Connecting Returning Adults with Careers

The majority of career services programming targets either traditional-aged students approaching graduation or young alumni. However, the recession has driven increased enrollment by returning adults who have already spent some time in the workforce but who may now have been displaced from their jobs or who are hoping to boost their career with some further education.

We asked Lisa Andrews, director of career services for the University of Maryland University College, for tips on providing effective career advising for this growing student population.

What Services They Need Most

Andrews notes that the mock interview is critical. For many of your returning adult students, it may have been some time since they interviewed, and they may be unfamiliar with the styles of behavioral and case interviewing that is now common practice. "They need to practice," Andrews notes, "especially case interviewing, so that they are prepared to tell stories about themselves and position themselves well to the employer."

Besides the mock interview, adult learners may need help with:

  • Job search strategy ("what if they have never been on Monster?")
  • Networking skills and the use of social media to facilitate career connections
  • Resume format
  • Values clarification

Andrews notes that you can get this information to your adult students in a few different ways:

  • One-on-one counseling
  • Hold live workshops at your job fair
  • Webcasting ("this allows you to cast a wide net, which may be especially beneficial if you have many distance education students")

Values Clarification

"Self-assessment is the most under-used but vital first step."
Lisa Andrews, UMUC

"Students have to be absolutely certain of who they are and what they want before going forward with successful job searching and resume building," Andrews notes. Access to self-assessment tools can aid students in targeting and shortening their search (and in preventing frustrations later).

To support returning adults in self-assessment, Andrews suggests offering an array of traditional tools (such as Discover, StrengthsFinder, and Myers Briggs), and then offering students the opportunity the opportunity to review the results with a counselor. The purpose of the review is to identify:

  • What did the student learn, and how can that be used to advantage
  • How to use the results to target the job search
  • How to use the results to strengthen the resume, the interview, and other communications

Serving the Stay-at-Home Mom

"Probably one of the more challenging populations to deal with," Andrews suggests, "are stay-at-home moms who are now returning to work. They likely have volunteer experience and new skills, but have less work history and often some uncertainty about what they really want to do." Andrews recommends helping this population prepare for career choices by providing assessment and values clarification exercises.

Also, skills clarification is especially critical for this set of returning adults. Help them identify:

  • Which skills are marketable to employers
  • How to highlight these skills on their resume
  • How to sell their education

Providing Services Outside Business Hours

As many adult learners may already be working, they may not have the opportunity to visit a career office during business hours. It will be equally important to both reach out to them pro-actively to let them know about your services and your enthusiasm in working with them to help them pursue their careers, and to offer them availability beyond normal working hours.

Because you are unlikely to have either the staff or the budget to extend working hours, Andrews recommends some relatively low-cost alternatives:

  • Offer a service in which students can email their resume to a career counselor, and then have that counselor critique the resume via Track Changes
    Try one-time Saturday workshops that are designed to serve a lot of students at once

When holding a Saturday workshop, Andrews recommends making it a "one-stop shop"; ensure that you have at least a half day (perhaps an 8-12 or 9-1 workshop) so that you can offer hour-long sessions that adults rotate through, and make sure the topics are salient to the specific needs of the returning adult student.

Possible sessions might include:

  • Targeting your resume ("a lot of returning adults may think they can use one resume for all the jobs they are applying to")
  • Interviewing skills (include roleplaying and commonly asked questions, as well as a refresher on salary negotiations)
  • Conducting an effective job search
  • How to use social media and networking sites (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) to boost a job search

Do More With Less

Finally, Andrews recommends searching vigilantly for opportunities to achieve more with fewer resources. In particular, leverage strategic partnerships:

  • Partner with an academic department. "For example," Andrews suggests, "you want to help your accounting students but can't afford to offer a training event, so leverage both the budget and the expertise of your accounting department. They can bring to the table instructional design expertise, additional funding, and help in marketing the event."
  • Partner with your alumni office, and leverage your institution's alumni as a great source of networking for your students.
  • Partner with an employer, and invite the employer to sponsor or host an event. "They can provide funding for the event," Andrews notes, "and they get their pipeline."