November 17, 2020
Chris Miciek, director, and Juli McDonald, assistant director of the Thomas Jefferson University Career Development Center
Around the start of the fall term a discussion emerged in the NACE Community regarding conducting group appointments. I had replied with a couple examples of ways our office has configured group appointments and we were subsequently asked to pen a post about our experiences. We found this approach to offer a number of benefits both to our students and to our office. Here we’ll share different ways we’ve used group sessions and the benefits gained as well as some lessons learned.
The Career Development Center (CDC) has two professional staff serving about 3,500 health sciences students on our Center City (Philadelphia) campus plus student cohorts in two other sites. We also offer free, full services for alumni for life. Degrees range from associate to doctoral and we serve postdocs, too. Maintaining a human centered approach while seeking efficiencies, even pre-COVID, always poses a challenge. Fortunately a commitment to career development, not just helping students get their first job, and NACE career readiness competencies help position group appointments as adding value for the students we serve.
First, the Basics:
We've had good success with doing guided peer review sessions. These sessions typically have two to five students and run 30-45 minutes, depending on the number of students involved. Compared to a 30-minute standard review session, group appointments are a nice return on time. The students trade resumes and the staff member guides the students through what to look for first in the overall impression and in a section-by-section read-through. We structure the guidance to teach them better resume writing as well as resume reading, explicitly mentioning that someday they'll likely be involved in evaluating and hiring, either as peers on an interview team or as supervisors. That last part offers an intriguing hook for many (side note: we added this element after responding to requests form alumni who found themselves on interview panels and wanting to know what to do). Students express appreciation for helping them step back and think longer term about their careers and the tools they need later on. We encourage questions to us and the table, which we use to do a soft Socratic style conversation on the point raised.
These sessions work best with students from the same program, but can easily be leveraged as a small interdisciplinary communication experience, too. We offer these to any students interested, but get the most demand for a few large classes that have resume assignments built into the curriculum (we support with an in class workshop so the reviews can build off that initial piece) and for the drop in hours (now virtual) we run prior to our career fairs.
They're also a lot of fun to run because the students feed off each other's curiosity. We only run these for groups of students who opt in, of course. Small conference rooms work in a face-to-face setting. Virtual requires a bit more logistical work, but should be easy enough if the group is identified ahead of time and everyone has the ability to share screens during the session.
As mentioned, one scenario group appointments are offered is for large classes with a resume assignment. Two of our Occupational Therapy tracks have a resume assignment that includes our office running an in-class workshop followed by CDC reviews. Students must submit a CDC approved plus approval notice to class to receive credit for the assignment. Most student will follow up the workshop with appointments, but with a two or three week deadline and up to 60 students in a single group seeking appointments we’ve found meeting in small groups effective for managing staff time while also accelerating the time to approval for the students. The assignment does not require students to meet with our office, only to submit and obtain approval for a resume. However, those that meet with staff typically have a lower number of submissions to gain approval than those who do not. Group appointments help us meet with a higher percentage of those students. Sometimes class assignments do not always produce the same engagement compared to when students elect to meet with us on their own. Students often increase their engagement with the resume assignment once they see points of comparison.
Group counseling sessions also enable us to meet students during high volume application cycles. In 2019 Jefferson’s hospital system sought to redress a significant shortfall in nursing staff by creating pathway and residency programs for newly graduated and licensed BSNs. The launch for these programs had broad appeal to Jefferson’s hundreds of BSN students. Students were given only three weeks to submit applications, including resumes, before the hiring team conducted group interviews. Without notice, our office receive a wave of appointment requests on an already heavily loaded appointment calendar. Group appointments had immediate appeal to the students and enabled our staff to serve many more students in the limited time they had to prepare. While not ideal, it gave us an effective stopgap during a crunch time.
We have also found benefits from the group process for our Certified Medical Assistant students. This program is unique, as many of these students are pursuing their first form of higher education and bring a different background and career development perspective to their resume process than traditional undergraduate or graduate students. We found that fellow students with similar previous work experiences made the group feel comfortable, validated, and confident in their transferrable skills. Classmates were able to offer ideas and suggestions for how to word customer service positions and begin to angle them toward their new field of patient care. We were able to meet with all 25 students in about a week or so due to the group model. Students also needed fewer appointments and felt comfortable reaching out to classmates for quick questions that they might otherwise need a career counselor and follow up appointment for.
Lastly, the group process gives students the ability to compare how a few peers have presented similar experiences from their programs and see examples of different ways to effectively share and tailor those experiences. It is often challenging for students to remember and articulate their relevant experiences, especially if those experiences are “baked” into their academic programs. For example, at Jefferson we have a number of interdisciplinary experiences that students either take through their coursework or elect to take for further learning. While students often cite these experiences in conversation, they often forget to find space for them on their resumes. Furthermore, employers frequently tell us how valuable they find these experiences during the hiring process. While most students at Jefferson may complete these programs, students often do not realize their value. They are differentiators in the job hunt process and they can be excellent leadership and skill based talking points. Yet students often do not realize that recruiters and the outside world have little understanding of the Jefferson curriculum. Through the group counseling process, students are able to see both that their peers are referencing these experiences and how they are doing it. Therefore, the stumbling blocks of recognizing the uniqueness of these experiences and figuring out how to articulate them on their resumes are both easily solved during the group counseling session.
In conclusion, we find that the group counseling process can be used in a variety of ways with multiple student populations. For career center staff, group counseling sessions allow staff to reach more students in personalized settings and expand resources for small but mighty offices. They can also be used during high volume times of the year or for class assignments when students may be asked to visit the career center as part of a resume assignment. In addition, students benefit from learning from their peers about experiences to include and visualizing what those experiences look like in a resume format. Finally, students are able to gain confidence in their own career development skills as they explain their rationale to other students and enable students to recognize the value in peer to peer feedback.