Experiential Learning Gets Students Ready to Work
Experiential learning — the process through which students develop knowledge, skills and values from direct experiences — plays an important role in furthering student outcomes. From mock interviews that prepare students for the job hunt to student groups pitching business strategies to local startups, Poole College of Management finds ways to think critically — and creatively — in the classroom.
In the summer of 2018, Cenia Goldstein, a junior pursuing a degree in business administration with a concentration in supply chain management, was thinking through how to navigate the world of internships, resumes and job interviews when she noticed an email from Poole College of Management. Goldstein read about a new one-hour Professional Development and Career Planning elective course designed to give business students a leg up on the competition when it comes to career readiness.
“I knew I had to put together my resume during that semester anyway, so I figured it would be helpful having a designated time to work on it as part of an actual course,” Goldstein says.
She didn’t realize, at the time, that the course would do far more to prepare her for her future job hunt.
“The Professional Development and Career Planning course involves career exploration, strategies on employment, as well as providing practical insight on how students incorporate what they have learned in the classroom, past experiences and more to demonstrate that they have transferrable skills that could be utilized by an employer,” explains Jane Mehringer, associate director of the Poole College of Management Career Center.
Students who complete the course walk away not only with a well-developed portfolio, resume, cover letter and optimized LinkedIn profile, but also with practical experiences by participating in mock interviews, giving elevator pitches, handling salary negotiations and more.
The course is half lecture taught by Mehringer, and half direct interaction between students and employers.
“Our students get to learn directly from employers on a variety of topics such as effective communication, handling their social media presence and how to develop a personal brand,” Mehringer explains. “The first semester I taught the class, 100 percent of my students secured internships or jobs. Many of them have said this course was extremely helpful in preparing them for the job search.”
Mehringer believes the value in the course lies in allowing students to learn through the process.
“Most people don’t go into their first interview and ace it. So we provide opportunities for students to practice answering interview questions, getting feedback, seeing the mistakes they made and writing a reflection paper about what they would change in the future,” Mehringer says.
Goldstein believes the course was invaluable in terms of her career development.
“I expected to learn about preparing a resume and get some pointers on my interview skills,” Goldstein explains. “But it was so much more than that. I was able to hear directly from employers about the qualities they look for in a candidate and particulars about what they want to see in a resume. Hearing that firsthand from recruiters and hiring managers was so helpful.”
But perhaps the most beneficial part of the course, Goldstein says, was having the opportunity to participate in a mock interview with a highly respected local employer.
“I had someone from SAS come in and interview me, and then afterward talk through what I answered well and what I could work on,” Goldstein says. “Not only that, but as part of the course I received a packet of questions that employers might ask so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through how to tailor my answers to best showcase my strengths. Now I understand what it means to truly prepare for an interview.”
This semester, Goldstein has been able to put those skills to use as she’s interviewed with Belk, First Citizens and Credit Suisse. She’s already received an offer from Credit Suisse to participate in the company’s technology analyst internship program – and she is waiting to hear from the others.
The Professional Development and Career Planning course is just one of several courses taught within Poole College that incorporates experiential learning into the curriculum.
Dr. Paul Mulvey, Poole College Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Human Resource Management, has found new ways to prepare the next generation of human resource professionals in his Strategic Staffing course. Mulvey partnered with Javelin Learning Solutions consultant Steve Sons to implement Javelin’s Career Readiness program, Ready Day 1, to improve his students’ performances at career fairs.
“We’ve heard from many students that they find career fairs stressful. Even those who excel academically can find it difficult to present their interests and qualifications well enough for recruiters to clearly see and recognize their abilities and potential to perform well,” Mulvey explains. “We worked with Javelin to develop asynchronous video simulations to improve student performance at career fairs.”
As part of Mulvey’s course, students are required to view a video of an actor modeling best practice behavior in interacting with a company representative. They then get to record themselves responding to a similar situation, such as how to leave a strong first impression while meeting a potential employer at a career fair. Each student has a chance to watch back his or her response and either re-record it, or submit it for review.
Students are assigned mentors – human resource professionals across the United States – who have the chance to review their video responses and provide feedback for areas they could improve upon.
“We’re giving students opportunities to think critically about what they’re learning so that when they hit the working world, they already have some practical experiences,” explains Mulvey. “A lot of our students participate in internships, but we’re also providing some of that real-world experience within the classroom.”
Beyond getting valuable hiring experiences, many Poole College students also have the opportunity to experience working directly with clients.
In fact, Chris Littel, a lecturer in Poole College’s Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship has a waiting list of companies looking to work with MBA student groups in his Jenkins MBA Entrepreneurship Clinic course.
“At the beginning of the semester, we work on different consulting skills and techniques and teach them how to onboard a client. Then six weeks into the class, student groups get assigned a local start-up company that will serve as their client for the semester,” Littel explains.
For the remainder of the course, the groups – under Littel’s supervision – are responsible for producing a statement of work, creating a strategic growth map that addresses a challenge or opportunity facing their client and finally presenting their recommendations to their client along with a cost-benefit analysis, timeline and more.
To Littel, these real-world experiences are what make Poole College unique amongst other colleges and universities.
“It’s one of the reasons NC State ranked in the top 10 of Princeton Review’s entrepreneurship rankings,” Littel says. “Our students are able to apply what they’re learning in the classroom and to apply it directly into a real-world situation. That’s invaluable when it comes preparing them for their future careers.”