Podcast

How Career Services and Employers Can Partner to Get Students Career Ready

Leonelle Thompson, Manager of Early Career at Williams and a former career services leader, shares a few ways career services teams and employers can work together to get students career ready.

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Leonelle Thompson, Manager of Early Career at Williams and a former career services leader at Langston University and the University of Tulsa, talks about how career services teams and employers can work together to get students career ready.

Having worked in both corporate recruiting and higher education career services, Leonelle discusses:

  • What career readiness means
  • What skills today’s students are lacking as they enter the workforce
  • Why it’s so important for the two sides to partner
  • What questions career services can ask employers to open a productive dialogue
  • What programming ideas employers can approach career services with
  • What both sides need to know about each other’s workflows
  • And more

“This partnership is so important because it shows the importance of career services. Career services has got to move away from the transactional piece… the resume writing, the mock interviews, the posting of the jobs,” Leonelle says.

Leonelle also encourages employers like herself to be more proactive and creative when it comes to pitching programming for students. Discuss with career services what skills your current interns or new hires were missing when they started their roles and create a program addressing those gaps.

With that ongoing, open dialogue, career services and employers can both make sure today’s students are career ready.   

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host, Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Leonelle Thompson. She’s the manager of early career at Williams, which is an energy company based out of Tulsa. She’s also a former career services leader at Langston University and the University of Tulsa. Thank you for being here, Leonelle.

Leonelle Thompson:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to venture into this conversation that I’ve been thinking a lot about, so thank you for the opportunity.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Well, I’m really glad to have you today. And I’m excited to talk to you about how career services and employers can better partner to get students career ready. And I know that this is something that has long been top of mind for you, from multiple perspectives. Both as a career services leader in higher ed, and then also as an employer in the corporate world. Particularly in your current role there at Williams where you focus on recruiting recent grads and training new hires. So before I get into my questions, Leonelle, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role at Williams?

Leonelle Thompson:

For me, definitely full circle to come into this role. Have been in this role for about a year now. I spent about five years in the university career services space. Best of both worlds. Getting to work with that early talent, still have a foot in the university world, but also helping students and early career professionals launch their career. So, that’s just a little bit about me, have a great passion for this space.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. I remember talking about this with you in our prep call, that there’s this thread through your career of always wanting to help, to coach, to teach even. I think you were a teacher at one point.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. Definitely got my feel of university higher ed and being a professor and that. Yeah, definitely. It goes back to when I was from fourth grade and wanted to be a teacher. So, definitely come full circle.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. Okay. Well, before I get into my more specific questions, I do want to kick us off with a question I ask everyone on this podcast. And that is, what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Leonelle Thompson:

To me, yeah. I love the term. But for me, it means this ecosystem of embedding the notion of career, whatever that may be throughout a student’s journey. And that journey as a student, a lot of research has shown that starts so early. So you can never begin too early. Kindergarten. What do you want to be when you grow up? What’s next? So just having that notion of, there’s so many avenues for career exploration, for career design, that is everywhere. That we all play a role in. So that ecosystem, how do we all come together from beginning to end, to continuation on a student’s journey.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. And so now let’s dig into the employer side of that and how they can work with career services to implement Career Everywhere. So to just set the stage, can you lay out the problem you’re seeing right now in regards to student career readiness?

Leonelle Thompson:

As an employer… I’ll start with the employer side, where I currently am, and then talk a little bit about the career services side that I came from. And from the employer side, we of course are not expecting students when they enter into the workforce to know all the things. To know this is how we do our processes, but we know that they have the skillset. What I’m not seeing is the application of that. So where’s that critical thinking? “Yes, I learned this in school, it’s a little different when I enter the workplace, but how can I problem-solve to get to that point?” I’m not saying students don’t have that. I’m saying it’s just that exploration and that application of that particular skill set.

On the career services side, I was a team of one at Langston University. And so, there was a lot of focus too on… We got to get the resumes together, we got to get them ready for mock interviews and for the career fair, but really being able to verbalize the application of those skill sets and those competencies that they have.

