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Career Roadmap helps Willamette students succeed in today's job market

Jerry Houser once had to entice students with free pizza to get them to visit Career Services.

But through an innovative program launched last year called “The Career Roadmap,” those days have ended.

“I kept getting frustrated when students showed up as seniors, when they should be showing up as sophomores,” says Houser, director of Career Services at Willamette University. “Students don’t know what job-search skills they need because they haven’t needed them yet.”

Similar to efforts made at Willamette’s graduate schools — such as promoting networking activities, cultivating relationships with successful alumni and securing internships for credit — Houser’s team is leading the way in showing students how to best market their skills to prospective employers.

They do this by partnering with faculty, who assign career-building exercises as part of their course requirements. This drives students to complete a series of tasks while taking up none of the professors’ time.

Additionally, Houser subs for teachers who would otherwise cancel their classes — seizing yet another opportunity to share his expertise using The Career Roadmap. This year alone, Houser has subbed for 50 classes attended by a total of 700 students.

A quarter of Willamette’s faculty members are taking part in the project so far, and 12 of the university’s 40 academic majors — including anthropology, music and biology — are assigning Career Roadmap homework in select courses.

Within four years, Houser hopes to have engaged all seniors of every major in the program, which recently earned an Innovation Award from the Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges and Employers.

“Our goal is for every senior to have a career plan,” he says. “Whether it’s grad school or employment, it must be intentional. They need to have a strategy.”

Professional Guidance

Throwing students into the job market without proper training is like expecting them to drive without ever having been behind the wheel, Houser says. Through The Career Roadmap, though, students develop effective interviewing techniques, build professional websites and create LinkedIn profiles. They also attend webinars on career planning strategies and learn how to best format their resumes.

“There are many strategies students can learn,” Houser says. “We give them the secret weapons to succeed.”

Emily Miller ’15, for one, appreciates the efforts Career Services is making. She said The Career Roadmap requires students to take several concrete steps to be prepared professionally.

“The career counselors really are superb, and they are available and ready to help every student for free,” she says. “That is an amazing opportunity.”

Anthropology Professor Pamela Moro agrees, saying her faculty are committed to helping students in every way possible.

“We know our students take away from Willamette valuable skills, but they need to explain to potential employers exactly what it is they learned as anthropology students that is relevant and useful,” she says. “The Career Center’s Roadmap has been very helpful with that.” 

Landing the Job

Because of advances in technology, Willamette developed The Virtual Career Center, where students have 24/7 access to career testing, resume assistance and webinars. These services marry well with what’s offered by Willamette’s graduate schools.

At the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, for example, staff members take students to visit alumni at such companies as Microsoft, Amazon and Bank of America, and they require students to complete mock applications for fictional jobs.

Because of these and other initiatives, Beth Ursin, director of Career Management, says 80 percent of Atkinson’s 2011 graduates found jobs within 90 days of graduating.

“We believe it’s much more important to teach students how to find jobs since these are skills that they’re going to need time and time again in the future,” she says.

An economics major, Ryan Smith ’12 says he now knows the importance of branding himself to employers, and believes all students can benefit from the skills they learn through The Career Roadmap.

“I no longer have that hopeless feeling that I know a lot of students get when graduation comes near,” says Smith, who secured an internship with Northwestern Mutual. “After completing The Career Roadmap activities, I realized how important it was to put myself out there, and obtained an internship that will lead to a full-time job when I graduate in May.”