We talk with Dr. Patrick Madsen, Executive Director of the University Career Center at UNC Charlotte, to understand strategies for job seekers during a difficult economy, job interviews in the artificial intelligence age, and how the University is meeting students where they are during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hi I'm Jeffrey Jones with UNC Charlotte and this is Charlotte Business Buzz.
Connecting the Queen City’s business community … From the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte.... This is Charlotte Business Buzz.
Whether you are looking for that first job after graduation or seeking a new position to move your career forward, the process to land that new opportunity is changing. Video interviews, automated resume screening, and artificial intelligence have quickly changed the career landscape. Today, we’re talking with Dr. Patrick Madsen, Executive Director of the Career Center at UNC Charlotte to understand how the university is preparing students for this new environment. Dr. Madsen, welcome to the program.
Thank you very much - glad to be here.
Let's jump right in. While we were working at a distance here what innovative ways are you using to reach students and employers?
Yeah that's a great question and I got to tell you as the university was continuing to think about moving us online weeks and weeks - seems like years and years ago - our office had already planned out everything so it was literally flipping the switch and turning our events- our panels and networking events and even our career fairs- virtual. What we have found from our data over the years is that students are still into the technology aspect social media is a big thing and one of the things that we realized quickly too was that students needed to kind of get over this the sudden surprise of the pandemic so we had to meet them where they were and make sure that they realized that you still need to engage and that we're still here for them so we've seen a steady increase in usage in our office all along a lot of the virtual stuff that we've been putting together.
How's the search for employment opportunities changed for jobseekers?
Well what's interesting is you know I lived through the Great Recession as it were and you know back then you had a 9% unemployment rate and recently we were at just under 4% now we're heading up past 15% and a lot of the things that we learned in the Great Recession are applying today and so when people are looking for job opportunities in this type of environment they need to start to do a little more research on what industries are thriving which industries are surviving and which industries are having a little trouble and this helps them understand how they could build a better strategy to expand their opportunities expand their targets as they continue to move forward with their careers. So we think about that in terms of the expansion of the strategy but also making sure to double down on engaging in the process you know in a good economy and sometimes you can just post for a job online and somebody's gonna call you hopefully these days you have to do a little bit more informational interviewing if to do a lot more networking you still be a lot more engaging in continuing to learn and pick up new skills that are that are marketable to the employers that are out there so the shift has gone away from this idea that I can just jump out there and there's a ton of jobs - now I really need to think through my strategy the targets and and how I'm gonna make this this whole thing possible.
You mentioned networking - what strategies are job seekers using for networking?
Yeah so networking is has continuously been done through LinkedIn a lot for the past you know five or seven years and in fact there was a stat back in 2013 that a long long time ago that said 94% of all employers - all industries - use LinkedIn somewhere in their recruitment and talent pipelining process - 94% in 2013. You can just imagine what it is today and so we train our students and we train our employers - and how to properly use LinkedIn - to suss out the candidates that are out there and making sure that you're making a good first impression and a good second impression to build that that social capital as you will as you will so when you're thinking about this idea of how do I network it's pretty much the same as it's been for about five to seven years it's just a matter of again doubling down making sure that students are presenting themselves professionally for the world they're trying to go into and they're remembering to help them understand what it is they're after so that they can they can market themselves well.
You know as we we spend more time online and more of us more of our who we are is online I've noticed that there are a lot of challenges and scams out there there's always someone looking for you your your information what sort of recent scams should jobseekers be aware of?
Yeah unfortunately job scams are just a part of this job search of life maybe they've been like that for a number of years even even back in the day in the Stone Age era when I was in undergrad I can remember the stuff stuff mailings for dollars upon dollars each week or something like that and you know now they've progressed into this idea of they mimic real companies in some way and they change an icon here and there and students if they're not paying attention if they're not doing their proper research and and vetting of opportunities they could miss it and fall into a scam we've also seen across the nation the new crop where somehow a company or some scam artist is getting into the data and pulling emails and pretending like they're a University Department or Career Center or or otherwise - the best advice that we have for students is two things, one check our website to understand the latest scams and I've been very impressed with our students over the past few years in that they report it to us a lot quicker than what they used to and the second thing is is learn how to vet opportunity think it think through how they're actually presenting this when for example if they they say give me your bank account information so we can give you money to go buy products okay why would you give them your bank account information so there's these certain red flags that it seemed to be pretty common with a good majority of these job scams that we try to train students to to pay attention to.
