Lauren Little, M.Ed., GCDF // Indiana University, Indianapolis
The disconnect between college students and their knowledge of the world of work creates barriers to understanding and choosing meaningful careers. The Kelley Indianapolis Career Services Office faced this challenge head-on with the establishment of a structured site visit program aimed at educating students without singling them out as exploring.
Ask any potential or current college student the reason they want to go to college and career is on the forefront of their mind. When students and parents consider colleges, they are evaluating what the school offers to help students prepare for life after college. In particular, they want help with the first (and arguably most complicated) step: how to choose a career path. And there is where I found myself, a Career Coach at the Kelley School of Business, Indianapolis campus, helping students wrestling with some big questions related to career choice: “There is so much to choose. What should I do?”or “I think I know what I want, but what if I do not like it?” It is not just 18-year-olds wrestling with these questions. Returning and adult students struggle too. While the reason to attend college is clear, students need help understanding the workforce and its many options.
At Kelley Indianapolis Career Services (KICS), staff members see individuals ranging from freshmen undergraduates to seasoned MBAs. In addition to having a full-service career office offering appointments, workshops, and career fairs, we also embed career services into the curriculum through two required career courses. Regardless of whether a student sets foot into our office or not, they will interact with our staff and instructors through these courses.
While watching students engaged in career exploration through required career courses and in one-on-one career appointments, we began noticing a trend. Students were having difficulties taking their Values, Interests, Personality, and Skills (VIPS) conversations and applying it to the workplace. They would read about their career of interest on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and compare that career to their VIPS, but would still feel out of touch and often ask “What is it really like to work in this industry?” Career exploration behind the screen was only the beginning. The application of these VIPS conversations was missing and students noticed. Our goal became bridging the gap between VIPS conversations and activities and tying it to the workplace to find career fit.
Career fit is different for everyone and can include factors like personality, company culture, and job tasks. A person’s true preference cannot be determined through an assessment or by someone directing the student “You would be good at this.” or “You would like this line of work.”Immersion into the workplace remains an important factor in deciding upon a career path.
To get experience, students are traditionally coached to find an internship. But for the majority of freshman and sophomore students, the idea of applying for an internship without understanding what they were getting into was too intimidating. Employers also want students to have some directions when taking an internship and who are not simply taking an internship to gain experience. Students want a low-risk, low-pressure experience that feels less committed and allows them to observe a company first hand.
Company site visits provide the perfect opportunity for exploration outside of the college campus. The challenge was creating a program that did not make students feel singled out and inferior to their peers who already knew (or thought they knew) what they wanted to do. Instead, these students expressed interest in a program that felt more like on-the-job professional training. The structure and branding of the site visit program would be important to encourage participation from students who need (and want) help exploring companies and jobs.
As the development of the program began, it was important to note our unique student and employer needs.
- Students go to events in groups; there is safety in numbers. The trick is finding the ideal number of students. It needed to be large enough to be comfortable, but small enough that students would not feel like just another number.
- Students participate in events if they see a tangible benefit. Yes, choosing a career has long-term benefits, but our students also think about benefits in the short-term. Engaging in career classes would not only help a student choose a career but also could offer extra incentives tied to a grade.
- Students did not want to be labeled as exploring when participating in the event. Instead, there was a desire for the experience to be branded as a professional development opportunity.
- Since this would be the first professional setting our students may have experienced, it would be beneficial to conduct a short Prep Workshop and set some expectations before taking a group of freshman and sophomore students to a company location.
- Our employer relations team fields requests from employers who reach out wanting to engage with our students. We would have willing hosts, if we appealed to the company’s needs for talent development while also serving our exploratory students’ needs. Ultimately, conversations between employers would be different than the marketing created to encourage participation from students.
Building a Program: The Kelley Corporate Experience
The summer was spent developing the framework for a site-visit program called “The Kelley Corporate Experience.” The program was founded upon the philosophy of bringing small groups of students on site visits to companies in the city of Indianapolis. The visit would be planned in conjunction with our office, but customized and ran by the employer. The name and subsequent branding helped project the professional image that freshman/sophomore students wanted to show versus being labeled an exploring student.
A maximum of 20 students would: (a) go on a site visit to a company, (b) explore the work environment through tours, (c) engage with employees in mini job shadows, (d) participate in networking lunches, and (e) ask questions to employee panels. The employer would plan the visit, which would range from two to four hours, and focus on what makes the company unique. Students would apply to the Kelley Corporate Experience through an online application. The application process was intentional to mimic an internship or full-time-job application process. The Kelley Career Services Office employees helped to make the event easier on the company by: marketing the program to students, managing the application process, choosing participants, and preparing them for the day of the site visit.
We partnered with our freshman/sophomore business careers course to ensure we had an engaged group of students. In a given semester, 250-300 students pass through this gateway class, which is required in order to apply for admission to the Kelley School of Business, Indianapolis.
This exclusive opportunity was offered to these students with an added benefit: by attending the site visit, those chosen would also complete the Informational Interview assignment. This is the largest assignment in the class and requires students to reach out to professionals in their field of interest and ask questions about what it is like to work in their industry. It is a challenging assignment for students because they are required to reach out on their own. Students who attend the Kelley Corporate Experience have an extended informational interview and their attendance counts for the assignment. We were able to create a marketing plan that involved all adjunct instructors in collaboration with the course manager. We also created reflection questions for students to turn in as their assignment at the end of the semester.