And so on the employer side, we’re seeing great resumes, great degrees, great GPAs. In the practical sense of the workforce and the work that they’re doing, wanting to see more of that application of those competencies or those skills.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So it’s kind of like… There’s almost this language barrier in translating-

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

… the skills that they have to the workforce.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes, definitely seeing a barrier. And my role, one of the things I want to accomplish is, how do we break down that barrier? How do we begin to speak the same language? How do students begin to show employers early on that they have these competencies and these skills. And then employers, we don’t get off the hook either. So how do we help to make sure that students are able to show us those transferable skills and that they have those.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. That they have the opportunities to even apply-

Leonelle Thompson:

Exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

… everything they’ve learned. Okay. So I’m curious, as an employer, what does career readiness look like to you?

Leonelle Thompson:

To me, it looks like applying those skills and those lessons and those competencies that are learned. So for example, we talk a lot about oral and written communication. No doubt that students have that. And then I know we hear a lot about Gen Z and they don’t know how to communicate. It’s really, for me as an employer showing that you know when, what method, what medium to communicate and to whom? So applying that. So, is it an email to your immediate manager or is it a Teams chat? Is it, “I need to go down and walk down the hall. Do I need to pick up the phone and call that application piece?” Little hard to measure. And I think we couch it and bucket it under. They don’t have communication skills, but it’s really applying it. So applying what you’ve learned, how to write, how to talk and communicate, but applying it in those specific situations. So, career ready is taking a look at what are the skills I’ve learned, whatever my major may have been, but then how do I apply that to a non-textbook situation in the workforce.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah. So it’s just, again, coming back to translating the skills, applying the skills in a non-classroom environment.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes. They’re, really real livin’ the real life. So, yes.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s that real-world reality there.

Leonelle Thompson:

No more widgets being manufactured. It’s real bottom line now.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Okay. So, I think we’ve talked about a couple things that play into career readiness, but is there anything else that you’re seeing that today’s students and recent grads are lacking as they come into the workforce?

Leonelle Thompson:

So surprisingly, what I see is a lot of lack of confidence. And I don’t know where that stems from. I know we’re coming out of COVID, so a lot of years spent in front of a screen. But the sense that you have to know everything when you arrive. And that is not an expectation that I can say, I know… We don’t put on anyone at Williams. But that expectation, I don’t measure up. And so, I don’t have the confidence, and so I’m supposed to know, so I don’t ask. And then that just turned into a snowball of, “Okay. I’ve done all this work and I should have gotten some guidance in the beginning.” To ask. But at the same time, coupling that with using the critical thinking skills to help, to ask those questions, using what you know to be able to ask those questions.

So seeing a little bit of that lack of confidence, lot of… Not so much on the competency side, but I think that leads to a lot of anxiety too. “Am I measuring up? Am I going to have a job? Is this internship going to convert to a job?” Those types of things. Still navigating that. Whether it’s corporate, nonprofit, government, whatever it may be, those unspoken rules that exist in the workplace. And I think that’s where mentoring comes in to be extremely important. Career service offices helping, letting employers help in that regard of how do we prepare students before it’s too late? What led me to the university side was, bringing students in at a former employer in the corporate world, and they get their first performance review, and it was just things they didn’t know. So I was like, “Okay. Let me go to the university side and see how I can fix that on the front end, to lead into that.” And so, now I’m on the opposite side again, and which leads me to I think, we could do it together. To help prepare the students to be career ready.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. I love that you are in the corporate world. You went to career services because you saw a problem that needed to be solved. So you went to career services, worked on solving that problem and now you’re back. Taking that knowledge. Williams is so lucky to have you.

Leonelle Thompson:

Oh, thank you.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s just such a cool and unique career path.

Leonelle Thompson:

For all my Williams people listening, you heard it here. You’re lucky to have me.

Meredith Metsker:

Give Leonelle a promotion.

Leonelle Thompson:

Love it.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I love that. So on that note where we left off, so how can career services and employers work together to get students more ready for the workforce?

Leonelle Thompson:

Having the conversation. A lot of times when we think about what are we seeing, where are we seeing the gaps? Universities are graduating students, and yes, they have wonderful degrees, but then here comes the employer saying, “Well, they’re not ready for the workforce.” And so, who’s to blame? Cut out the blame. We’re in this together. This is Career Everywhere. We’re all part of this ecosystem. Having the conversation and being willing to admit that we don’t get it right on either side. So, what is it employers being completely honest with, for our organization, this is what we need to see. But then employers also rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and helping the career services offices. So, it’s great to go and do mock interviews. I loved when employers would come and do mock interviews. I love to do that. Is that helpful in the sense of showing a student how to apply those skills?

