Marva Gumbs Jennings of the GW Career Center offers job advice for the university’s newest set of graduates.
With Commencement only a week away, the question of what’s next is on the mind of many soon-to-be graduates. Executive Director of the GW Career Center Marva Gumbs Jennings spoke with GW Today to offer some career tips and resources for graduating Colonials.
Q: With the nation’s economy still on the rebound, the job market has not fully recovered. What do you tell concerned students?
A: There’s certainly pessimism with students right now, and some students say they are leaning toward graduate school or remaining in the jobs they had while enrolled at GW. But for a college-educated workforce, the unemployment rate is actually less than the national rate, at around approximately five percent. So the news we want to get out to students is that employers are still seeking applicants. It is a more competitive process now, but students shouldn’t give up. We’ve seen signs of a job resurgence, and we’ve had positive feedback from many of the employers that we work with.
Despite the economic downturn, we discovered that we had a greater percentage of employers on campus this year than ever. On May 6, we hosted an Employer Appreciation reception in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom to thank the hundreds of employers who have worked with us this year. We had student testimonials, remarks from President Knapp and performances from The GW Vibes and a trio from GW’s Music Department. We wanted to thank our employers for being so active on campus and invite them to continue supporting and recruiting at GW. We also hoped to make them feel special.
Q: What’s the first step for students who are just beginning their job search?
A: Start by defining your interests and passions. Students often begin this process by meeting with our career consultants to determine their interests and actual skill level. Our wish is for students to put as much effort into researching their future career as they have to obtain their degree. For some reason, students believe they’ve done the work by just getting a degree and that’s an error. You can’t leave it to chance. Until you know what you want to do and what you’re targeting, you can’t do a good job of convincing an employer to hire you.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen students make during the application process?
A: Common mistakes we’ve seen include errors in application materials submitted and a lack of personalization. Students often make errors when they don’t proof a cover letter or resume. You cannot proof your own material or rely on spell-check—you really need another pair of eyes. Another big turnoff for employers is receiving applications that are not customized to the position or are too general. I also think students, through the magic of the “send” button, disperse their information too rapidly and widely. If students would customize their application and be very careful about who they send information to, their professional relationships would be stronger.
Q: Networking can be a helpful way to find a job. How helpful is the GW network to students?
A: GW alumni are a very important connection, and many of them remain very involved with the GW Career Center. Alumni come back to campus to give advice, participate in our activities, and even return as employers. I think the university is doing a better job than ever with connecting students to alumni. Alumni can provide not only a better understanding of a specific industry or career field but also assist students in forming that important network of contacts and links for their future success.
Q: How do you advise students who are unsure about their next step after graduation?
A: It’s not unusual for students to not know what to do. We advise students to take a free online assessment through MyPlan, which helps them narrow down their interests and assess their skills. We’ve also prepared “career option sheets,” which list existing jobs, including entry-level qualifications, available to approximately 40 to 50 majors. These kinds of tools help give students a sense of direction. Most significantly, our staff works one-on-one with students to help them develop a game plan.
Located at 1922 F St., the GW Career Center provides comprehensive career services to students and alumni, including professional career consultants and extensive online job and internship listings, and specialized career development programs and events. The center also connects students and alumni to employer with on-campus recruitment programs and fairs.
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