Rachel Wood likes the numbers from Kalamazoo College’s most recent (class of 2016) First Destination Survey, especially participation (94 percent) and jobs secured (92 percent).
“They suggest that the combination of the liberal arts and the career programs at K are a great value for life after K,” says Wood, the assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD). Wood has coordinated the survey data on behalf of the College for many years; in 2013 she reshaped the questions (according to guidelines established by the National Association of Colleges and Employers) to yield more reliable comparisons from year to year.
Results from the seven years K has conducted the survey or its consanguine forbears suggest several interesting trends. More K students seek immediate employment after graduation (69 percent in 2016; 34 percent in 2010, the survey’s first year). Fewer seek to enroll immediately in graduate school or other forms of continuing education (17 percent in 2016 versus 32 percent in 2010).
Whichever of these two pathways new alumni choose, the upward trend of their success is impressive. Of new alumni seeking employment in 2016, 92 percent secured jobs within six months of graduation (up from 70 percent in 2010). Of those who wanted “graduate school/continuing education,” 80 percent were enrolled within in six months (up from 66 percent in 2010).
Overall participation in the survey hit its highest mark ever this year—94 percent, up from 75 percent in 2010. The reason? “We keep the survey open longer, from mid-May to December,” explains Wood. “We also rely on humor in our encouragements, take advantage of social media, and remind new alums of a very valuable quid pro quo: that CCPD services are open to them for life.
“Of course,” admits Wood with a smile, “that’s true for all alumni, regardless of age or whether they participated in the survey.”
Wood says that in 2015-16 some 71 percent of K students used one or more of the programs and services provided by the CCPD, and she believes the survey numbers reflect the growth in number and effectiveness of those programs and services.
Like basic career coaching, which starts with conversations to help students better connect their strengths and interests with potential job opportunities. “We encourage students to have those conversations with us as early as possible,” says Wood. The sooner, the better, especially for the possibility of informal job shadowing. “We help students find and reach out to alumni willing to speak with students in their workplaces, for periods of time ranging a half day to a week.” Such early career investigations give students greater insight down the road for choosing an internship that best fulfills their career education needs and expectations.
The CCPD also provides assistance with professional document creation—both online and on paper—and with mock interviews for employment or graduate school. Documents include, among others, profiles on web platforms like LinkedIn, résumés, specialized cover letters and personal statements for graduate schools.
“The standards for these materials change rapidly,” explains Wood. “We help alumni eliminate from their documents any sense of outdated-ness that might reduce their chances to get a foot in the door for an interview.”
The Center’s “mock” interviews are quite real. Whenever possible, instead of CCPD staff, outside volunteers (often alumni) agree to simulate interviews in their career fields, either in person, by phone, by Skype and even (occasionally) all of the above.
A “mock” so close to real requires broad preparation. Not to worry, CCPD has workshops and special events for that, and more. For example, Wood and her colleagues often arrange lunch meetings—called “Passions to Professions”—that connect students with alumni on campus for various reasons, often for various classroom presentations.
“These informal gatherings in Welles are an opportunity for students to network with alumni for advice based on their career pathways,” says Wood.
Other networking events include CCPD’s “Connection Reception” (which occurs during homecoming weekend, when hundreds of alumni are on campus) as well as Recruiting Expos and Career Fairs, at both K and Western Michigan University (CCPD provides buses for the latter).
And CCPD continues the K-Plan tradition of offering internships (progeny of what many older alums remember as the “career service” quarter). CCPD also provides stipends in order to ensure access to an internship experience for all students.
At K the internship program has expanded to include externships—shorter career explorations that involve homestays with alumni. “Those homestays,” says Wood, “make the value of our externships unique among similar programs in the country.”
Data from the three most recent graduating classes indicate that a little more than 30 percent of students complete at least one K externship or internship. And during the last four summers CCPD has dispersed an average of $102,000 for internship stipend support.
This impressive combination of programs and services contributes to the equally impressive numbers of the First Destination Survey, according to Wood, including the large percentage of students seeking work who find it within six months. Does the survey provide any insight regarding satisfaction with those jobs?
“We pose two questions to all respondents,” says Wood. That “all” includes those seeking and enrolled in grad school and the 7 percent who secure “volunteer or service programs” like the Peace Corps and Teach For America.
“We ask ‘How closely related is your major to your first destination activity?’ and ‘How satisfied are you with your first destination activity?’” Wood says.
The answers, respectively, she adds: “‘It doesn’t always connect’ and ‘I love it!’ And, together, those answers exalt the value of the liberal arts,” specifically, the ability to navigate a life (and job market) that is more nonlinear than linear and to find work that feeds the soul as well as the body.