Career Linkages Trains Students, Alumni to Market Themselves

Photo of Nolan Brunnworth, St. Louis career specialist in Career Linkages’ St. Louis Outreach Office, assists Kevina Cassell, a Southeast graduate student from Atlanta, Ga., with her job search.

Nolan Brunnworth, St. Louis career specialist in Career Linkages’ St. Louis Outreach Office, assists Kevina Cassell, a Southeast graduate student from Atlanta, Ga., with her job search.  

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Sept. 4, 2008 – Job hunters often need all the help they can get, whether they’re recent college graduates or those seeking to make a mid-life career change. Southeast’s Department of Career Linkages is providing this assistance and more.

“The way we approach career services is different than the traditional approach most universities take,” said Nolan Brunnworth, who serves as the St. Louis career specialist in Career Linkages’ St. Louis Outreach Office. “We’re not just helping them with their resume and sending them out the door.”

The Career Linkages staff, which includes several seasoned professionals as career advisors, starts preparing students for a successful job search from the beginning of their college career. Through a series of career exploration steps starting their freshman year, students identify their career path and learn to prepare effective resumes and cover letters. They also have the opportunity to work with career advisors, an internship coordinator and Brunnworth to identify internships and career opportunities.

“With typical career service programs, students use them at the end of their college career,” said Joyce Hunter, Career Linkages’ experiential learning (internship) coordinator. “Our students get involved from the beginning, which is much more progressive. Other universities out there don’t have this vision. When I consult with colleagues at other universities, they’re amazed that we offer something like this for students. We’re teaching students a process that will serve them for the rest of their career. I can tell from recruiters’ reactions that this program is making a difference for our students,” she said. “It gives them an edge.”

The program requires students to complete four zero-credit, no-cost “courses,” or career proficiency checks, which help them define and prepare for the right career path.

The first proficiency check requires students to take an online career assessment during their first two semesters, which helps them pick a major, according to Warren Skinner, assistant director of Career Linkages. 

“If they’ve already picked a major, the online assessment will confirm it or give them ideas they haven’t thought of before,” Skinner said. “It identifies their skills and interests. In any major, there may be hundreds of jobs. This narrows it down and points them in the right direction,” he said.

The second career proficiency check requires students to meet with one of Career Linkages’ career advisors to discuss the results of their career assessment. The University’s career advisors are strategically located both on campus and at several of Southeast’s regional campuses, with two career advisors housed in Sikeston, Kennett and Malden, Mo.,

Six career advisors are provided through Southeast’s partnership with the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, which assists clients and employers in economic development by connecting and matching employees’ talents and credentials with employer needs.

The advisors help students verify that their academic plans match their profile of talents, abilities and interests, and also provide students with more assistance in exploring possible career paths.

“Our job is to help them find the right place,” Skinner said. “The important thing is for students to ultimately be happy with the job they have, because if they’re not happy, they’re not going to do it well. If we make sure they’re happy with their major, they’ll be happy with the direction of their careers.

“Our career advisors’ professional experience covers a wide spectrum, from business to education to criminal justice and more,” Skinner added. “Their experience is a great advantage to students. It’s very beneficial to talk to someone who’s been out in the world quite a while and worked in the field you’re interested in.”

“Our staff has been there and knows what it takes,” Brunnworth added. “We know the different aspects of business and industry, and we know what they’re looking for. The advice we can give students is invaluable.”  

Their experience and advice helped Josh Hanner, who graduated in 2007, to define a career path.

“After sitting down with a few members of the Career Linkages staff, I was able to narrow down the type of career that would best suit me,” he said. “Most of the staff had held previous jobs in the business sector and were able to help me narrow down and choose a good career path. They gave me a lot of advice on different career choices, but ultimately let me choose for myself.”

The second proficiency check concludes with students registering for MissouriCareerSource.com, Missouri’s Web-based career service that matches prospective employees with potential employers.

The third career proficiency check asks students to demonstrate their ability to prepare a resume and cover letter for a mock position and complete a personal profile on MissouriCareerSource.com. The fourth proficiency check requires students to polish their cover letter and resume and update their MissouriCareerSource.com profiles. Career Linkages advisors help students through this process by training them to recognize their transferable skills, convey them as marketable experience on their resume, and customize their resume to fit the job. Academic program leaders within many departments on campus also take the process a step further by helping students tailor their resumes to fit the expectations of their specific career field.

“Getting the right resume to the right company is an art form,” Brunnworth said. “It takes many people years after they get out of college to realize and perfect this. Our program helps them learn how to tailor their resume to each job or company.”

“Many students don’t realize how to showcase skills they’ve honed through being involved with organizations on campus or working part-time jobs during college,” Hunter added. “Some of these experiences can translate into amazing skills for students to communicate to potential employers.”

“Students don’t understand how valuable these skills are,” Brunnworth said.

Jessica Baldwin, who graduated in May, was one of these students. Brunnworth’s consultation helped her realize how marketable the leadership roles she held in her sorority could be.

