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Creating bright career futures campus wide

As communication major Will Weber approached his May 2023 graduation, his outlook appeared glum. He’d applied to a series of positions with no luck and ended up taking a job outside of his field of interest to pay the bills.

Fortunately, Weber didn’t give up. He scheduled a series of one-to-one meetings with career coach Dominic Militello. Together, they revved up his resume and practiced how to better represent his skills and experience in interviews. Today, he works in his dream job as a television news producer. “In one month, I went from lost and defeated to a success I could not have imagined.”

What makes the difference to Weber and many students like him? Taking advantage of the extensive resources available at U Career Success. An experienced career coach who’s seen it all before can help each person navigate the journey from first-year, experience builder, researcher, performer, networker and intern to early career professional. As any competitor will relate, having a coach in your corner to make just the right suggestions and to build your confidence can have a tremendous impact. University of Utah President Taylor Randall promoted just this kind of results-driven coaching at the David Eccles School of Business, and now he’s determined to see it readily available to every student across campus.

With that mandate, and since the launch of the reimagined U Career Success Center, Vice President Katie Hoffman-Abby and her team have accelerated their outreach to serve ever more students. Building on the successful model established in the business school, new partnerships like the one that put Militello and Weber in touch are now well underway. Initially a pilot of one college, two departments, and one school—the College of Science, Department of Communication, Department of Film and Media Arts, and the School for Cultural and Social Transformation—created a more personalized approach to student job placement and employer outreach during the Spring 2023 Semester. Soon after, specialist career coaches were hired to meet the additional needs of the full College of Humanities and College of Fine Arts, plus the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Political Science, Criminology, and Sociology. Always looking for ways to invite more people to become familiar with the new space and its offer, staff hosted nearly 500 people at an October grand re-opening of the Center, found on the main floor of the Robert H. and Katharine B. Garff Building. This Spring, Career Fest launches February 5 with a two-week run of career fairs, workshops, and expos with a film festival theme. (Move over, Sundance.) Soon campus will be festooned with banners, TV screens, publications and Canvas announcements all promoting ways for students to connect with career opportunities.

All this activity is designed to foster student opportunities to confidently seek and find their best post-grad career, one semester and step at a time. In addition to collaborations with partner colleges, a select coaching group focuses special attention on first- and second-year students, exemplifying “Your career starts on day one.” Another cadre of coaches meets the needs of those not yet in the partnered group, ensuring a coach for every student on campus.

The personalized approach is paying off, according to Sue Finch, senior director of student placement and professional development. From May 2022 to May 2023, communication majors saw a rise of 20% to an average salary of $55,185. In addition, increased numbers of them secured paid internships rather than unpaid ones, an important predictor of future earnings. During the same period, salaries for science majors rose 4%, while students from the School for Cultural and Social Transformation experienced a whopping 23% increase. While the National Association of Colleges and Employers marked a leveling off of business salaries nationally, the Eccles School posted an impressive sixth-year running of salary growth, with the most recent averages for undergraduates at $62,926 and graduate students at $84,968.

Fall 2023 was also an outstanding semester for employer and student engagement at career networking events. The three major career fairs saw a combined increased attendance of 5,927 participants, marking a 62.42% increase from the previous fall. This growth was further underscored by the presence of an estimated 350 employers, highlighting the events’ appeal to recruiting organizations. Additionally, U Career Success presented fifty-eight career workshops at the request of campus partners, covering topics such as resumes and cover letters, personal image and brand, and informational interviewing, offering valuable insights to hundreds of attendees.

As end-of-year data from 2023 continues to be reported, Hoffman-Abby expects to celebrate more wins for students. Under her innovative leadership, a group of dynamic Corporate & Community Engagement relationship managers builds close collaborations with companies from Fortune 500s to entrepreneurial start-ups, government agencies, non-profits, and other organizations. They support hiring needs and effectively connect recruiters, alumni, and friends of the U to student talent ready to build the communities of the state and beyond. “The corporate team is one key to what sets us apart from other university career centers,” said Hoffman-Abby. “Long-term relationships with companies that offer terrific growth opportunities will continue to pay off for the students each new year brings.”

According to one recruiter:

“Pluralsight's relationship with U Career Success has helped us build connections with students and clubs across the university. It's so valuable to have a partner that can help us navigate different areas of the U and make sure our internship/employment opportunities reach the right students. The team also does a fantastic job providing us visibility and access to events and other opportunities that we can engage in on campus.”

—Sara Grant, Senior Specialist, Early Careers Programs, Pluralsight

“Helping students negotiate their best futures in the workforce right at the point of graduation is a key part of student success,” Randall said. “Katie Abby has reimagined how we advise and coach students who are applying for their first jobs and new careers alike. She is the right person at the right time to help us enhance career services even more.”

Randall’s commitment is evidenced in recommendations to continue to expand the staff to support a student body of 35,000. Although U Career Success is not there yet, they take this charge to serve all students as a key directive while they work actively and steadily toward the president’s ambitious goals.

Comprehensive career support: Frequently asked questions

(reprinted from Fall 2023 Utah Magazine)

Most parents of soon-to-be college students share a top concern for their kids: Will they have a job when they graduate? New U Career Services Center director Katie Hoffman-Abby BS’84 and her team of nearly 60 full-time professionals are here to arm students with the resources and support they need to help them land that well-paying job—a process that starts long before they earn their degree.

With over two decades of private-sector job placement experience, Hoffman-Abby spearheaded the center’s expansion following a successful pilot project aimed at boosting post-graduation employment rates and starting salaries for select colleges and departments. As the university-wide implementation of these approaches begins and the center expands in the Robert H. and Katharine B. Garff Building, we caught up with Hoffman-Abby.

What advice do you give to folks just starting their education? 

Come visit us. Come early and come often. The earlier you start planning, the better. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after you finish school, you can start looking into internships, meeting with career coaches, and getting a head start.

What relationship do you have with employers? 

We recognize that building and maintaining outstanding relationships with all kinds of employers—from startups to Fortune 500 companies and everything in between—will help our students and the community. Rather than let organizations simply approach us for an occasional job placement, we’re proactively reaching out. Our corporate outreach team develops industry-specific expertise to build those relationships. Increasingly, internship pipelines are key to finding and hiring excellent full-time candidates, and our corporate team can help develop internship programs for companies. We want the U to be top of mind when those companies are ready to fill positions.

What other advice would you give to any student concerned about finding a job? 

Start exploring right away. If you didn’t get an early jump, start wherever you are. Do at least one internship. Introduce yourself to employers and alumni visiting campus—they want to meet you. Attend panels, workshops, and career events whenever you can. Join clubs and organizations—the students you connect with there can form the basis of a valuable professional network. We boost student success by coaching on self-branding, job search strategies, effective interviews, negotiating offers, and so much more. Get a LinkedIn headshot and borrow interview clothing from our Career Closet—or keep it if you’re in need. Our team is truly remarkable at what they do and can help every student who walks through our doors, so come see us.

Are you taking advantage of all U Career Success has for you? Click here to connect with a career coach.