One Giant Step

by Sharyn Kopf - Cedarville, OH

It just may be the biggest transition of your life. With great ceremony, you are handed your mortarboard and diploma. You are patted on the back, perhaps even applauded. Then you are on your own. To go from school to career, from student to businessman/woman in one momentous celebration can evoke trepidation — even fear. The wise graduate begins preparing for this transition well in advance.

The Cedarville University Career Services Department takes such preparation quite seriously. The staff is dedicated to helping students aggressively pursue not just a job, but the right job. From mock interviews to Career Days, students are offered an extensive range of helpful, real-world opportunities.

“When students come in, we spend a lot of time talking about interview techniques,” said Lew Gibbs, director of career services. “We try to go over and above what a [career services department] would normally do.”

With that in mind, the department invites numerous employers and hiring managers to the school for instruction and advice. According to Gibbs, they “like to bring in folks who benefit the students, without seeming like they’re ‘preaching to the choir,’” so to speak. For example, a parent employed by Caterpillar Tractor (CAT) brought an alum (also a CAT employee) to the Stevens Student Center a day before a Career Link day to talk to 85 science students about interviewing, complete with “mock interviews.”

Another helpful guest is Georgeanne Georges, a member of the Cedarville University Business Advisory Council. “I worked with each student a little over an hour,” Georges said, referring to the week she spent at Cedarville in March. “Each had a wonderful resume but didn’t know how to sell themselves to a company. I helped them answer the question: ‘Why should a company select you above everyone else?’”

The value of setting yourself apart is something Georges can’t stress strongly enough. “It’s extremely important to learn the etiquette of an interview, proper dress, and how to stand ahead of the competition,” she said. “Students also need a chance to practice answering questions.”

One benefit for the participants was the freedom to work one-on-one with someone who wasn’t a regular professor. As a result, they could make mistakes in front of Georges without having to worry about how it would affect their grades. “We fixed the errors and moved on,” she said. The mock interviews were taped, providing the students with a visual opportunity to critically review things like their speech patterns and posture.

According to Gibbs, the most important thing to teach these young job hunters is the pre-emptive close. “Assume they’ll hire you,” he tells them. “Let [the hiring manager] know you sense it could be a good deal for both of you. Then suggest a starting date. It gets them thinking about a timeline and negotiating when you’ll begin.”

For her part, Georges encourages students to not be afraid to put their best foot forward and unabashedly show employers the gifts and talents with which God has blessed them. “We’ve been taught to be humble, making it difficult to answer the question ‘Why should I hire you?’” she noted. She emphasizes this is their best opportunity to sell their best attributes to a prospective employer.

Overall, the program Cedarville offers is well-rounded. Georges calls it “aggressive,” and Gibbs states that statistics prove it is successful. Within six months of graduating, he says, 80-90% of graduates are employed. That number moves to the 96% range after the first year.

For instance, Gibbs said, “At our recent Career Day, CAT interviewed 19 students and later invited 16 for second interviews at their Illinois site. They have now hired three graduates to fill some of their full-time requirements. That’s a very good number.”