What advice would you give students right now about using the resources that that you have at the Career Center?
I would say that it's a process so we don't believe that they're in it in a checklist sort of thing so there are some universities out there they have a checklist of what you should be doing as a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior and even a graduate student - we believe that it's an engagement process of certain things that you're always doing even throughout the rest of your career such as continuing to learn about yourself, continuing to learn how to brand yourself, continuing to gain experience, and making sure you're always collecting those new skills for for the future of work and so when we talk with students we help them understand that it's a life design process making meaning they need to understand what are they studying and study what you love don't just study because you think that will get you a job but study what you love and then build those competencies that all employers have been saying that they've been looking for for the past 20 to 25 years - things like leadership, communication, critical thinking, or problem-solving if you will making sure to have the proof that you have those competencies to do the job that the employer is looking for more and more employers are looking for all majors and competent individuals and so I think that's a really good thing to think through as students start to process their education the return on investment from our University and making sure that it's something that they can use through their whole career life if you will - so it's a process my advice is to engage in that process does that mean you have to use the Career Center every single day? only if you want - but if you're actively taking part of the process you're gonna get what you need from a Career Center in this university and and be very successful what is that you want to do with your career.
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Welcome back to Charlotte Business Buzz. Patrick, what are employers doing differently to attract talent?
Yeah that's a great question, I think I've been doing this for over 20 years I am that old and I can remember way back in the day where employers would use some of the traditional things like I'm going to attend a job fair, I want to post my job online and and I'm maybe I'll do a presentation or two on campus and students will just know who I am and although our office still does a lot of those different things in this new age of recruitment what I have been finding now is that employers who are successful in working with this University don't treat it as a transactional process but more importantly our understanding to integrate into the process of higher education - everything from partnering on research with a person or literally living on campus with one of offices or their business for example all the way through engaging in an integrated approach to educating students - whether it be doing a quick presentation in a class all the way through maybe even partnering with a faculty on a certain course material or being a part of the process of educating students around those competencies so we have leadership programs, clubs and organizations, our office has a lot of what we call virtual meetups where we're helping students understand the world of work and where the future of work is going but more importantly based on the data that we collect we can help educate our employers on how students, our candidates are viewing you as an employer we can use that data to help employers learn how to shift their job description to be more attractive to students we can help them understand what are candidates looking for is it high salary is it work-life balance is it something else and so when you think about what employers are doing - they're looking at the talent pipeline, but also looking at recruitment at the same exact time and that's kind of where the nexus of what a Career Center does is we become consultants if you will to make sure everybody's connecting in a in an efficient manner.
Patrick, business leaders here in Charlotte have a lot of stress now and uncertainty. Why would you say they should be hiring an intern now?
That's a great question and you know one of the things that I've been hearing from industry for for a decade or more is that they're missing out on the the skilled talent - where is the skilled talent? And I say that right now during this situation even though you're you're a little nervous about hiring an intern or or doing a micro internship gigternship or or otherwise now's the time to build that skill talent that you've been looking for so there's a lot of students that are looking for opportunity there's a lot of people in our region looking for opportunity we can look at upskilling we can look at creating new projects we can look at creating new ways to to develop these competencies in the talent pool so that when you already when things do start to move back to the positive positive world you have what it is you're looking for and you can immediately hire these these great candidates into the roles that you might have. It'll keep things moving quicker and I think this is a good opportunity for our our region, our economy that partnerships between higher education and industry to redesign the candidate-talent pipeline and the recruitment process so that it's more it's got more social impact it's got more capital for for what it is that we're trying to get done as a region.
How do you help students be resilient through tough times in their career?