I’m a big fan of case studies. Big fan of real-life work examples, job shadows, so they can get that real-time feedback, that’s not around certain interview questions. Now with all the AI stuff, you can get an answer to an interview question. But, letting them know that upfront and experiencing something real world, not a formal internship, those are great. I know they’re very limited sometimes, but working with those career services offices to maybe build out a program. Here’s how you would apply these particular skills that we know you have, and helping the students realize those skills and really verbalize what those skills are. And, I think that’s always been an issue is, students have the skills. They don’t know how to communicate that in an interview. To some of our… We love our behavioral-based interview questions. Tell me a time, and it’s great, but employers, let’s get in there and help career services and say, “Here’s how you would answer that in my job.”

So, if it’s telling me a time where you faced a challenge, we were looking at recruiting numbers and this is what we had to do. Being more transparent in those answers and how they can actually verbalize and translate the skills into the readiness that we want to see.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So it sounds like a little more hands-on work with students while they’re still in school. And then I wanted to dig back into the experiential stuff. So you’re talking about setting up formalized shadow programs?

Leonelle Thompson:

I think so.

Meredith Metsker:

Day-long, week-long.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. I think day-long, week-long shadow. See… You got to see it in real life and internships. And I say that my group handles our internship program here. Internship programs come with a lot of stuff. Love the internship program, but you have a task now that you need to do. And then on top of that, you got to learn these competencies. And now someone’s evaluating you on whether or not you’re career ready, but you didn’t answer a single interview question about this. It’s a lot. So why not? As soon as you accept an internship maybe, or you’re in a sophomore level or junior level class, you get that opportunity. Employers can bring you here and it’s truly about developing those skills. This is what career readiness looks like. No matter what field you go into or what department, this is what it looks like when you meet your manager, here’s how they would want to communicate.

“Let’s work on drafting an email based on a situation I have that you’re shadowing me.” So really, definitely more hands-on. I’ve been on the side of career services. We love the corporate dollars. We do. I think the time has come for… We need the corporate bodies to be on-site, on campus, really helping to instruct the students. We can’t put all that on career services. We cannot put that in the classroom. Love professors, but there’s already stuff going on there too. So, we are the consumers of that talent, so let’s help curate that talent and get it to be what we want or at least close to it.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So, is this along the lines of what you do in your role as the manager of early career there at Williams?

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. So, definitely expanding what development looks like. I think a lot of times we think of development as well. “Once they get here, then let’s develop them.” Really challenging my team to really have that forward-thinking. How can we get into the universities to develop the students, whether they come to us or not. I’m always like, “They will remember that Williams taught me that I don’t need the Teams chat, the CEO.” They taught me how to, I could communicate and this is the medium to communicate by. They taught me what professionalism was. And so, really challenging my team to come up with some sort of strategy to help students at the schools we recruit at, to help get them ready. Again, not under the guise of they need to come work for us, but that it’s that development piece. So, we play a huge part whether they come to work for us or not.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Nice. That’s like the perfect segue from your last role.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes, yes.

Meredith Metsker:

So I’m curious, I guess, what advice would you give to career services teams who want to get more employer involvement, but maybe they’re not sure how to involve them in that day-to-day?

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. First, it’s the reaching out. Don’t be afraid to admit that you cannot do it all. Like I said, I was a team of one and I was trying to answer emails. People coming in the office, meeting with students, organizing career fairs, teaching a class, that was a lot. You can’t do it all. So, let the employers help. I know. And career services staff are short-staffed. And a lot of times we like to, in the university setting, keep that Career Everywhere notion or the career development piece within the walls of a university or college. I get that. We’ve got to come up out of that, because those walls won’t always be there because the students eventually graduate. So if you have any, you’re seeing, you’re hearing that feedback, we always try to give feedback to the schools we recruit out of, “Hey, this person maybe didn’t show up to the interview quiet like we expected them to. Here’s what we’re seeing in answers. They’re not responding to the emails.”

