Lehigh's Eager Alums

The school's director of career services talks about the extensive alumni network and other job-hunting aids

At Lehigh University, business majors don't rely just on typical business world contacts for jobs. Because of the school's well-known engineering program, several manufacturing and other engineering-related companies come to campus looking to interview marketing and supply-chain management students, says Donna Goldfeder, Lehigh's director of career services (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/8/06, "Why Put Real Work Off Till Tomorrow?").

Goldfeder heads up career services for the entire student body; the College of Business & Economics does not have a separate career center. However, many work-related initiatives are of interest to business majors, and the university has a relationship with many of the Big Four accounting firms, investment banks, and other companies of note—related to engineering and otherwise.

Donna GoldfederLehigh University
Goldfeder, who has been working in Lehigh career services for 15 years, recently spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Julie Gordon. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.

The College of Business & Economics doesn't have its own career center. What does general career services offer that is of particular interest to business undergrads?

Our externship program is quite special and unique.

What types of externships are available for business students?

Many of them are offered through alumni contacts. The alums at Lehigh are just so cool. The students go into work sites from one day to as much as two or three weeks over winter break.

If they're one day, it's a tour with the ability to shadow a professional. When they're as long as the three weeks, they're sometimes given projects. One I'm thinking of in particular was at Goldman Sachs (GS), so they actually had a mini-internship. (See BusinessWeek.com, 5/11/06, "Jammin' Like Crazy at Goldman").

Externships are really a special way to get a short glimpse at what you think you might want— even pre-internship. One student that took the Goldman Sachs externship came back and said: 'Quite frankly, it's not for me.' So that student didn't waste the entire summer on a Wall Street internship that wasn't right for him when he could go for something else like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) or L'Oreal (LORLY).

For students unable to participate in externships, what other self-evaluation exercises can they do?

We use, as most career services do, assessment tools like the Strong Inventory or the Myers-Briggs Inventory to help point out their strengths and interests. There are certain personality types that make very good counselors and other personality types that really like sales. That doesn't mean that the person good at counseling can't do sales or vice versa, but it means that that's what's going to feel natural and comfortable.

What skills do business majors need in today's job market?

Ethics is also becoming much more talked-about. I don't know if you'd call it a skill as much as a value, but I'm hearing the word 'ethics' a lot from business employers and the business faculty members and such.

Students have to be able to write well, even in e-mails (ssee BusinessWeek.com, 4/26, "Memo to Students: Writing Skills Matter"). And they have to be able to speak without every other word being 'like,' or 'you know,' or 'um.

' Unfortunately, there is a casualness in conversation these days that isn't always appropriate in a business meeting or a client meeting, and you have to polish that up.

How can students be more aware of common language slip-ups?

One of the things we like to do with a student is a taped video of them speaking, whether it be a video of a mock interview or even just forcing them to talk about something that they've done in class lately. At first some of the students are a little taken aback, but I think the picture paints a thousand words, and they really get it when they see themselves doing it.

Students can do this in the career center?

Yes, with the help of a counselor. The counselor walks them through some questions or some topics that they can talk about, and then they look at it together afterwards.

What is the hardest part of the interview for most students?

An awful lot of students have trouble with the questions, "What are your strengths?" and "What are your weaknesses?" They have trouble talking about that particular topic because it's so personal.

They may in their own heart know what their personality weakness is—they don't make small-talk well or they are shy or they don't like public speaking—but I think they're afraid those traits might be taken negatively if they talk about them in the interview (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/1/06,"Twelve Job Interview Mistakes").

Even about strengths, I think some students are comfortable quote-unquote bragging about themselves, and some aren't. International students of certain types find that very, very difficult to do because it isn't their culture to be saying, "I did this, I did that, and I'm wonderful at this, and I'm wonderful at that."

What types of strengths should students emphasize?

I would say more the transferable skills. They should be emphasizing the fact that they are very organized or they're very good with people or they're good on teams.

And weaknesses?

I advise the students to pick something of course that's true. I also advise them to pick something that isn't too damaging. And more important than anything else, to talk about how they compensate for it.

So for instance if you were going to say, "I'm not very good at public speaking. I get extremely nervous," then you would say, "In order to do a public speaking engagement, I prepare extensively. I practice. And I've been told that even though my palms are sweating and I'm shaking like a leaf, the audience can't tell."

How important is networking in the job search process? (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/6/06, "The 'Do-Nots' of Networking").

Huge. I know it's a very difficult thing for some young people to do because it's not easy to pick up a phone and call somebody you don't know, for instance, or to walk up to somebody and say, "Hi there, you don't know me but…"

However, one of the advantages for people who go to a school like Lehigh is an alumni network that is not just there for the students but actually excited about helping them. We have more than 26,000 volunteers who have said, "Have your students call, and I'll be glad to help them."

What suggestions do you have for students who might be nervous to pick up that phone?

These alums will remember what it was like to be in the student's shoes. I make a joke and say your biggest problem once you start talking to the alum will be getting them off the phone. With employers, I try to tell the students that employers are just as excited or nervous about getting good people as you are about getting a good job.

You briefly mentioned international students before. Do many of Lehigh's international students work in the U.S. after graduation?

That somewhat depends on majors. Accounting right now is particularly hot—if that's the buzz word we want to use—partially because in good times or bad times, people always have to keep accounting of business. Also, since Enron and some of those other things, the Sarbanes-Oxley laws have required more people to enforce ethics and legal aspects related to what became obvious in those places. They're willing to go through hoops to keep international students in those fields because they need good people so badly.

Do many of the American students work abroad after graduation?

Most companies that I talk to are very excited about putting the workers in international sites a year or two after training, but not necessarily immediately. That seems to be the trend.

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