Yeah so during the the Great Recession though my biggest thing that I used to tell students and I still tell them today and even before all of this was you need to learn how to recession-proof your career - every single orientation with new students coming into our university I say you need to learn how to recession for your career because these things happen every ten to twelve years that's that's kind of how they roll and so what recession proofing your career means is continuously learning what are your strengths, what is it that that attracts you to the to the the career world if you will, what what makes you tick understanding that aspect and then remembering to continue to build those competencies and skills that every employer is looking for they they need that proof they need to know that you are the one who I can put into a situation that we've never seen before and you're able to use your problem-solving and your communication to to get us through that type of thing you think about that the future of work, we can talk about AI we can talk about all these different these different factors, but to tell you the truth there's always going to be a percentage of the future of work that is the unknown we don't know what's gonna happen and so being able to have those candidates who know how to think and know how to problem-solve are gonna be at the top of every employers list. All throughout the five universities I've worked worked at so far - the number one thing I hear from alumni is I I wish I used my Career Center during college, and so what I would say to students is - knowing that - most of them say man I wish I used the Career Center more then that should help you understand how important the foundation of a what a Career Center is all about - it's about the return on that investment of your time and your money in this this university, so making sure that you're understanding yourself making sure that you're continuously building those skills, and remembering during that there are many other things that you should be doing that it might be outside the classroom to build that profile that that's going to get you into the career that you're you're hoping before for yourself.
We've seen the rise of artificial intelligence used by companies to interview prospective employees. Can you tell us a little bit a little bit about this and how job seekers might prepare for that experience?
Yeah AI is one of those things that's just getting everywhere isn't it and now we're starting to find it in the in the process as well you know it's still a growing area but my my team has started to see it come onto the stage more and more if you will so it started back maybe a decade ago I guess where you have these these computer systems that will review resumes and look for keywords and then you'll get in a good pile if you have a certain number of keywords so you have that that start if you will but now we're starting to see a little bit of this AI happening in the interview process for good or bad or worse it depends on how you want to view it but what what we've believe is happening is that some types of jobs will have so many candidates that come in - thousands of candidates - that it's literally impossible to review every single candidate in a screening interview to get them to the second stage or whatever it might be and so some of these larger companies are starting to you look at AI as a way to suss out if you will those that should make it to the next round based on some of these these subjective measures that they might looking to be looking for and which ones shouldn't so they'll have these computer systems and they're so at the beginning stage that you know they're still kind of collecting information collecting data to see if they're even relevant but what it does is the computer is gonna look at you and it's gonna listen for keywords that you that you tend to say or it's gonna look at look at your body movements and start to collect information on those different things now you might think about a bad and say well that's just not fair how am I supposed to prepare for that what we talked talked with students is about is a couple of things one it's a such a new sort of thing that you shouldn't worry about it right now - just be who you are you can't fake it - if you fake it too much an employer is gonna figure it out at some point in the stage and you won't become that viable candidate so be true to who you are but be true to the professional self if you will so we've done a lot of cool things around virtual interviews and preparing for virtual interviews and one of the my favorite things that we do for students is we actually do a virtual background check and so we use what's called big interview the students can answer one 30-second commercial type of question and it dumps into our bin and our staff will review everything from the background that you have in your virtual platform if you will what you're wearing your eye contact how your body's moving all the way through your audio and video to make sure that you have the perfect setup so that you can do that networking online you can do the interviews online and feel comfortable and and confident in what it is that you're projecting through this this digital era that we are we are now living through.
Are there any other tips that you would give folks about those types of interviews?
Yeah there's a number of things that that come to mind and if there's so many articles out there that are saying about the same thing it comes down to the core of don't sweat the small stuff so for example we've seen all these stories we've all experienced it myself included the the dog barking or the baby crying or somebody coming into the room and that just becomes part of our human nature and so the the first tip that I have is don't worry about those so much just maintain your focus continue through the through the interview or networking situation or whatever it might be whether it's somebody coming into your room or you see it online and just allow it to be a part of it. The things that are in your control is lighting making sure that the lighting is is at a certain place where it shines on your face rather than your back for example being to a window where it creates this this silhouette if you will where people can't see you clearly remember that not everybody's technology is perfect so for somebody like me if you've met me in person I I tend to move around a lot I tend to use my hands I'm as I'm talking and doing it right now I have to kind of condense that a little bit that way you know the technology won't shudder me around or make me look like I'm just moving around a little too much so those are some simple things that people can take to pay attention to it's just a matter of the the lighting your positioning in and just being who you are during this process.
I've noticed that a of these websites now are starting to add questions sort of a pre-interview assessment for potential employees what thoughts do you have on that?