Career services officer says, “You know what? That’s great. Can you all come in and do a session on that? Can you come in and help us help the students?” And so having that open dialogue, one of the things we also see is, we also know that the heavy recruiting time is usually the fall, which is… That’s usually a time where the feedback window is closed, but it’s also the time where we have that captive audience. So planning ahead in the summer, that’s when my team right now we’re planning, during the summer months for what are we going to do on campus. But just being open to getting outside the box of the traditional info session or, “Come meet… Williams Night. Come meet us, but also, let’s have you leave with something tangible that you can use even if you don’t want to interview or work for us.” And so career services offices, aligning more of career readiness workshop seminars, that kind of thing, as opposed to it just being about the employer. Let’s focus more on that development. And you don’t have to do it yourself.

My team is early career. We’re part of learning and development. We have stuff. So we can come in and teach that kind of stuff. And then the follow-up and just aid in that networking.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah. I love that idea of not offloading onto employers, but just involving them more.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Because they’re the ones that know what skills they need right now, like today. Not six months from now, like today.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. And it doesn’t have to be a big lift. A lot of times we also think of, “Okay. We got to do the tech skills. That’s going to be a certification for six months out. No, we can start with the simple… Okay, if it is technology, let’s just make sure you understand how Outlook works or whatever the most companies use, that you understand how Teams works, that you may not have seen in a college setting.” So, not asking you to get certified in anything, because that’ll come. That’s the easy part. It’s these immediate needs that we have that when you sit down at your desk, we really want you to know that the little O with the envelope is Outlook. And employers can help with that.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. It’s the little things like how to send a professional and helpful email or a Slack message. How to have a one… A meaningful one-on-one with a boss.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Those are all things that I did not learn or just took me a while to learn on the job.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yep.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, Leonelle, I know you did a lot when you were at Langston, especially, you did a lot with employers. You’ve been on the podcast before talking about a digital corporate sponsorship program that you set up there at Langston. So I’m curious if you could tell us a little bit about some of the ways that you were involving employers.

Leonelle Thompson:

Again, team of one at dear Langston. And so, one of the things I wanted to involve employers was definitely guest speaking in my classroom. So, having a lecture on project management, awesome. Let’s have the employer come in and talk about the skills you need for project management. Thinking about costs, scope, real-life project, having employers definitely host their day on campus. So yes, tell me about your company. But there had to be a professional development aspect to it. Whether it was something along the lines of financial acumen, something along the lines of communication, really tying back to that career readiness professionalism. I think a lot of times we take for granted, students don’t usually get up and are at the office at 8:00. So, we have to teach them that. And so, involving employers in that way.

And then of course, we always love the monetary piece, but it had to be something that also developed the students, whether it was that monetary piece went to pay for a development conference for a student to attend to, maybe could not, or of course lunch is always great, but something that would develop a student in the career readiness space that they could tie back to that particular employer. So, hosting a site visit where they could shadow and go. Again, may not be interested in the accounting firm, but those skills you learn about communication, technology, those kind of things are very helpful.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I think we’ve covered some really great ways that career services and employers can do to better work together to make students more career ready. Are there any other tactics that you would like to add? Before we move on?

Leonelle Thompson:

I would say, you don’t always have to go for the Fortune 500 companies. So when career services offices are looking at who can be involved, it may be a startup that can teach about the professionalism and how it works in the entrepreneurial space to get funders. All of that is very transferable. So, career services offices, keeping in mind that different companies work differently on the recruiting standpoint, but people want to be involved. And, there is this notion that if we let you in front of our students, we expect you to have a internship or job for them. I don’t think that should be an expectation, because it’s really about the development piece for the students. So, I think you knock out quite a bit of employers if the expectations they have to hire, let’s just build that relationship. Relationships are key in all of this and building that trust. So, don’t count out the startup or the company you may not have heard of. You definitely vet them, but you don’t always have to go for the big companies all the time.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah. Because those startups may not be hiring, but they have super valuable knowledge. Especially for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes, exactly. Yep.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Is there anything else that, putting your career services hat back on here for a second, is there anything else that career services can do to be on the forefront of this career readiness stuff while students are still in school?

Leonelle Thompson:

Staying in contact with employers and up on the latest trends. We talk a lot about career services being involved from the admissions process. So as students are coming into college, selecting their majors, how can we help them identify some of those career pathing? I think I’ve said it before on some of these, I’m not a big fan of majors, because that changes so much. So, career services, I think getting away from being segmented by major and maybe more segmented by these competencies. “So, here’s a career coach that’s going to teach about professionalism and how do we get that intertwined”, because that’s universal. It doesn’t matter your major. But also engaging the different groups on campus. So course admissions, the faculty, getting involved with the student organizations as well. I remember at Langston I had students as career ambassadors, who could go out and tell the message of career services. But, don’t forget the end. “The end.” Which are the employers. So engaging with them in conversations, round tables, doesn’t have to be a big summit or something that’s always good to raise money.

