As Southwest Minnesota State University seniors look toward commencement on May 11, their minds are not just on finals. They're also thinking about that first job.
Career Services Director Sheila Risacher and her staff have been busy helping Class of 2013 members as they prepare to enter the job market. The economy has been sluggish for several years, and Risacher said it's important for job seekers to set themselves apart early on.
Southwest Minnesota State University graduates find jobs. According to the latest data (2010 graduating seniors), of students available for related employment, 90.6 percent of SMSU graduates report finding employment in a related field, with only 1.7 percent still looking.
Risacher just received the 2011 graduation survey results, and while it's too early to go into detail, "we think the numbers will improve on the 2010 percentages," she said.
Risacher is in her 11th year at SMSU, her fourth as director of Career Services. The Stillwater native has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master's in counseling and psychology. She spent some time in the private sector in an employee assistance program, and in human resources and counseling, before coming to SMSU.
"I tell students to start looking for that first job about six months out," she said. "Except for accounting and finance majors. A lot of employers in those fields do their hiring in September and October."
The traditional resume continues to be an important tool, but Risacher tells students to target the resume and cover letter for a specific job, rather than throwing them shotgun-style at numerous jobs. "The resume gets you the interview. The interview gets you the job," she said.
"You should match the resume to the needs of the industry or employer. And if you get an interview, the decision is usually made (whether to hire or not) within the first three to five minutes."
Risacher said that it's tempting to submit resume after resume to potential employers, many of who are advertising online. But what was true a decade ago remains true today - most people get a job by networking.
"Eighty percent:" she said. "Networking is huge. It's connecting with people you know and establishing relationships. Family, friends, coworkers, people you volunteer with, all of them. You need to reach out, and be specific. Don't say you're looking for a job. Be specific about what job or field you'd like to get into."
Risacher is a huge advocate of LinkedIn, the social network for professionals. "It actually started before Facebook," said Risacher. "It has exploded in recent years and is a new way for employers to connect."
She should know. Risacher has frequently been approached about job prospects based on her own LinkedIn page. "You can't move a farm, though," she said with a laugh, referring to where she lives in rural Slayton with husband Joe and children Ryan, Michael and Emma.
Job-seekers, too, should clean up their social media. "Employers will look. Untag inappropriate photos, make sure your posts are clean, and modify your privacy settings," she said.
Risacher is unusual in that she loves to interview. "I love the exchange of information," she said. Behavioral-based interview questions are used because of the belief past performance can indicate future behavior. "It might mean they'll ask, 'Tell me how you manage a team,' or 'Tell me about a time you worked on a group project and there was a disagreement, what did you do?'"
The hot jobs in the region in the next 10 years will be, for those with post-secondary degrees, veterinarians, physical and occupational therapists, and general practitioners. For those with a bachelor's degree, accounting, computer/IT, system administrators, cost estimators and cost analysts. For those with AA degrees, wind energy, heating and cooling and occupational therapy and physical therapy assistants.
Nationally, hot jobs in the next five years will be accounting, finance, computer science, business, communication and agribusiness.
And while internships used to not be required, it's pretty much a given that students will have at least one today. "Seventy percent will have one, and 55 percent will have two or more," she said. "it helps having real-world experiences on a resume. It can increase your marketability after graduation. Internships also allow student the opportunity to discover if they really enjoy the position and industry. It's a good teaching moment and learning opportunity."
Risacher's office also helps alumni, whether newly-graduated or 20 years out. Her office has all sorts of tools to assist students in any number of ways. The office's helpful website is at: www.smsu.edu/campuslife/careerservices.