Penn College Career Services helps students adapt to new reality

Published 06.08.2020

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered society, Career Services at Pennsylvania College of Technology has instilled a credo in students: “improvise, adapt and overcome.”

The department personifies that proactive mindset by serving students, alumni and employers virtually and by offering substantive online resources for the “tomorrow makers” enrolled in more than 100 fields of study.

“What we’ve done has worked out well for the students and is being embraced by employers,” said Shelley L. Moore, director of career services. “Most of the services we have offered in person we’ve been able to shift online for the benefit of our students.”

Shelley L. MooreThat list includes resume and cover letter critiques and on-demand access to various presentations on career topics, such as job search options, salary negotiations and business dinner etiquette. The department also has arranged online employer information sessions, as well as question-and-answer forums for students.

“We’ve learned things that we will take forward into the future, even when we get back to something that resembles normal,” Moore said.

Like it did for nearly all schools, “normal” ended in mid-March for Penn College when the pandemic forced the campus to close shortly before the Spring Career Fair. More than 450 employers were scheduled to be on campus, offering a prime opportunity for students to secure internships and plant seeds for future employment.

“We maintained the online Career Fair directory of employers and notified students of its availability after the campus closed and the Career Fair was canceled,” Moore said. “Students were able to access extensive information about individual employers and contact company recruiters directly. That resource was the next best thing to actual face-to-face interaction.”

Preparation for employer interaction also transitioned online. For years, Career Services has offered mock job interviews for interested students. The hourlong, one-on-one sessions mimic both the tone and content of formal interviews, including questions specific to a student’s major. This spring, 113 of the mock interviews had to be conducted in a virtual format, via Microsoft teams.

“It was a great opportunity to keep students on track and to actually teach them things they might have to do in the future,” Moore said. “Employers have had to shift to online interviews, and that will most likely continue, so we’ve been using the situation as a training piece for our students. They can get used to talking into a camera, arranging for an appropriate neutral background and ensuring proper lighting.”

Research by Jobvite, a talent acquisition firm, showed that as many as eight in 10 recruiters are making videoconferencing with interview candidates an important part of the hiring process.

That was the case for Leah M. Hesidence, of Karns City, who is scheduled to graduate in August with a bachelor’s degree in applied health studies: radiography concentration. A virtual interview in May with UPMC Hamot resulted in a full-time position as a diagnostic technologist at the Erie medical facility.

“The mock interview was set up almost identical to the virtual interview I had with UPMC,” said Hesidence, who starts her job on Aug. 31. “I thought the mock interview went really well and made me feel confident going into the online interview for the position I obtained.”

Hesidence said the mock virtual interview instilled in her the need to dress as if it was an in-person meeting and to have all her important documents at the ready, including her resume and reference sheet. She also appreciated the practice time with Microsoft Teams, the video conferencing platform used for her virtual interview with UPMC Hamot.

“I thought it was going to be less personal and harder to sell yourself online versus an in-person interview,” she said. “It’s important to treat a virtual interview as you would an in-person interview. The employer is still expecting you to show up and sell yourself as your best version.”

How students embraced the challenges of the pandemic provides them with a unique opportunity to present their “best version,” according to Moore.

“When asked about challenges you’ve faced, you can describe how, without warning, you had to adapt from hands-on learning to receiving your education online,” she said. “You can talk about how you used this time to refine existing skills and learn new ones. You can sell your flexibility and your grit to the employer. Work ethic and problem-solving are two traits that all employers want to see in candidates.”

Prior to the pandemic, a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that employers planned to hire 5.8% more new college graduates than in 2019. Weeks later, the country’s unemployment rate was the highest since the Great Depression.

Moore is heartened that Penn College students who graduated in May seem to have successfully navigated the shaky job market.

“We have not had any student who was supposed to graduate reach out to us and indicate that the job they lined up is no longer available,” Moore said. “One of the unique aspects of the college is that many of the jobs we prepare students for are recession-proof. During the pandemic, workers in industries like health care, engineering, manufacturing and hospitality were deemed essential. Those are our students.”

The college’s graduate placement rate is 97.3%.

Information about all resources offered by Career Services for Penn College students and alumni is available by calling 570-327-4502.

For more on Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.