rhorer. “They don’t have to wade through every single thing that’s out there to figure out ‘Is this event open to me? Is this job targeted at me?’ We are curating content for them, and it’s there 24/7.”

Engaging With Employers Virtually

As the world went virtual in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so did recruiting events that connected students with prospective employers. CMEE pivoted by hosting seven virtual recruiting events, each with a specific industry focus. These topics included retail and hospitality, accountancy, technology, manufacturing, finance and real estate, sales and marketing, and healthcare.

According to Anthony Cortright, senior assistant director of career management and employer engagement, 270 companies participated and more than 2,500 students attended.

“Students don’t have to wade through every single thing that’s out there to figure out ‘Is this event open to me? Is this job targeted at me?’ We are curating content for them, and it’s there 24/7.”—Toni Rhorer

To streamline the recruiting process for employers as much as possible, the employer engagement team is divided into industry groups ranging from professional services and finance to transportation and manufacturing. By focusing on specific industries, CMEE team members can build deep connections with the companies in their portfolios, help employers differentiate their job offerings, and ensure that these companies engage with the most suitable candidates. Their portfolios collectively include more than 1,000 companies from around the world, including Adidas, Amazon, AT&T, General Mills, Microsoft, and Target.

“We also leverage alumni within these organizations by getting them involved in speaking to students, talking about their experiences and career paths and what helped them get ahead,” Cortright says. He adds that alumni also share their inside views on corporate culture; work-life balance; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Cortright is particularly passionate about equality—which he views as offering the chance for all students to find meaningful careers without limitations. With that in mind, he is committed to educating employers about hiring diverse job candidates. That includes veterans, as he is a veteran himself. “I want to help companies overcome those roadblocks and shine the light on our diverse and international talent,” he says. “I want to bridge that gap.”

Like any startup, the Office of Career Management and Employer Engagement will continue refining its new initiatives. Most recently, for instance, the CMEE team expanded its website to include additional communities for both alumni and employers. The team also wants to take steps to ensure a continuing stream of fresh, curated content that will help prepare students for career success.

By adopting an integrated approach to career planning and career management, the CMEE team hopes to ensure that students at all levels are fully prepared to launch themselves into the global workplace. 

Claire Curry
Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant, W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University
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