As the director of the Student Professional Development Center, Brooke Buffington helps students with all aspects of their professional development. Ranging from career advisors to employer relations, Buffington and the SPDC team help bring job opportunities to campus and connect students with those hiring.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
With graduation just weeks away, what does the job market look like right now?
“It’s a good job market, right now it's a strong job market. It's definitely different from what we saw in 2020. That was right after the pandemic and had a lot of uncertainty. Industries are feeling much more confident in their hiring, we're seeing good hiring numbers, but that means that seniors need to be applying and need to be actively engaging in the job cycle. Just because it's a busy job cycle, it still takes a little bit of work to find the right opportunity.”
Something that’s unique about the job application process now is that seniors applying for jobs have to ask if the position is remote or in person. That wasn’t the case over two years ago, but do you think working from home is here to stay right now?
“There are a lot of people predicting what this is going to look like. So predictions are still happening, I think that some jobs will continue to be fully remote, some organizations or certain aspects of their work, they decided can be remote, and the people that are in those positions prefer remote.
Now, there's a lot of what I would say hybrid work, that's going to be happening more so than fully remote work. This means people need to only be in the office a couple days a week, or have a hybrid schedule where they're coming in two days and out three days. … What we're going to see, I believe, is a lot more of a hybrid schedule than a fully remote or fully in-office schedule, just offering some flexibility. But not one way or the other entirely, which is different for graduating seniors.
Those that are graduating might want to go to the office. It's nice to learn a company's culture, organization's culture, to get to know your colleagues through being around them in the office — having those no side conversations in the hall, or just being able to pop into their office space. I think it's important for our seniors to ask what the work environment is going to be like, how much is going to be hybrid or remote or in-person, so that they can make the best decisions for them. Because some seniors are going to really thrive in an office environment, and some might thrive in a remote environment.”
What are some other additional ways that the job market has changed over the course of the past two years?
“The other part of the job market that we've really seen impacted is the hiring process. Before, we saw a lot of employers bringing students into offices for a final round of interviews, or engaging with them on campus in first or second round interviews, face to face, and almost all of that has completely gone virtual. They had to switch to virtual during the pandemic and they realized that it was really time and cost effective, and so they've kept a virtual hiring cycle in place. Seniors could have maybe set foot into the office environment where they might get to work and get a feel for the culture in the office, but they now are having to navigate that through an entirely virtual application process.”
What is your advice for students who are going through that virtual application process?
“One is wanting to get really comfortable on camera. We're all broadcasters now, whether it's in a meeting through Zoom, or whether it's in a Zoom interview, and even the HireVue, which is a pre-recorded interview process. Pre-recorded video interviews are starting to become more popular, and now they are very much an integrated part of the hiring process. For those who don't know, or a senior who hasn't been through the pre-recorded video interview, it means that you're not even interviewing with a live person, you're interviewing with a pre-recorded person asking you a question or even just text that pops up on the screen that says ‘Tell me about yourself.’ You have a couple of seconds to consider your answer and then you record your answer. That recorded interview is what goes to the first-round hiring person, vetting person or recruiter. They're using that to make a determination about the second round. So students really need to get comfortable in front of the camera and if they're not yet, come in to practice for a video interview with us.
We also have a system called Big Interview that's free and accessible to all students that essentially simulates that process. A student can practice pre-recording video interviews, and can even send it to themselves to see how they look on camera and see how they feel on camera or send it to a career advisor to get feedback on how that pre-recorded video interview went.”
Are there any sort of trends that indicate that certain industries right now are hiring more than others, are booming more than others, are looking for employees more than others?
“The communications field is a busy field right now for hiring. It's picked up, really almost every industry that we're hearing from has picked up a great deal. Even those that stopped hiring, have really curtailed their hiring during the pandemic, such as the sports industry, or hospitality and entertainment has come back full force, because a lot of them are playing catch-up. There are projects that have been sitting and waiting to get done that now have been given the green light, and so they're needing to hire to meet the needs of those projects.”
What is your best advice for students? How can they best prepare to enter the job market?
“I always like a strategic application process. For a lot of students, I really encourage quality over quantity. Students like to hit that submit button like 50 times without any necessarily strong intention behind why they hit the submit button. I'd rather students take some thoughtful reflection about what they're really interested in and hit that submit button 15 times. But then every time that you submit, know why you're submitting, why you're interested in that job, and then look for a networking contact as a next step.
It's not just your resume going into the pool. But is there a great alumni contact? Did you come and speak with one of our career advisors, and they tell you that we have a recruiting contact, because what I would like for our seniors to do is get their name in front of a recruiting contact and alumni contact in front of somebody at the company or organization one more time beyond just the application.
Strategy works really well with fewer applications and more strategy with each application. You feel like you're doing one more step beyond the application itself.”
Do you have any general advice for seniors who are in the peak of their application process?
“One, it takes longer than you want it to. Always. It doesn't happen in this nice, fluid way because you're applying one week and then applying again the next week. Interviews come at different times, every company doesn't work on the same timeline. So take a deep breath is what I tell seniors that I'm sitting with right now. If you're being smart about your applications, putting in the right applications, doing that follow-up right with those applications, things will work out.
I've been in this field for a really long time. For the seniors that take their time, that work at it, they always find great positions. It just takes a little bit longer than they want it to, it doesn't always happen the way you think it's going to happen. Be ready for that phone call to come at any point in time.
A little quick tip, make sure your voicemail has a nice message to it that is a professional message. Because that phone call could come when you're in the middle of class, or come at seven o'clock on a Friday night, right? So you just don't ever know. Whenever you answer the phone, be ready for that call to be somebody that could be speaking with you about setting up an interview, and be ready to kind of turn into professional mode at that moment in time.”