Q&A

 

Cindy Parker on students, jobs and making connections

 

Director of Career Services Cindy Parker has been helping Colby students blaze trails towards successful careers since 1991. Her own experience of liberal arts education began at Carleton College, and she holds an M.B.A. from Indiana University. In September Colby caught up with Cindy to talk about resources available through Career Services.

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Are you busy yet in Career Services or does it take a while for things to get rolling?
On the day before classes started, our appointments were already full. We had students in talking to four counselors most of the day.

So what do you do for all those people?
We have an online alumni directory that is accessible not only to alums but to all the students on campus. A student can go in and search by career field, by the name of an employer or by location. They might want to try to find an internship or just do some networking with people over the summer. We also have a very popular job-shadow day over fall break. This provides a way for a student to go and spend a few hours with someone working in a field that they think might appeal to them. An inside view can be very helpful.

Everybody talks about internships now. Is that a relatively recent trend?
I would say it's certainly been around for many years. But in the last five or six years it's become an accepted part of the college experience. Employers tell us that it's often the defining difference in making a hiring choice.

If a student hasn't had an internship yet, should that student-or that student's parents-panic?
No. Panic isn't going to help anybody. But I think what you really want to do is some serious planning. Look at where the opportunities are over the next four years to do an internship. The first of those opportunities might be the summer. The second opportunity and probably the biggest, most important one is January. Upperclassmen are not required to be on campus [during Jan Plan]. Also, something that many students don't think about is that doing an internship the summer after graduation is also perfectly acceptable. Internships are not limited to students that are still enrolled.

If you had to give one piece of advice to students and parents, what would it be?
Use alumni to network, both for informational interviewing and then to help find an internship and then to help find a job. Networking is probably the biggest piece of advice. You cannot be shy. We're here to give a lot of help in that.

So Colby students shouldn't feel like they're imposing on someone?
Not at all. When we do surveys of alumni to ask about ways that they want to help students, one of the biggest things they tell us is, "Tell students to call us. We want to help tell them what it's like to work in this field or about ways to find an internship or a job." They're very helpful.

What about grad school?
About 80 percent of Colby alumni will end up doing grad work. But only about 15 percent end up doing it the year immediately after graduation. This is very typical. Grad programs really like students to be sure that this is the program they want to enter, and increasingly they like students to have some experience in that field before they come to grad school. One way we can help is making sure that students understand that and, if they aren't ready to go immediately to grad school, to figure out what would be the best thing to do in that year or two that would strengthen their application.

Do you ever feel, doing this, that there's some kind of overlap between parenting and this job?
Absolutely. Having my own children go through college, there is no question that when I sit with a student in my role as career counselor there's a little bit of parenting going on there. I can't help but think how I would feel if this was my son or daughter, but at the same time I need to take myself out of the subjective, more emotional role and bring some objectivity and a little bit of the taskmaster. I'm sort of balancing on the fence between understanding how they feel and how I would feel with my own daughter. [I want to say] "I know this is hard, but here's the benefit and here's why you really need to do it."

So if you want a job, this is the way to go?
I've never had a student come back and say, "That was bad advice. I wish I hadn't done that." They come back and say, "Tell them to talk to alums. Tell them to talk to people. Tell them to do internships."