“Nolan went over all of my strengths that needed to be brought out in my resume,” she said. “He also showed me how to look at a potential weakness with a new perspective and turn it into a strength. Meeting with Nolan wasn’t only about the connections that he offered. It allowed me to take a whole new perspective on looking for a job. I adopted a new confidence in what I could offer potential employers.

Hanner also appreciated the assistance he received to bring his resume up-to-speed.

“When I started my job search, the staff helped me completely re-do my resume to make it look more professional,” he said.

In addition to the career proficiency checks, Hunter and Brunnworth consult one-on-one with students to conduct a personalized, proactive internship or job search when the time comes.

“We sit down with them and do a customized job search,” Brunnworth said. “We look at their leadership skills and work experience, analyze their transferable job skills, and discuss the types of companies they’re interested in working for. We help them launch a proactive job search by narrowing the focus and targeting specific employers instead of just hopping onto Monster. We help them map their knowledge, skills and abilities to a particular employer and career path,” he added.

Brunnworth and Hunter then take things a step farther by cultivating relationships with employers and Southeast alumni to develop internship and job opportunities for Southeast students and graduates.

“We’re out there talking with employers, touring companies and finding opportunities; we’re not just waiting for the phone to ring,” Brunnworth said.

These opportunities included Baldwin’s newly found job as an account executive at Swank Motion Pictures in St. Louis, a privately owned company that partners with major Hollywood studios to license and distribute movies to non-theatrical markets, (i.e. cruise lines, colleges and universities, public schools and libraries, correctional facilities and other markets such as parks, art museums and businesses), according to Baldwin.

“I had never heard of Swank before I met Nolan,” she said. “I went in to talk to him about my resume and career options. He had so many suggestions, and even gave me a couple of leads to follow up on. I started working at Swank about four weeks ago, and I’m so happy with the company,” Baldwin said.

“Nolan can sit with you and go over your resume and talk job search strategy with you for just an hour, and you walk out feeling completely motivated and confident to begin looking for a job,” she added.

Brunnworth’s contacts ultimately led to Hanner’s job as a business analyst at Nestle Purina Pet Care in St. Louis as well.

“Nolan had a contact at Nestle Purina who had also graduated from Southeast,” Hanner said. “I received a call from his contact, after he put in a good word for me, and proceeded to have an interview and eventually got the job.”

The employer relationships also paid off for Megan Schulte, who credits Brunnworth for helping her land her job as a project coordinator for Maritz, Inc., in Fenton, Mo., after she graduated in May. Schulte initially contacted Brunnworth for assistance in finding an internship, which she completed at Maritz last summer.

“I gained some great contacts at Maritz because of my internship,” Schulte said. “They ended up recommending me for a job opening within the company. If it wasn’t for Nolan’s help, I would not be working at Maritz right now. He was that extra intermediary that you need when you’re first starting out in the working world because you don’t have many contacts in the ‘real world’ yet.”

Schulte says the Career Linkages staff put her in contact with other companies as well, giving her the opportunity to make a choice in her job search.

“Having the Southeast network working for you greatly multiplies potential opportunities,” she said.

Recent graduates aren’t the only alumni benefiting from Southeast’s Career Linkages program. Older alumni have begun utilizing their services as well. Some seek help because of tougher economic times forcing them to make changes, while others are searching for better growth potential or reevaluating their careers and need help reinventing themselves.

“The assistance we provide for our alumni is more hands on than many other universities,” Brunnworth said. “We’re not just directing them to a job database.”

Brian Perkins is one such alumnus. Perkins, who graduated in 2001, had reached a plateau in his career by 2006 and was searching for other opportunities with more growth potential. He contacted Brunnworth, who alerted him to various opportunities and helped him set up contacts. Perkins found what he was looking for through a contact Brunnworth had with another Southeast graduate.

“Nolan and I chatted regularly, and he let me know about any opportunities he was aware of,” Perkins said. “In April 2007, I started working for a State Farm Insurance agency in Affton, Mo., owned by Christine Tessereau, a Southeast alumna.

Perkins, who previously worked in the accounting sector of the insurance industry, is selling home, auto, life and health insurance and financial services. He is working toward becoming an agent himself.

“I definitely have career advancement opportunities,” he said. “I feel like I’ll be on the path to my own agency within one to three years, if not sooner.”

Other alumni wish the program had been available to them when they were first starting their careers, Skinner said.

“We hear all the time from alumni who wish this program was in place when they were in school,” Skinner said. “Many people have a hard time getting that first job, and many times it’s that job that’s going to shape the rest of your career. This program gives our graduates a better outlook.

“We’ve done comparisons of the services we provide to the services that other Missouri state schools provide,” Skinner added. “Our program is very unique. Not many schools make career exploration a requirement, but more and more students and parents are looking for the best value for their money. They want to know if they’re going to find a job when they graduate. This program is very close to giving them the best opportunity for success that they’re going to get.”