A small outburst of voices suddenly fills the room. “I didn’t know that was a thing,” one student announces above the swell of noise. We’re discussing a difficult topic: perceptions of gender and its influence on applicants in the interview process. “Should I ask about maternity leave benefits?” “My professor told me not to wear a wedding ring.”
The group grapples with mixed feelings as they talk through their views on whether to conceal aspects of identity as a strategy for succeeding in a job interview. This was a complicated but candid conversation on navigating uncertainty that took place in a job search support group for graduate students.
Piloting a Job Search Support Group
In my role at the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I regularly lead group programs focused on career exploration for graduate students, I am constantly struck by how much students benefit from spontaneous group discussion. Seeing how the dynamic, unexpected element of open dialogue can reveal new insights, I grew eager to develop a program for students to engage with peers about the job search in this sustained and collaborative way.
So this spring, I started the first-ever job search support group for graduate students at the University of Illinois. Over four weeks, around 12 master's and Ph.D. students from across disciplines came together for weekly, 90-minute meetings focused on one component of the job search: assessing fit from a job ad, crafting application materials, interviewing strategies, networking and so forth. I planned for the sessions to be highly interactive, with most of the time designated for participants to tell stories, ask questions and reflect on their job search experiences together.
During those four weeks, I observed that most of the students felt a loss of control in the search. I came to realize that the main benefit of the support group model was that students could confront that feeling and take steps to overcome it.
In the full article on Inside Higher Education, Mike describes that loss of control, explains how the support group helped and outlines strategies for creating your own job search support group. Read the original post online.
Mike Firmand is the Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.