Connecting St. John’s students with prospective employers and meaningful professional opportunities has always been the goal of University Career Services (UCS). In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the services take on a different—but no less meaningful—character.
“Things look different now,” observed Paulette Gonzalez-Sierchio, Executive Director of University Career Services, adding that many in-person events transitioned to a virtual setting last spring, and several are now specifically targeted to certain academic programs.
UCS focuses on four pillars: employer connections, career advisement, student leadership development, and mentoring. The link that runs through all of these pillars is student engagement, with the goal of making St. John’s students the best candidates for an open position.
Career fairs are held virtually, including events targeted to majors such as Pharmacy and Accounting, but UCS is also vigorously making use of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to connect students with prospective employers, as well as with alumni who want to provide their fellow Johnnies with career advice, internship opportunities, or mentorship.
For example, every Tuesday and Wednesday night a UCS advisor hosts a St. John’s alumnus or alumna from a given field for an Instagram Live conversation. Ms. Gonzalez-Sierchio noted that she has witnessed many alumni who lived through the global financial crisis of 2008 reassure students that they will emerge successfully from today’s challenges.
“Employers are hiring,” Ms. Gonzalez-Sierchio stressed. “There are full-time positions out there. This environment is so overwhelming for our students, and it is just paralyzing. They think there is nothing available, so they will just wait until next year or until someone tells them it is ok. But the time is now.”
Donna Haynes, Senior Director of Employer Relations, echoed Ms. Gonzalez-Sierchio’s sentiments. “We continue to prepare our students for the job market, whether it is one-on-one or with a series of videos our team has created. We hold information sessions virtually and try to make them as realistic as possible—as if they were sitting with a prospective employer during common hour.”
Employers who have participated in these information sessions include American Express, Deloitte, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, HarperCollins Publishers, the New York Mets, and Northwell Health, to name a few.
Ms. Haynes explained that UCS is using various online platforms to ensure that students with different comfort levels and backgrounds feel at ease. During last month’s “Meet the Midsized Accounting Firms” networking event, students rotated through a series of virtual “rooms” to connect and network with more than 10 midsized accounting firms. UCS used Webex’s Breakout Sessions feature to place students and employers into smaller groups to provide a more personalized networking experience.
For their government and nonprofit industry networking event held earlier this month, UCS used the Microsoft Teams platform to simulate a virtual networking event where students “pop in” to a room to meet with one of 23 government and nonprofit organizations to learn about career opportunities.
Ms. Haynes said that everyone is still adapting to the “new normal” and are learning as they go.
“We continue to offer what we offered in person, but are pursuing new ways to connect—both for our teams to connect with students, and for employers to connect with our students,” Ms. Haynes explained. “We are going to take what we learn and develop a program for the spring that is equally comprehensive.”
Ms. Gonzalez-Sierchio recalled that as soon as St. John’s transitioned to online learning last spring, her team did not miss a beat. “The minute we went remote, our team used technology and personal connectivity to continue advising our students. We spent the entire summer not only working with our students but also with our alumni, because we know many of them are displaced or exploring new opportunities.”
Communication Arts major Hannah M. Myers found last month’s Virtual Career Fair to be extremely well organized. “I am just starting to look into internships, and everyone in UCS made it such a great experience and could not be more helpful.” A sophomore, Hannah is exploring several potential opportunities. “My field is really competitive, so it is important for me to get a head start. This will not be my last career fair!”