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Making the Most of Your Virtual Career Center


shutterstock_82478056Online students are not always aware of all of the resources available to them, including career centers. Just like their traditional, on-campus counterparts, professional career practitioners at online institutions provide valuable services for students.

If you are currently an online student, or are considering enrolling in an online program, career goals may be a significant motivator as you choose your courses and other educational opportunities. Research from the Noel-Levitz higher education consulting group finds that online learners are often attracted to the convenience and flexibility afforded by these programs, in addition to the ability to study around their existing work schedules. Online graduates are also finding that employers’ acceptance of online learning as preparation for the workplace is improving.

What Can You Expect?

Career centers can help you make the transition from student to employee, whether you are entering the workforce for the first time, or are seeking career advancement or changing to a new field through online higher education options. From lists of job sites and webinars to career fairs and one-on-one interview practice, you can find the assistance you need for career decision-making and the job search process.

In 2011 I conducted a research project to find out more about how online career centers provide this critical support to online students. Since that time, the number of online students has grown, as well as the support services available to them through their higher education institutions. From the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) 2012-2013 Benchmark Survey, some of the most typical career services (offered by over 90% of the centers responding) include:

  • Career counseling by appointment
  • Career fairs
  • Assistance with internships
  • Career assessment tools

This survey was conducted with primarily campus-based career centers, but these services exist (and are popular) online, too. Here are a few examples of how online schools and programs are meeting students’ career development and job search needs with similar opportunities:

  • Liberty University’s Career Center serves its large online student population with 30-minute individual counseling appointments by phone.
  • Virtual career fairs are just one way that Kaplan University’s Career Services professionals connect students and alumni with potential employers.
  • Internships and fellowship information can be found through online listings like those presented by American Public University.
  • University of Phoenix Career Services provides access to career exploration tools, including an online career interest profiler to help students assess work preferences and their potential fit with various career fields.
  • Online services are no longer unique to online programs. For example, the NACE study highlights that “approximately 64% of career centers report online counseling,” which predominately takes place via email. On-campus career centers are also finding that they serve an increasingly online population, as more traditional students engage in online course work and enrolled non-traditional students (adults who may also be working) look for support outside of regular business hours. Texas A&M University – Kingsville is just one traditional institution developing career services specifically for its online and distance students.

    Innovation

    As noted in an article this month from the Society for Human Resource Management, “these days, college career center staff members tweet job postings, teach students to interview via Skype, pick exactly the right candidates for recruiters, and train students in how to create their brands on social media.” You may be surprised at the number of ways in which you can interact with your school’s career advisors and related resources.

    Communication Options

    As technologies evolve and capabilities expand, so does the assistance available. A recent conversation with Lisa Cook, Director of Walden University’s Career Services Center, revealed that innovations are underway as virtual career centers improve access to services. According to Cook, “the innovations lie in the ways we are reaching students in real-time through webinars and phone advising.” She also mentioned that instant messaging is a possibility for online career professionals to quickly answer student questions.

    Blogs

    Walden’s online resources also include social media options, as they invite current and prospective students to “get connected” with the career center through LinkedIn, Twitter, and an active blog. Career centers at a range of institutions now use blogs as a platform to notify students of upcoming events, current trends, and new resources. Human resources professional Jessica Miller-Merrell recognized these efforts last week with her list of top college career services blogs.

    Mobile Apps

    Mobile learning is not just for course work. Several career services centers make their resources available through apps for smartphones and tablets. Take a look at Purdue University Calumet Career Services’ iPhone app. Among the features available, students and alumni can “get live feeds on the latest part-time, full-time, and internship opportunities.” An Android app from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Career Services office includes quick access to the appointment system, as well as job search tips. The University of North Carolina’s Career Services office provides a list of career-related apps for the iPad, and Goshen College links to a variety of ePortfolio apps.

    Social Media

    Developing a professional online presence and learning how to communicate in this space can be beneficial while you are a student and after graduation. Virtual and campus-based career centers are also offering students some assistance with social media. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are just a few of the social networks used by both job seekers and employers. Your career center may be able to advise you with social media tasks such as setting up a profile, selecting a picture, building an online network, and joining online professional communities.

    Making the Connections

    Making the transition from student to career can be complex, and as Cook mentioned, “the degree alone will seldom be enough … new experience and new networking contacts are key to career success.” She recommends that online students, even those who may already work full-time, “take advantage of opportunities like internships and service learning for academic credit to gain experience and references.” Volunteer and community service experience can also bring value related to future employment.

    University of Kansas junior Lindsey Mayfield, through her U.S. News Education blog, advises students to “simply show up.” She admits to being aware of career-related events and assistance, but not following though. No matter where you are in your career development or job search, the career professionals at your school’s center are ready and willing to help, but it’s important for you to walk through the virtual door to get it all started.

    How do you connect with opportunities to gain skills and experience? Where do you get information about the world of work and your fit with the needs of today’s employers? It’s never too soon to find out more about how your school’s career center can support you, but none of these services will be effective until you reach out.

May 20th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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