For TCU students, pathway largely paved for landing internships, jobs

By Dean Straka

The spring semester of 2016 at Texas Christian University will conclude in fewer than three weeks, and students of all classes are finalizing their plans for the summer months ahead.
Sophomore marketing major Olivia Hartjen will travel to Ethiopia for two weeks as part of an internship with the Adera Foundation, a North Texas based Christian non-profit organization aimed at improving peoples’ lives around the world.
Hartjen discovered the internship opportunity at the TCU Career and Intern Expo, an event hosted in February at the University Recreation Center in which businesses from varying fields showcased potential employment opportunities for university students.
“It was easier to find an internship than it probably should have been,” Hartjen said. “I wasn’t expecting to find anything that necessarily fit my unique desire to do ministry non-profit with business, but I found it, interviewed with them, and now I’m getting to do it.”
Hartjen’s surprisingly simple road to finding an internship that suited her skills and passions was not a matter of sheer luck.
In an age where so many college students, including Hartjen, have expressed how daunting it can seemingly be to land an internship or post-graduate job, the task is not as difficult as it may appear, at least for TCU students. The university has invested in countless efforts to ensure that students have a well-paved path to successfully finding and landing employment when the occasion calls for it.
The most prominent resource that the university boasts in preparing students for the work-force is the Center for Career and Professional Development, as sector of the university’s student affairs department.
John Thompson, the executive director of the center, said that a core function of the center is to assist students in developing a plan that will successfully allow them to achieve their career goals.
“We help you set up a path,” Thompson said. “We recommend to you all how to do resumes, cover letters, how to search for jobs; all the things that are fundamental for career success.”
Thompson said the process is fined tuned right down each student’s area of study, with the center providing a sample resume for every major at the university
“It’s really important that we provide this service,” Thompson said. “Each college has a consultant that can review your resume and cover letter, and tell you what your materials ought to look like.”
The assistance doesn’t stop with resume and cover letter guidance. Thompson added that the center provides mock interviews for students, complete with video recordings so students can evaluate their performance before the real deal comes along.
“If you are not really comfortable with interviews, we will catch you doing little tendencies that you probably aren’t even aware of so things will go smoothly when it actually counts,” Thompson said. “If you go in there and make a good impression in a real interview, you will probably get an opportunity.”
It’s not just the center that is being proactive in prepping students for internships and post-college employment though. Hartjen, a member of the Neeley Fellows program in the Neeley School of Business, said the business school itself provides exceptional career assistance for the fellows.
“It’s cool because the (Neeley) school will actually forward your resume to companies based on what you want to do, so you will get reached out to by employers that you didn’t even necessarily seek yourself. Neeley works so hard to build really great relationships with different companies in and out of the area,” Hartjen said.
Fellows members even had the opportunity to travel to New York City over spring break in March to visit companies that may be of interest to them.
“A lot of the companies we visited had past fellows and just maintained really good relationships with the Neeley School,” Hartjen said. “We got to speak with Mark Bezos, the brother of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which was kind of nuts. He runs a non-profit and told us about different opportunities there to use marketing with or without non-profit, so that was probably the highlight for me.”
The extensive efforts that the such programs make to support students are not without reasonable cause. Thompson said he believes that work experience is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than education when it comes to achieving a successful career.
“The most important thing that a student can do outside of academics is internships,” Thompson said. “It used to be all about GPA, but nowadays full-time employers want experience. That’s why we try to generate as many opportunities for internships as we can. We bring employers to campus to meet students and in a good year we have over 5,000 postings on our job board.”
That, however, is not to say that TCU students don’t have to put in their fair share of effort in the internship and job hunt. The job market remains competitive for college students as companies increasingly recruit within the demographic.
Valerie Thannisch, the executive director of selection at financial planning organization Northwestern Mutual’s Fort Worth office, whch actively recruits among TCU students, said the office receives an exponential amount of job and intern applications each year compared to the number of individuals they can bring on.
