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First-year students at Polk State College complete professional interviews with someone in their desired career field to understand the responsibilities and realities of the role.

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SEATTLE—Some college students have an idea of what they want to do after graduation, but for others, identifying exactly what role they want to have after graduation can be a challenge. One assignment in Polk State College’s first-year seminar requires students to identify a career they may want to pursue after finishing their degree program and interview a professional working in their dream job to learn more about the role and its responsibilities. 

The assignment helps confirm students’ ambitions, or it can provide a glimpse into the less glamorous elements of the role, staff from the Florida college shared in a conference session at the University of South Carolina’s National Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition Annual Conference in Seattle, held last week.

The background: In 2019, Polk State leaders created the Quality Enhancement Plan which incorporated career readiness into the first-year experience course.

The initiative is based on the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ career competencies and includes a career assessment, an online career resource center for students, a faculty tool kit for career readiness, student clubs and organizations based on career development, experiential learning opportunities, and a career-readiness badging initiative.

At Polk State, first-time-in-college students pursuing an associate in arts degree are required to enroll in a first-year seminar course. In addition to career readiness, the course provides students with resources to be successful in college. The course is offered in person and online.

The assignment: All students complete a career assessment through Focus 2 Career system during their onboarding to the college, led by their success coaches. The college has six success coaches who help students enroll in a guided pathway based on their interests, said J. Cody Moyer, director of learning technology and online education at Polk State.

During the first-year seminar, students review their assessment results to identify their top three career choices. Then they’re responsible for conducting research on their career choices to learn more about education requirements, salary and other factors that dictate the role and responsibility. This research is supported by campus librarians.

After completing this research, students identify three candidates in their chosen field and reach out to schedule an informational interview with at least one of them. Prior to conducting the interview, students draft questions related to the professional’s job, with assistance from their seminar professor, who provides a list of draft questions.

These interviews are designed to help students learn the meaningful and ugly parts of their job, explained Von McGriff, director for the JD Alexander Center (which includes campus tutoring, testing and technology) at Polk State, during the conference session. For example, nursing students get exposure to the difficult parts of their roles, like handling needles.

The interviews can take place in person, over Zoom, via email or by phone. Ideally, the student would go in person to see the job and experience a bit of it, but there’s flexibility for students with competing priorities.

After talking with the professional, the student submits a summary of the interview experience and how it aligns with their career goals.

The impact: An overwhelming majority of students complete the assignment, McGriff said, and it helps them get an idea of whether they really do want to pursue that job after college.

The interview, in addition to helping students learn more about their future career ambitions, helps them learn professionalism. For many, reaching out to someone in their desired field can be scary.

Sometimes the professional is a family friend or connected to the college in some way (a network connection of the faculty member or employed on campus, for example). Others are guest speakers who come into the first-year seminar and who work in roles students may want to pursue.

Do you have a career prep tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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