Career Planning refocuses on practical skills, internships

Helping students develop practical skills is the focus of the newest initiative from the Career Planning Center (CPC). The renewed push comes on the heels of a report released by President Clayton Rose last fall, which found that students felt they lacked important professional skills such as personal finance and public speaking.

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Executive Director of the CPC Kristin Brennan said that employers’ expectations for student job preparation have changed over the last few decades. While critical thinking and writing skills are important, so are experiences that aren’t included in Bowdoin’s traditional liberal arts education.

“There is so much emphasis now on gaining pre-professional experience before you graduate,” Brennan said.

Demonstrating the continued relevance of the liberal arts in the job market was an issue raised at the Board of Trustees’ meeting earlier this month.

Brennan noted that a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies see previous internship experience as the most important characteristic in job applicants, rather than students’ majors or extracurriculars.

The CPC’s new initiatives, Brennan said, will broadly take three forms: scaling up a “sophomore bootcamp,” which launched this year, additional programming throughout the year and improving partnerships with colleagues on campus, particularly extracurricular activities that provide students with important skills.

“There are a bunch of people around campus already doing some of these things,” Brennan said. “Some of it’s a matter of just naming … [Saying] ‘you are actually receiving this skill which is very useful for employers.’”

Brennan noted that, in her own college days, she had studied conflict resolution, but she didn’t think to negotiate a salary at her first job. She believes that Bowdoin students have the skills to succeed in the workforce but don’t always know how to list them on a resume or articulate them to potential employers.

The new programming will be led by Assistant Director of Career Planning Bethany Walsh who will be named to the new position of associate director for professional development.

Walsh currently advises students on STEM careers. She, along with Brennan and Associate Director of Career Planning Nancy Gibson, launched the sophomore bootcamp this winter. Twenty students came back to campus at the end of Winter Break for three days of intensive career advising.

Brennan said the CPC targeted sophomores because that is often the year during which students begin to think about finding professional opportunities. The program included workshops on resumes and cover letters, as well as networking with alumni, and received positive reviews from participants.

“I kind of knew there were resources out there, but they showed us all the tools they have and gave us actual advice,” said Annabel Winterberg ’21.

Students also videocalled with alumni volunteers, getting their first taste of networking.

“It was awesome. I was terrified when they told us that we were going to do it … but it was nice to have that experience networking,” said Victoria Williamson ’21. “I’m not as scared anymore.”

In addition to her new role, Walsh will also continue to advise students on technology careers. The CPC will hire a new adviser to help students in other areas of science, including healthcare. Brennan noted that STEM is one of the more popular career fields among Bowdoin students.

The CPC also announced last week that two longtime staffers will be leaving Bowdoin at the end of this semester—Senior Associate Director Dighton Spooner and Director of Employer Relations Todd Hermann. The CPC will hire replacements for both of them by next fall.

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