“Our location will get about 1,000 applicants for internships and another 1,000 applicants for full-time jobs each year, and from those pools we will take about 20 people,” Thannisch said. “We typically have to make it a three to four interview process to weed out applicants and find the best suited ones.”
The element of competitiveness differs for each field of study too, as not all students have the same networking opportunities within their particular school such as those in the Neeley Fellows program have.
Ryan DeTamble, a sophomore political science major, said he had a difficult time finding any employers geared towards political science at the Career and Intern Expo hosted by the university earlier in the semester, which he said is reflective of the current political job market.
“Political science is a very tough field to get into immediately because there are a lot of political science majors out there and only so many positions out there,” DeTamble said.
“A lot of times the internships at places such a congressional office are unpaid, which might turn some people off, but they’re still highly sought after positions.”
DeTamble said he has yet to secure an internship for this summer.
DeTamble added that seemingly increased competitiveness in the workforce may also be the result of students pursuing internships at younger ages, something he has seen among his sophomore counterparts in recent months.
“Even though internships and jobs are something that people might historically tend to associate with junior and senior year, I’m only a sophomore and a lot of my sophomore friends are taking interest in the work-field and applying for internships,” DeTamble said. “Internships are a very important part of career planning.”
DeTamble said he believes that sophomore standing may also play out to be a disadvantage in seeking internships in comparison to being an upperclassman.
“I would like to work for a ‘think tank’ type of organization, but often times they will put junior or senior standing if not graduate-student standing as their criteria for hiring,” DeTamble said. “I think it can definitely be a challenge for people in my shoes.”
Competitiveness and high demand however isn’t the sole explanation for a student not landing an employment opportunity. Thompson said he believes that many TCU students who struggle to find employment are simply shooting themselves in the foot.
“Not nearly as many people are taking advantage of the resources we provide as we hope – maybe only about 50 percent of the students who are seeking a job or internship do so,” Thompson said. “Lots of the people who aren’t getting internships are trying to do it all on their own. They are either looking in the wrong places or they don’t even know where to begin to look.”
A strong objective is critical to success as the workforce becomes increasingly competitive. Thannisch said a key component of Northwestern Mutual’s hiring process is recognizing applicants who have a clear vision of what they want and how to achieve those goals.
“We look for applicants that are go getters,” Thannisch said. “We want students who are well connected in the area since they are essentially building their own business with their own client base. We may even seek out people and introduce ourselves to them if we believe they are the right fit.”
Beyond competitiveness though, there are even simpler factors that can be hindering to the students’ success in becoming employed. Thompson said that interviews can often be the end of the road for some students if they are not adequately prepared.
“An interview is basically over in ten seconds, and if the employer doesn’t like you, you can talk for an hour and they won’t hear anything,” Thompson said. “We see a lot of people do things during our mock interview recordings that are not good. Their answers ramble on, they aren’t always distinct in their answers and a lot of them have bad body language.”
Thannisch attested to the fact that she frequently encounters Northwestern Mutual applicants making critical mistakes during interviews that she conducts.
“Professionalism can be very hard to learn outside of experience,” Thannisch said. “A lot of people we have turned away after the interviews have simply lacked confidence or have told us things about them that are not good to know such as partying. I even had one girl told me once that if she was chosen, she wanted to just sit around the office and not do much work.”
Whether or not students find themselves in such a position may come down to a matter of dedication and maturity on their part. Thompson stressed the importance of using the resources that the university provides to bypass such detrimental and easily avoidable gaffes.
“We’re here to help you make assessments for who you want to work for and how to go about doing so,” Thompson said. “I want you to find something that will fit your major. I want you to go get an internship that will allow you to find out whether or not what you are learning in the class is right or wrong.”
At TCU, students have what they need to succeed. All they can do is take full advantage of the opportunity, and let the cards fall.
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