MSU Career Services Network leader advises students to engage early to find purpose and passion

Sep 10, 2019

“When we look at the student who is going through the process of trying to figure out where their interests lie, and ultimately the role or the opportunity that is most of interest to them and where they can apply their skills and experiences, they generally look at what excites them,” says Jeff Beavers, executive director of Michigan State University’s Career Services Network. “We like to support a student’s social mission, too. We seek to connect him or her to a greater purpose that benefits society.


“When we talk about purpose, we talk about not only the individual, but we also talk about how what they do contributes ultimately to really delivering value to society and to other people.”

A key piece of advice from Beavers to students is to get connected with the Career Services Network early in their time at MSU. Students shouldn’t wait until their senior year to connect with the office.

Jeff Beavers
Credit Russ White | MSU Today

“We think of this whole career preparation and exploration process starting even before they come in. We know that a lot of things happen even at the high school level or in the summer between high school and college. Freshmen need to start exploring career options. When students are new to campus, they start to look at student organizations and Greek life, and they start to look at coursework and extracurricular activities and student consulting programs. And they start to explore the things that really excite them. These activities will ultimately provide project management and teamwork experience that will allow them to interface with employers and better understand what opportunities exist for particular majors and job skills.

“Ultimately it really gives students insight into what are the different paths that exist that are unknown to them. So, we encourage them to do things like study abroad and to do internships and co-op experiences, especially if they're engineers, or to get involved in the extracurricular activities where they not only are getting access to employers, but are also hearing from alumni who are able to talk about their career paths and success.”

Beavers says all employers, regardless of their industry, are looking for what are sometimes called soft skills or transferable skills.

“All of the Fortune 500 companies are looking at the same set of soft skills. They may label them differently, but it really comes down to things like teamwork, initiative, leadership, communication skills, problem solving skills, applied intelligence and ethics and integrity.

“When you think about those seven skills, there are three specifically that are really hard for a new hire to be coached on or to be trained on. These are skills that are expected of a new hire coming into an organization. These are behaviors that companies want to see in an individual because it's where they really are able to deliver the most value. Those are leadership, initiative, and ethics and integrity.

“These are skills that are generally innate within the individual, and that's why employers ask a lot of behavioral based questions to try to understand to what extent someone has exhibited leadership skills. It's about influencing others to buy into ideas, making sure that the best idea rises to the top.

“And about initiative, it's about someone who recognizes an opportunity or identifies a problem and is proactive in trying to find ways to address that and to bring forth solutions, or to at least get involved in the solution process. And then ethics and integrity obviously are important to all companies when we think about how there is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

Beavers talks about advancements in recruiting technology and how they’re supporting student success. And he says alumni play an important role in helping students connect with employers.

“We think about alumni as being our most valued asset when it comes to career services. We rely on them not only for job postings and hiring opportunities, but we look to them to share their stories regarding the career path they took and how they leveraged their degree and to what extent they leveraged the degree or how they transitioned from one area to another.

“So we look to them to come back and speak in front of students, to participate in programs and activities, to partner with student organizations, or to even just be on campus to host information sessions where we can have them share their stories in front of students. And more importantly, they can connect with students and help make the whole educational experience real as to what are the possibilities that maybe people have not even thought about.

“And alumni help them more fully understand that purpose piece we talked about earlier and how they've connected that degree to that purpose.”

And what role should parents play?

“We do have some parents who are overly involved at times and don't always allow the student to grow and explore on their own. At the same time, they play a very important role in ensuring that the student starts to engage with career services and starts that exploration process very early. Whether that is before they come on campus or as a freshman, they are supporting the whole notion of making sure that the student is seeking out not only employment but employment that's meaningful, educational experiences that are meaningful, extracurricular activities that are aligned to interests, and are really helping guide them through that process.”

Beavers describes five emerging trends in the career services field: artificial intelligence, systems integration, lifelong learning and online education, student debt and ability to pay, and skills-based recruiting.

Beavers adds that Michigan State University is a great place for employers to look for employees. He’s seen this himself from his own days a recruiter visiting MSU seeking talent.

“Michigan State has always been among those core campuses where we had very strong pipelines of talent. When we looked at the individuals who came into our organization from MSU and compared them to hires from other organizations, MSU talent typically either out performed or performed as well as the very best talent from other schools. It's a combination of factors. It's about the preparation they've received in the classroom, but it's also about that Midwest work ethic. It's about attitude; it's about drive. In a lot of cases it's also just about the process the students have gone through to really find their purpose and their passion and that we've harnessed that into the number of roles that we have at these companies.

“When we look at who recruits at Michigan State, generally that is the feedback that we get from all employers is that our students are very, very strong and typically are performing as well or out performing the competition.”

Challenges and opportunities ahead?

“The hard part for us is keeping up with all of the opportunities that are available to students and ensuring that we're creating access networks and paths for students to be able to reach those roles. I think oftentimes institutions and students look at only the employers who are on their campus, and we see it as our mission to ensure that we are helping students identify all the possibilities that exist.

“Our challenge is to always keep up with these evolving roles, identifying those opportunities and maintaining the relationships that help us build strong partnerships with employers.”

In summary Beavers says “students need to engage with us early. They aren’t necessarily committing to a particular job or job function or an industry, but it's about really starting to engage as a freshman to explore all of the possibilities available and then starting to narrow the focus and the scope of what they want to do. Where might those experiences and interests potentially be?

“For parents, it's about ensuring that they are supporting their students in exploring those roles and encouraging them to not only find employment on campus to help pay for their education or to take on summer activities that may be fun, but also in helping the student ensure that those experiences are meaningful and are providing the student with a competitive advantage.

“And then for employers, we strive to make it very easy for them to recruit at Michigan State. We know that as busy as most are there's not a lot of time to figure out the process and how to recruit or how to reach students on a campus this large. And I think what we do very, very well here is work with the employers one-on-one to take some of that burden from them and connect them with the targeted groups of students they’re seeking so they are able to effectively reach these students, but also ensure that they have a diversified and qualified talent pool for the jobs that they have available.”

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