Yeah so you might be referring to - if I you know I throw in my resume into the job portal if you will and then I answer three or four questions that the employer has right mm-hmm yeah and you know a lot of employers are finding out that career centers are really awesome and we help students build those resumes to project what it is that they actually have the market and sell and now employers also want to start to they know that so they're gonna dig a little bit deeper on how you might react to certain situations that are common for their their place of business or they might want you to not just say yes I know Excel in my resume but how do you know Excel how have you used give me a give me an example of you using it and so that gives them an opportunity to to dig down a lil bit deeper on what it is that you actually know as it directly relates to their business but also they're checking out your writing ability and communication you know, verbal communication is important but also written communications important that that business communication if you will and they want to make sure that you at least have a good solid foundation to to be to represent them well in there whatever the place of business or their industry that they're in and that's why I always appreciate through the business school, a business communication course and I wish all students had to take something like that just to make sure that had that the starting foundation of that particular competency.
There are still opportunities out there to be found and I'd like us to end on a high note here, can you share with us a recent success story?
Oh yeah I'm gonna give you three of them how about that I mean I'm just gonna triple down on you so the first thing is you know since since this pandemic thing has happened we we went ahead and moved forward quicker with an idea that we've been playing around with for the past year year and a half and it's basically micro-internships we call them gigternship and so we worked with ventureprise on campus and and created these very short-term experience internships sorts of opportunities what we realized is that a lot of small businesses, a lot of nonprofits they don't need a 16-week intern or they may not have the time to really devote to being a part of that interns lives, but they do have a project that needs to get done maybe it's a two week project maybe it's a one-day project but these are things that can give students experience but also helps the employer get that aspect done to continue to grow their business so we created the gigternship and we marketed it out there with our with our partners and immediately got a few hits and we sent those those opportunities out to students and quickly got a lot of great positive reviews from students and employers were landing their their gigterns if you will within a couple days turnaround and it was an amazing thing to see we thought we take a little bit longer for people to get used to the concept but it was boom right there second thing past couple weeks statewide a lot of the local nonprofits and the local government if you will have been looking at ways to help students during this time and you know the state and a few of the partners across the the state of North Carolina got together and put out a call for all these nonprofits and local government entities and they literally built new internships for our students - paid and unpaid - and we got about fifteen or sixteen of them just in the past couple weeks two students sent them out every single internship we've got maybe five to six different candidates ready to go on those things and that's that's an example of industry and higher education working hand-in-hand - meaning that even though there may not be these paid internships or these paid jobs available, industry is still realizing that we still have to develop that pipeline and this is how we can do at a very low cost easy way and oh my gosh we can partner with higher education that has the future of our candidate pool right there and so been very very successful and really the third part is a lot of our local corporations have not been giving up on interns that's that's my my really good news is that most of them I would say close to 60 to 70% of them have been saying we're not canceling internship, we might shorten them a little bit or we went we might move into a winter internship or you know what if we have to cancel it we're still going to be educating these people but also guarantee them a job at the end of next year so a lot of positive movement versus what I experienced back in the great recession where there just wasn't any bandwidth there weren't any internships and so it's to me it's a it's a great experience knowing that there's still a lot of great opportunity out there and we want our students to make sure that they're connecting with us we want our employers to know that we are here to help you build these opportunities to continue that pipeline that you're gonna need six months, nine months and way beyond with our university. Well that's certainly some good news.
Thanks so much for your time today Dr. Madsen.
Yeah, it's been a great experience.
Dr. Patrick Madsen is executive director of the Career Center at UNC Charlotte and is leading the charge for connecting students to careers the center has launched a weekly podcast called career best covering resources hiring trends and activities available for students and alumni to learn more about the career center and this podcast series visit BelkCollege.uncc.edu/buzz.
Next time … We talk with Dr. Torsten Pieper, associate professor at UNC Charlotte's Belk College and editor of the Journal of Family Business Strategy, about family owned businesses in the Queen City and how they’re faring in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until then, this is Charlotte Business Buzz ... Connecting Charlotte business through one-on-one interviews with UNC Charlotte faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners… and is presented by the Belk College of Business, the Office of Industry and Government Partnerships and produced in association with University Communications.