New Career Center Director Charts Ambitious Course

New Career Center Director Charts Ambitious Course

Hand-written across the whiteboard in Jim Allison’s office is an extensive list of goals. These range from increasing the number of internships and jobs that students at the College secure to enhancing partnerships with faculty members across campus. Allison, the new executive director of the College’s Career Center, is outwardly ambitious yet wholly pragmatic. Though he’s been in this role for just six months, he has already begun to make substantial inroads toward tackling his list of goals. The College Today sat down with him to learn more about what’s going on at the center, which is part of the Division of Student Affairs, and what the future holds for this vital branch of the College.

Q: How has your first semester here been?

It’s been good, and encouraging. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people across campus are excited to do some new things and collaborate with our office. They’re enthusiastic and energized.

A recent career fair at the College.

Q: What are your greatest challenges?

Right now, we have seven full-time employees in an office serving over 10,000 undergrads and graduate students. We’re also charged with providing assistance as needed to the entire alumni base as well. And, we oversee students who are employed on campus, which is roughly 1,300 individuals per semester. So, there’s a lot to attend to each day.

Q: What would you identify as highlights from the past semester?

Three things come to mind. First, as a college, we were able to secure $25,000 in funding to support internships. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s a very good start. This will support summer internships for 12 students who were selected this fall. The award opportunity was offered to all juniors and we had 33 applicants. These 12 students are going to grow in so many ways. We fully expect them to become campus leaders, in addition to securing competitive internships.

How this program operates is that myself and another colleague are working one-on-one with these students going over things like resume preparation, cover letter prep, interview prep, how to apply for an internship, etc. Ultimately, we want these students to gain truly useful experiences in what we hope will be high profile internships. We’re encouraging them to think outside of Charleston. The stipend they receive in this program essentially makes it possible for them to take an internship in Atlanta or New York or wherever the best opportunity may be. We’re really indebted to the parent who made this gift because it presents a pivotal opportunity for these 12 students, and highlights the importance of experiential education.

The second highlight is the partnership we’ve established with Divya Bhati and her colleagues in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning. They have data on our students at graduation one year out, two years out, etc., from alumni surveys and exit surveys on career outcomes. With their assistance, we’re now capturing employment and internship data six months out from graduation. This is all very helpful because it will help us present an accurate picture regarding what jobs various graduates secure, what grad school programs they’re accepted into and what internships they have, especially for the students who land a position near graduation or immediately following graduation.

Allison in his office.

As we move forward, we’ll refine this data so that it’s richer, more useful and more reliable. That will be a big win for us. I’ll be able to present that data to deans and department chairs and check it against the data they have to further describe the value of an education from the College of Charleston.

And the third highlight is the relationship we’ve begun to build with the Division of Marketing and Communications. We have an important story to tell about how competitive the College is regarding internships and how competitive our job outcomes are and what our grad school acceptance numbers are, etc. We want to get that information out there. It relates to recruitment, it relates to fundraising and it’s really critical for the College as we promote our services to prospective constituents in a competitive market.

Q: So, how is the College doing regarding internship placement, job placement and grad school acceptance?

Actually, we’re doing well, especially in generating open/available internships and jobs. I’m still assembling all the most recent data, but I can tell you that we have more employers who want to hire our students than we have students who are job ready. That’s the case by a wide margin. We also have alumni who want to offer opportunities to our students.

In October, we had two, three or four employers on campus most days. About half of those were hosted by the Career Center. The reality is that we had employers on campus almost daily during the fall semester. Honestly, the activity and the desire of employers and alumni is at a level where, if we had one more full-time staff member working on employer outreach to follow up with all of these companies, we could have employers in the Career Center seeking to hire virtually every day. To the credit of the College, our brand, and the Career Center, the interest level on the part of employers actually surpasses our current staffing available to fully manage that activity, which is a good problem to have.

“I can tell you that we have more employers who want to hire our students than we have students who are job ready. That’s the case by a wide margin.”

-Jim Allison, executive director, Career Center

And that’s a message that I want to get out to students and prospective students and their families – we have open, available internships and jobs. However, you must act now. Don’t wait; partner with the Career Center right away.

I also want them to know that our office will help students get internships. National data indicates that nearly two thirds of all interns, no matter what industry they’re in, wind up with full-time job offers, due to the internship. We joke around the office about making up T-shirts that read “Two Thirds.” But essentially there’s a progression formula at work here. Job shadowing, early engagement, mentoring and similar experiences lead to internships and practical experience, which directly impacts full-time employment offers.

Q: It’s clear that you have a passion for this work. What’s at the root of that?

Well, my grandfathers on both sides were machinists in the North Carolina textile industry. They came from farming families; very agrarian, very hands-on, very hardworking. My dad was in textiles, but he was in management and my mom was a school teacher. I came of age during a time when the textile industry was collapsing in the U.S. Watching that fall apart, the writing was on the wall for me. So, I went to college, but I didn’t take advantage of the career center there. It turns out, I didn’t even have an approved, critiqued résumé when I graduated.

Student job seekers meet employer-exhibitors at a recent career fair on campus.

The two years after college were very difficult. I had a series of jobs, but it was tough. I didn’t have anyone to offer me career assessment. My mom and dad encouraged me, but they didn’t have the professional network to offer me options or career advice. So, when I eventually went to graduate school, I was totally motivated. I was savvy, hungry, all of that. I was well aware that I couldn’t mess around. My past experiences impressed upon me the importance of on-campus career centers.

As an undergraduate, I used to walk past the career center every day, but I never went there. I should have been made to go there.  Not using the career center as an undergraduate student likely cost me four to five years in my career progression, financial savings and investments, and life planning. This is why I am so passionate about assisting students now.

I also know now that a high percentage of college students have similar experiences. Roughly 20 percent of students are confused about career options and don’t develop a career path before graduation. That’s the case at almost every college. So, a functioning, supportive and proactive career center really has an important role to play.

Q: What’s the outlook for the new year?

In the Career Center, we’re trying to affect a culture shift. We want students to be aware of the opportunities we can bring their way. They need to know that Charleston has a tremendous amount going for it, that employers are eager to come here and meet with students. My main message for students is, don’t graduate without using the Career Center. Email us. Call us. Attend a program. Have us critique your résumé or ask for help in developing a job search strategy, graduate school plan or how to secure interviews, and much more. Partner with us and trust us to help you.