Career Planning in an Economic Downturn

Story posted January 22, 2009

Students preparing to enter "the real world" and all its economic uncertainty have been turning to a campus resource that has itself undergone some changes of late.

Bowdoin Career Planning has ushered in a new approach to assisting students in their career choices.

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"Current students seek practical, action-oriented advising," says Career Planning Director Tim Diehl. "Our new Career Planning team represents a diversity of real-world experience that repositions our team as 'advisors' as opposed to 'counselors.'"

For example, students exploring a career in law or government will meet with a Career Advisor who holds a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. Likewise, students interested in the arts meet with an advisor with 20 years of work experience in the film and television industry.

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Tim Diehl

"In fields where we lack first-hand experience, we are proactively connecting students with alumni and parents in the field to begin the education and exploration process," he says.

Diehl says Career Planning has seen an increase in traffic from students across all class years and fields of career interest, driven by both the buzz around the new advising team and approach, and the understanding that in a tight job market, getting started early is crucial to success.

Career Planning Director Tim Diehl addresses students' common questions and concerns:

What are the most common questions you're getting from students?
We're hearing the question, "How do I find a summer internship or job in my field of interest?" This question is the primary driver of engagement with our office. Our staff of career advisors is trained to guide students through the process of preparing their story via one-on-one advising, resume reviews and mock interviews, to the pursuit of summer and full-time opportunities in their areas of interest. Students are responding enthusiastically to our decision to hire Career Advisors with real-world experience in areas of key student interests.

An equally important question that we are encouraged to hear is "How do I figure out what I might want to do with my life?" Our three-phase approach to Career Planning — Explore, Experience, Pursue — encourages students to engage early in the career exploration process.

Whereas historically our services were perceived to focus on serving only those students that know what they wish to do, we have hired a new career exploration Career Advisor and created new programs to reach into the campus community to engage students in early, intentional conversation about their career options.

Engagement by underclass students is up noticeably as a result of our outreach into communities of affiliation. From running introductory talks in each of the first-year houses to a customized resume workshop for members of the Outing Club, we are finding that by creating a culture of Career Planning at Bowdoin, we remove the intimidation of the first steps in the process.

What is your advice to students who come in worried about their job prospects?
As always, and especially during a tightening job market, we stress the importance of networking among the Bowdoin alumni network and beyond. Bowdoin alumni involved in the Bowdoin Career Advisory Network, parents, faculty and staff are all natural and enthusiastic resources to inform and connect students to career advice across a great diversity of industries.

Parents and alumni that might provide an internship or job opportunity are encouraged to contact Career Planning at (207) 725-3717 about setting up a resume referral or campus recruiting program.

Our staff assists students in preparing to network and provides specific suggestions regarding how to begin the process. Alumni are our most valuable allies in opening the door of opportunity for current Bowdoin students.

What trends are you seeing right now?
Despite the turmoil of the financial markets the number of employers visiting campus this fall rose 26 percent over last year (which was also up 33 percent from the prior year). We attribute this trend to our aggressive efforts to bring new employers to campus via alumni and parent connections.

The diverse career interests of Bowdoin students also insulate us from the hiring challenges that might occur if a small number of employers responsible for hiring large numbers of students each year decided to reduce hiring.

While a number of larger banks have reduced or eliminated hiring this year at Bowdoin and beyond, mid-market and boutique investment management firms are replacing them in the on-campus employer mix. In addition, students who previously might have solely focused on finance are broadening their searches to including consulting and other industries.

Interest in opportunities to serve the common good offered by organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America remains strong. In fact, for the Class of 2008, Teach for America was our top-hiring employer with 12 graduating students. In addition, Bowdoin's recent decision to move to a no-loan financial aid policy allows students the flexibility to pursue a career that is meaningful without consideration for compensation level.

Get more information about Career Planning here.


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