Getting career-ready during a pandemic

Contact: Stacey Markin

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—How do you prepare for your career when in-person contact is no longer an option? That is a question that many students are learning to answer creatively with assistance from the staff at the Zhang Career Center.

As WMU moved to distance education, staff members in the career center shifted to remote advising appointments and offering instruction on topics like building a professional resume, LinkedIn profile best practices, business etiquette and others via video.

“Pivoting to remote advising and delivery of career development content has been a challenge, but a challenge our team was ready to take on for our students,” says Bob Stewart, career development specialist. “In times of crisis, people’s true colors show. I am very proud of our immediate and efficient response to this situation and believe that we will continue to provide the best career development education and opportunities for our students, albeit remotely.”  

Photo of a student stnading in the middle of a group of people at a career fair.

WMU career development specialists are available remotely to guide students though an uncertain time in terms of internship and job searches.

Students appreciate the ability to connect with career advisors and tap into their expertise in a time of uncertainty. “Lately, things have have felt anything but normal,” says first-year business student Jacob Myers. “I can’t thank the Zhang Career Center team enough for making this transition easier. The career center’s online services, such as resume critiques, practice interviews, and assistance with job and internship searches, is beyond beneficial. With many students—including myself—worried about our futures, it has been helpful and reassuring to have the opportunity to talk with the amazing career advisors. The seamless switch to virtual appointments and total support of students during this transition has been just what we needed.”

While economic and hiring uncertainties are realities that graduates are facing, there is an opportunity to frame recent student experiences with distance education, collaboration, technology and evolving expectations in a way that employers can appreciate.

“All students going through this pandemic are strengthening their ability to be adaptable, handle adversity and cope with stress,” says Jessica Sonnenberg-Ward, career development specialist. “Quickly acclimating to the expectations of distance learning enhances time management skills, confidence in technical abilities and personal drive. These are just a few examples of how this unprecedented time allows us to each grow as human beings.”

Amidst the move to distance education, the Zhang Career Center has been managing the expectations around its Business Externship Program—one of the single biggest career exploration opportunities that students early in the B.B.A. program experience.

“Our staff really had to go the extra mile with our Business Externship Program,” says Geralyn Heystek, director of the Zhang Career Center. “Workshops that are usually in-person were held using WebEx. In addition, Bob and Jessica have developed an Elearning site for the program. Originally planned as a pilot project for this year, the Elearning site became top priority very quickly. Within the site, students can submit preparation work for the program, attendance at workshops can be tracked, and quizzes and other accountability tools are available.

Though the exact ways that students will connect with these businesses over summer are still being discussed, many businesses are willing to schedule visits to their companies in later summer or fall, pending that ability, and all have expressed willingness to share content virtually and continue to connect with students for mentorship.

The staff members in the career center are working remotely every day to ensure that students have the very best information in getting career-ready.

What are the top questions that students are asking their career advisors as they work to build their professional brand during this time?

The Top Five Questions and Answers
    1. How do I make career advisor appointments?
      We have electronic appointments available for students and alumni daily! Our preference is to meet through WebEX or Microsoft Teams, but we will accommodate anyone without video capability. To schedule an appointment, call (269) 387-2711 or visit
    2.  How do I know if my internship or job is still going to happen?
      It is important that students with upcoming internships or jobs communicate openly via email or phone to discuss this issue with employers. Make sure to read every email from employers very carefully. It is fine to ask employers what the plan is, but remember that many companies are still trying to adapt to the changing dynamics brought on by COVID-19. When responding, students should practice professionalism in their email responses and not show frustration. This situation is new for everyone, and every organization is doing their best to accommodate students in this situation. Students: Be patient, be responsive and show gratitude.
    3. Is the Business Externship Program still going to happen?
      The Zhang Career Center is working individually with the over 50 companies that are part of the Business Externship Program to adapt the program to meet all guidelines recommended by the state of Michigan. This means that companies have the option to adapt their program on an individual basis. Some companies are postponing site visits, some are doing virtual one-on-one mentorship and others are creating tailored virtual experiences. Once we have more information on how employers are adapting their experiences, all students participating in the program will be notified.
    4.  How do I make the most of a virtual internship?
      This is a question that students should be asking themselves. The answer is complex. Many companies are switching from in-person internships to virtual internships. This will be a challenge for both employers and students, but it is an extraordinary opportunity for students and their professional growth. Virtual internships, like distance learning, will come with a different set of challenges. It will be necessary for students to be able to use web platforms that support conference meetings like WebEx and Zoom. Companies will be using a variety of platforms, which students will need to become familiar with quickly. Students need to treat this style of internship just as they would the traditional in-person experience. This means showing up on time every day, meeting deadlines for tasks, communicating in a comprehensive and professional manner, and taking on as much as they can handle. The opportunity is in the ability to perform at a high level with the challenging hurdles brought by COVID-19. Students have a chance to stand out from the crowd through their work ethic and communication. Virtual internships and remote work were already embraced by many companies, and possibly will be a norm that will continue at all companies after the novel coronavirus is under control. Students that step up and respond well in virtual internships will be first choices for future virtual career opportunities.
    5. What can I be doing during the pandemic to enhance my job search and job search materials?
      First, we want students to be taking care of themselves holistically during this time. That means getting exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, taking breaks, meditating, and connecting virtually with family and friends. Take care of your body and take care of your mind. Do the things you need to cope with the anxiety that might arise from stress from the pandemic. Once you have a good schedule in place for taking care of yourself, we recommend doing an upgrade to your LinkedIn and Handshake profile accounts. Improve your resume by having it reviewed by one of our career advisors. Consider how adapting to all the change caused by COVID-19 has enhanced you as a professional. Use Big Interview to practice your interviewing skills.

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