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Tips for UM students in a competitive job market

By Natalie Bannon

What to do after college:
5 tips for students in a competitive job market

With the job market at a competitive level, it’s important for students to find creative ways to prepare for the real world. So, after you’ve shed the cap and gown, what’s next?

“Career centers at United Methodist-related colleges and universities can help pave the road ahead for a smoother journey,” said Gerald D. Lord, Associate General Secretary in the Division of Higher Education of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. “No matter where a student is in the process of career preparation, our institutions are equipped to train and guide them for the next step—even in this tough economy.”

We talked to Otterbein University’s Director of the Center for Career & Professional Development, Ryan Brechbill, to get the top five tips needed for career-prep.

Get outside the classroom

A degree with outstanding transcripts is not enough. Employers are looking for personnel who have hands-on training. “It is imperative for students to complete internships to show employers that they can grasp the classroom concepts,” said Ryan. “It’s evidence that they can put those theories into the workplace.” So, how do you find internships? Look at internship posts, target organizations that interest you and, most importantly…


United Methodist-related colleges and universities, like Otterbein, have strong networks of alumni that are still connected with the campus. Current students are encouraged to connect with the 2200 members on the school’s LinkedIn group. Don’t be intimidated. “We coach students in how to reach out to alumni they don’t know,” says Ryan. “We give them guidance and confidence in that process. After students do it the first time, and get a response, they get more confidence.”

Weigh your options

Should you apply for grad school or jump straight into the workforce? Don’t just enroll because you’ve had a great undergrad experience and want to continue the process. Ryan advises students on this next step based on a variety of factors. “Does the student have a strong desire to learn or have a strong curiosity in a certain field? For some students, it is the next right step. For some, they could benefit from working for the next three or four years before considering it.”

Schedule informational interviews

Not all interviews are about landing the job. An informational interview is a focused meeting designed to help you get an insider’s view on a particular career. On its website, Otterbein has a sample email that you can tailor to request a meeting. The form states, “To find a working professional, check with your advisor or a faculty member in your department. Professional organizations, organizational directories, company websites, local business newspaper articles and classroom guest speakers are also good resources.” Ask people you already know, like friends, pastors and relatives if you can meet with them or if they know someone who is already established in your chosen field.

Build your skills

Ryan says regardless of your major, there are certain skills that every employer requires. Focus on communication, creativity, problem-solving and analytical skills. Think of examples when you’ve used those and don’t be afraid to shine a light on them during an interview.

Remember, too, that there are benefits to attending a United Methodist-related school. “It’s the values education,” said Ryan. “It’s woven throughout the curriculum. You’re going to be able to solve problems in a humane context, and that’s important in this world.”

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