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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton Career Center chooses innovation

<icans across the country remain anxious about the unemployment rate, the interim director of Carleton’s Career Center has a surprisingly optimistic outlook that has nothing to do with the partisan promises being made in this election year.

Using innovative programs such as “Engagement Wanted,” Brent “Rex” Nystrom ’92 is focused on equipping Carleton students with connections and professional skills that will make them attractive employees as the job market recovers.

Starting in 2008, the Career Center underwent a significant transition, slowly incorporating a model that emphasized community and networking into its more traditional framework of providing counseling and job application guidance. So far, the Center has developed seven new programs that expand students’ connections with the alumni and parent communities.

“As of now, very few schools are doing these many things to connect students and alums,” Nystrom said.
One program called “30 Minutes,” for example, fosters direct contact with alumni who come to campus for informal half-hour conversations with students interested in their field of work. Others, like “Engagement Wanted,” take advantage of connections made available through technology. Brief student profiles including professional objectives are forwarded weekly to participating alums who may then reach out as mentors or even as employers.

Fortunately, Carleton is well ahead of the curve as other schools and employers are just beginning to rethink the job preparation and search process. Nystrom quoted from this year’s edition of Michigan State University’s annual publication on hiring and recruiting trends; using data collected from 4,000 companies nationwide, the study found that “the biggest asset a college or university has in the employment game today is its alumni. Companies are using alumni to target, court and mentor talent.”

This trend, known as “internal referral,” clearly emphasizes coordination between campus departments in maximizing students’ career potential. The study also refers to the fact that “few campuses seriously coordinate activities between alumni associations and career services because they each have competing, misaligned agendas.”

In this regard, Nystrom’s transfer from Alumni Relations to the Career Center was an important step in putting Carleton ahead of the game.

However, the most common critique of a liberal arts education is often directed at the Career Center – people expect something concrete to show for their effort. 

As the numbers of college graduates without employment rises, students and family members alike find little comfort in networking opportunities. In response, Nystrom noted that in a down market for jobs, networking may often be the only way to access the “hidden job market”: he estimates that well over 50 percent of jobs “are never posted on websites like, Craigslist or even company websites. You  simply have to know people.”

Elizabeth Herman’13 experience is one success story for the Career Center’s new approach.

In the spring of 2011, she took part in a shadowing hybrid program and was able to tail four Carleton graduates, among them the editor of Politico and the Chief of Staff for Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-MN), who had all volunteered to share a day in their careers. Two other alums that graduated in 2010 provided housing for her stay in D.C.

Herman recently acquired an internship in Congressman Ellison’s office for the spring trimester.

“I never would have gotten this internship if it hadn’t been for this program,” she said. “I was able to use the connections from my time shadowing alums to reach out during my internship search.”

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