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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Career Café helps professional development exercises stick

July 3, 2017

SJVC Temecula Career Cafe look who was hired boardWho knew how important a handshake could be? Career Services Manager Stephanie Simmons and Career Services Advisor, Stephanie Biggs, just to name a couple of student services staff on the Temecula campus who are in the know.

Their challenge was to find a great way to provide this kind of professional development information and training to their student population prior to their graduation and job search. “Mrs. Simmons asked us to come up with something a little bit out of the box, and I thought it would be more helpful for students to interact with each other and gain experience from one another,” says Biggs. That student interaction became Career Café.

Since January, every mod for both day and evening classes, The Temecula Career Services Team introduces a new Career Café theme that is geared toward helping one-day grads secure that important first job. The 20- to 30-minute workshops are held in the student lounge, which has been converted to a coffee house environment complete with a big blackboard of “career specials,” resume tips and professional dress guides. Another board offers a code that can be scanned to access video tips.

“We have a lot of millennial students coming through and want to reach them with our message,” says Simmons. “We don’t want to get stagnant, so we’ll change things every quarter.”

Attendance has been high at these non-mandatory sessions, and enthusiasm is high among students who want to polish their resume, professional dress, interview techniques, and networking and job search skills.

The most recent workshop was all about the job interview. About 30 students from the HVAC-R, Pharmacy Technology and Medical Office Administration programs jumped in to punch up their skills.

“We did a speed interviewing session highlighting common questions an employer or Human Resources person would ask,” says Simmons. The students faced each other and rotated down the line, asking each other questions using a checklist the training team supplied.

“They provided feedback on things like having a strong handshake, making eye contact, how confident they seemed, and their demeanor,” says Biggs. “The more they interacted with each other, the more confident they became.”

“I learned how important socializing and communication is to be able to sustain a connection with someone,” says Danielle Watson, Dental Assisting student. “Being involved is the best way to become a well-rounded individual and prepare for the inner workings of the real world.”

“We pushed them (students) out of their comfort zone; that’s our goal,” says Biggs. “We tell them that when an employer asks you to tell them about yourself, they’re not asking about your age or how many kids you have; it’s more about what kind of skills you bring to the employer.”

That introductory handshake is a key moment. “This is how you should shake a hand,” offers Simmons. “Have a firm grip – don’t give me that fish handshake, pulling away as I’m trying to shake your hand. Make good eye contact, while you’re shaking their hand. That’s important and shows confidence.” Don’t forget to smile.

“My students all felt they benefited, but mostly in the practice of eye contact for those who are particularly shy, as well as practicing their handshakes and giving each other feedback,” says Krista Campbell, Pharmacy Technology instructor. “They didn’t go in feeling too comfortable, just like a real interview.”

Trainers caution that even before you can impress that potential employer with the perfect handshake, they will form an opinion about your professionalism by the way you are dressed. Cleanliness, good grooming and business-appropriate attire standards must be met.

“The Career Café focusing on professional dress helped me to know there is a difference between fashion professional and medical professional,” says Brittany Lindberg, Respiratory Therapy student. “I feel more confident knowing what employers are looking for.”

Using a student-interactive formula seems to work well. “Instead of students sitting in class and hearing a presentation, they are interacting with each other and can put those skills they’ve learned into practice,” says Simmons. “When they’re in class, they’re learning hard skills. This allows them to get more interactive with the soft skills so that they’re more well-rounded as they go into externship.”

Student participation increases with each workshop. Next up: It’s all about the Resume. Students will learn all they need to know…. Jeopardy style.