Good Life

Penn State graduates hit the job market with diplomas, ambition

Graduates excitedly wait to cross the stage during the 2013 Penn State summer commencement at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Graduates excitedly wait to cross the stage during the 2013 Penn State summer commencement at the Bryce Jordan Center. CDT photo

This weekend, Penn State’s latest product will hit the job market.

The class of 2015 is about to roll off the assembly line, a sleek, polished piece of work that has been molded and shaped meticulously by a team of investors and specialists over a period of years.

It’s a multi-functional unit, sporting advanced communications features, multimedia capabilities and an operating system that’s rumored to be at least more user-friendly than Siri.

The product will be released into the world following a series of staggered commencement ceremonies this weekend, whereby the individual components will probably pose for pictures, hug their parents and get ready to go to work.

That’s where the staff at Penn State Career Services comes in handy.

On an industrial level, the staff at career services would handle the product’s marketing and distribution — like if a salesman could teach a set of steak knives to sell and promote itself.

At Penn State, they do this by holding seminars, scheduling career fairs, and working one-on-one with students to develop job-search strategies and techniques.

According to Bob Orndorff, senior director of Penn State Career Services, the availability of these kinds of resources has become a major factor for both parents and students looking to begin their college education.

“We’re finding ourselves presenting to potential students and parents much more than we ever were,” Orndorff said.

The Bank of America Career Services Center on campus reflects what Orndorff referred to as the golden age of career services. The building has a career library, an event space that can hold up to 100 people and 44 interview rooms for visiting recruiters to utilize.

To what extent students choose to make use of these resources is up to them.

“It’s a minority percentage that actually comes in for long-term counseling,” Matt Ishler, associate director of career counseling and planning, said.

Ishler and Orndorff attributed this to students’ schedules already consumed by classes, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and a social life, making the seemingly far-off specter of post-collegiate employment the easiest thing to put on the back burner.

While impending graduation does not by any means terminate a student’s access to these resources, it does place a time crunch on what would ideally be a more extensive and methodical strategy.

“We can’t do a lot of the molding process. At that point we’re really doing more of a polishing,” Orndorff said.

Career Services attempts to begin building relationships with students from the moment they set foot on campus, speaking with parents at freshman orientation and holding an open house that is one of their best-attended events of year.

Ishler said he encourages students debating a potential career path to take into consideration the totality of their college experience and to consider what they enjoyed about the clubs and activities they engaged in outside of their major. He said doing so helps them to identify patterns, skills and experiences that grant a sense of accomplishment.

“I think that the best way to think about accepting a position is to think about that overall life satisfaction,” Ishler said.

Graduating senior Lauren Lewis arrived on campus three years ago as a business major. She lasted two months before her father suggested that she consider journalism.

“I wanted to do advocacy, but I could also write (with that major),” Lewis said.

She describes her job search as being mostly self-motivated and plans to take some time after graduation to travel and take on freelance assignments, hopefully finding a nice place to settle along the way.

“I don’t know if it’s a good plan. It isn’t tested or tried and true,” Lewis said.

But she may be on to something.

Ishler said job hunters should take into consideration the type of environment and opportunities they want at their disposal.

Penn State graduate Liz Campo knew she wanted to shake things up.

After a childhood spent outside of Philadelphia and spending six and a half years in State College as a part of Penn State’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs, Campo was eager to explore new climates and new horizons.

Currently a project engineer at 3M in Austin, Texas, Campo enjoys that the city gives her ample access to other young people and weather that allows her to make the most of her surroundings outside of work.

She said that it was an adjustment going from being surrounded by classmates to colleagues.

“I went from being among peers, where we all had the same level of experience, to being in a group setting with a range of 20 to 30 years of experience,” Campo said.

Which isn’t to say that she was a complete novice. Campo held a variety of internships throughout her academic career at Penn State, achievements that made things easier when Ishler helped her to build an online network with tools like Linkedin and Indeed.

Experience also helped Campo to gain surer footing once she was finally on the job.

“I was able to come in and hit the ground running and see all of the possibilities there are at a company like 3M,” Campo said.

Still, hitting the ground at all took some time. Campo spent almost three months searching before she was offered her position at 3M.

The career hunt was a job unto itself, one that didn’t always yield immediate or even timely returns.

“It was funny. A year after applying, I was still getting emails from companies saying ‘Thank you for applying,’ ” Campo said.

Ishler encourages students to persevere and not expect instant gratification.

“Students really need to get a thick skin,” Ishler said.

The prospect of potential unemployment doesn’t intimidate Lewis, who has managed her checking account and paid her own credit card bills since she got her first job at the age of 16.

Years of financial responsibility have left her with an appreciation for her own strengths, a way with words and an aptitude for people that she is confident will help her land that next job — even if it’s not strictly journalism.

“I’m not really afraid moving forward that I won’t be able to find a job,” Lewis said.