The chosen students would participate in a one-hour, professional development workshop to prepare for the day. The Prep Workshop includes researching the company, developing questions, preparing a response to “tell me about yourself,” and the event logistics. Students also completed a pre-site-visit survey inquiring about their confidence on their understanding of the industry, internship and full-time job opportunities, and company culture. Following the site visit, students were asked again to rank their confidence in these areas.
The Bigger Vision
The vision for our program was not only to create an opportunity for students to tour and explore a workplace but also it had roots in helping to create a pipeline for students and employers to interact with each other during the early stages of a student’s college career. Creating a structured program for learning about industries and companies helps our recruiters build brand recognition for future recruiting (i.e., internships and full-time jobs). We also plan to connect this program with other phases of our larger initiative we call the Kelley HUB, which will include inviting participating companies from the Kelley Corporate Experience to other programs, such as our new consulting projects and apprenticeship programs meant for those in the junior and senior years. As an office we find it important to introduce students early to businesses, to help feed these larger initiatives.
Implementation: The First Site Visits
The first site visit occurred in the fall 2018 semester with our employer partner Enterprise Holdings. A total of 15 students attended and learned about Enterprises’ Management Trainee Program and Internship Program. They also learned how the company was founded and how employees advance within the organization through an overview presentation. Students heard from employee panels from various departments throughout the company that focused on the company culture and employee fit. In addition, the students toured the regional office to gain a better understanding of the workplace culture and environment during a normal workday. This first site visit lasted two hours.
The second site visit was held during the spring semester 2019 with our employer partner Charles Schwab. We increased participation and hosted 20 students. Students started the day with a presentation about the company history and brief overview of career opportunities and internships. They listened to a young professional panel, completed a job shadow with a Schwab Professional, and engaged in a networking lunch. In between the job shadow and panel, students toured the Charles Schwab headquarters with recent college graduates who answered questions about the transition from college student to full-time employee. Students also learned about internship and full-time opportunities available at the Indianapolis office through a presentation. This site visit lasted four hours.
Staff members from the two companies were not only generous with their time but also they provided students with small gifts such as water bottles and other branded materials. Additionally, the KICS staff brought thank you notes and KICS-branded gifts to the employer participants for their time.
Changes to the Program
Students completed a post-site-visit survey. Overwhelmingly, they reported being more educated about how a workplace functions, job duties, and industry operations. Others reported finding out what they did not like about the company or industry. Students ranked their confidence levels as “high” when asked if they would participate in another site visit on their own. Students also reported that the Prep Workshop had been beneficial, not only in preparing for the visit but also because students connected with each other before the visit. One student defined it as “comradery building.” When students arrived at the company, they were already familiar with each other and interacted more naturally because of the community building that had been created in the Prep Workshop.
An addition to the spring semester 2019 site visit was the job shadow, which was suggested by a student. Students reported feeling more connected to professionals in the field because of their personal interaction during the job shadow. Not every company can allow a job shadow during a site visit, although we have found ways to accommodate students by substituting case study discussions led by the employer.
Feedback from the first site visit encouraged us to expand the number of hours spent at the company, since students felt rushed during our initial site visit. They also mentioned that if the visit was longer, they would like to have snacks or a light lunch. The spring semester 2019 site visit was expanded to four hours and included a networking lunch, which was well received. Students also provided suggestions for more industries and companies that future Kelley Corporate Experiences might explore.
Employers also reported the experience was worth their time and effort and reported high levels of student engagement during the site visits. Students asked thoughtful questions and were better prepared to engage with employers because we required the professional development training ahead of the site visit.
Sharing the company brand with students is on the forefront of recruiters’ minds. Employers mentioned that the earlier they can share their opportunities, work environments, and corporate culture, the sooner they can begin recruiting students for internships or full-time jobs. Since our program is targeted towards freshman and sophomore students, employers can begin establishing early relationships. Employers requested the resumes from the students applications to continue communicating with them.
The site visits have been very popular with our employer partners. Those who have participated continue to talk about their experience with Human Resources colleagues. We have had more companies reach out to plan similar events and have now run into a capacity issue and must limit the number of Kelley Corporate Experience sit visits we can conduct in a semester. Additionally, we want to provide a variety of Corporate Experiences for our students, so we are working through a plan to ensure different industries are represented based on our student interest.
One of the biggest challenges that remains is transportation funding. We run our site visit program with no additional funding dollars, so students need to secure their own transportation to the company location. We are fortunate to be located in Indianapolis, where public transportation is available within the city. We have been connecting students with others to carpool with if they are out of the range of public transportation. We are continuing to seek ways to fund this portion of the program to remain inclusive to all.
The Kelley Corporate Experience has been an overall success in the first year of implementation. We based our judgment of it being successful on the number of students attending the visits each semester and the results from the pre- and post-site-visit surveys, which indicate increased levels of knowledge and understanding of industries, companies, and full-time and internship opportunities.
We plan to continue offering the Kelley Corporate Experience and will slowly scale up the number of site visits that are available in the upcoming semesters. The fall semester is one of our busiest times of the year, so we plan to keep one site visit. Since spring semester is typically slower, we plan to offer two site visits during the 2020 Spring semester. Additionally, we have a graduate intern on staff this academic year (2019-2020) who has been helping to organize and implement the visits.
The Kelley Corporate Experience was developed from the need to introduce students to companies in a low-risk environment with learning as the only expectation. Students deserve a low-pressure way of interacting with employers outside of traditional career fairs or interview processes. The interactions between students and employers so far have been genuine, friendly, and educational. Exploration does not have to be complicated, but it does need to involve the employers who will eventually recruit our students.