Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
Networking is vital to students’ career development as it allows students to understand options, find opportunities, and more. However, networking can be intimidating and uncomfortable for some students.
Staff of the Hofstra University career center wanted to provide meaningful connections for students in a setting that would move beyond the traditional and appeal to students who may not use the center’s services or be attracted to a traditional networking program.
In April 2015, the career center launched the Hofstra Service Networking Program.
“The [program] brings together students and professionals for community service projects at nonprofit groups in our community,” explains Darlene Johnson, Hofstra’s director of external relations. “We focus these service networking trips on specific industries, bringing together students from appropriate majors and professionals from appropriate organizations.”
This initiative, Johnson says, allows students to network and interact with professionals in their fields of interest in a low-pressure setting, where the focus is on helping others rather than on personal pitches.
“In designing these programs, we used our center's engagement data to select academic departments and programs with lower-than-average connections with our services, but in which the student populations were growing,” she says.
The career center began with the university’s criminology and pre-health populations. Each of the two events had five professionals and up to 15 students, and started with lunch and conversation at the career center before the participants traveled to the community service site.
The first event was held at the Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) in Hempstead, New York, a soup kitchen for adults and children. Program participants sorted through donations of clothing and stocked the shelves in the pantry where customers can “shop” for food.
“We also took a tour and found out about the INN and its services,” Johnson says.
At the second site—the Ronald McDonald House—participants toured the facility, and then baked dessert for the children and families who live there during medical treatments.
“We encourage the students to take business cards from the professionals who attend and to follow up,” Johnson says.
She notes that for this semester’s Service Networking Program projects—which are focusing on Hofstra’s psychology, and fine and performing arts majors—the career center has implemented a more formal process for follow up, which includes having each student write a “thank-you” e-mail to each professional who participates.
From the outset, the career center identified five goals for the program. Post-program surveys around these goals uncovered the following results:
- Create a low-pressure networking environment for participating students—More than 80 percent of the professionals felt the informal nature of the program made it easier for students to network, while 67 percent of the participating students indicated the informal nature of the program made it more comfortable for them to connect with professionals.
- Give participating students and professionals the opportunity to complete community service—Eighty-three percent of students indicated that the opportunity to complete community service is what drew them to the program, while the professionals were evenly split in their motivation to participate with 50 percent indicating “to positively impact students” and 50 percent indicating “to complete community service.”
- Assist students in developing sense of purpose and career motivation—All of the participating students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "As a result of this program, I feel motivated to take additional steps toward my career goals."
- Allow participating students to make meaningful connections in their field—Sixty-seven percent of participating students followed up with at least one participation professional after the programs' conclusion, and 80 percent of those who followed-up had in-person meetings with the professionals after the event.
- Provide a new opportunity for students in these fields to connect with the career center—Ninety-two percent of the students had never engaged with the career center prior to their participation in the Service Networking Program.
“We were thrilled with the outcomes,” Johnson says. “We look forward to further impacting our student body with this exciting new approach to our work.”