But, it could be just a nice virtual call on, “Okay. What are you seeing?” Especially before the fall gets so hectic with career fairs and students enrolling and coming on campus. Use that summer, that spring and summer to really gauge the employers to help in benefiting the Career Everywhere movement.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I’m curious. In those calls, what would you suggest career services leaders ask employers?

Leonelle Thompson:

I would say… One question I would love to hear in these calls, will feel free to invite me, because I got a lot to say. It’s just say, what are we doing right and what can we improve on? And, where would you like to help? And I’d like the open-ended questions, because I would love for some of our schools to ask us like, “Where would you like to help?” Because I’d be like, “I’d be on campus, let me have an hour of your time with students and let’s talk through each of these competencies. Let me build out a program for you and give beyond the how organized was the career fair? Were you able to find parking?” Really focus it more on the student. So right now, a question I would love is like, “So you have interns with you right now, and you have new hires that are starting in June, July, et cetera. First day, what did you see that you want to tell us that did not go well?”

And let us tell you, because I can tell you they didn’t read their emails, so they had no idea where to go. So how can we solve that problem? It took them a while to do onboarding. So, can we walk through a little bit more on what systems… Again, going back to a career readiness, what’s the technology that’s going to be used, that we can help communicate? This is what onboarding looks like when you come to a company. So, those types of calls. Not the logistics of a career fair or, “Please sign up for this event”, but you see our students when they… As interns, when they are our students. So, what could we improve on? How can we help?

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I love that.

Leonelle Thompson:

Usually those answers are not going to be like, “Well, I wish that they had had that database class.” It’s not going to be that. It’s going to be back to this career readiness, these intangibles.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I love that. I love a good open-ended question.

Leonelle Thompson:

Don’t give me a scale of one to five. I’m not. Yeah, because I’m probably just going to put five. So, give me an open-ended.

Meredith Metsker:

And not a yes or no, because that tells you nothing.

Leonelle Thompson:

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So just to clarify, when you talk about competencies, are you talking about the NACE career readiness competencies?

Leonelle Thompson:

I am. And then also just the different skills and the application of the skills that you acquire. So, NACE has some really great competencies. What I found is, also students don’t really know what the competencies are. So really, I like to think of career readiness skills. So the communication, the critical thinking, the problem-solving, being action-oriented, showing initiative, those types of things. Which I think are embedded in NACE, but really what are just true, almost life skills.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, gotcha. So I’m curious, from both an employer and a career services perspective, what are some of the topics that you think would be most helpful for these on-campus presentations for students? In terms of career readiness?

Leonelle Thompson:

I would say first and foremost, professionalism. Just knowing that there’s a different kind of professionalism when you’re with your friends, when you’re in school, versus when you go to the workforce and knowing that that’s not necessarily going to be written down. And we’ve got to… I love the idea of the unstructured structure. Students come from a structured structure. They may not think they do, but you have a class schedule. There’s not a lunchtime, but you know when to eat lunch. You don’t have that necessarily structure in the workplace. You’re here for a certain amount of time. So how do you navigate that and navigating the unstructured structure that exists, that you kind of… It’s up to you for this period of time. Another topic, of course, you can’t beat communication. Again, people know how to communicate, but they don’t know how to communicate. And communicating in a way where it’s consumed.

So again, how do you send that message? When do you send that message? When do you ask for help? So, discernment would be one of like, “Okay. I don’t know this. When do I ask for help?” Being vulnerable, those types of lessons that I do not see on college campuses. We do a lot of like, “Here’s how you negotiate your salary, how you write a great resume”, all good things to have. Throw that in ChatGPT. But how do I actually show up and be vulnerable to let someone know I don’t know, and then how do I communicate that? How do I utilize technology to the best of my ability and giving those examples.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, okay. I love that. Especially the vulnerability piece and the asking for help. It’s so hard. Especially when you’re new, because you think that if you ask for help, it shows that you don’t know something. And that’s like so taboo at first.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes, I know. It is. When you’re just entering like, “Oh, they’re going to fire me.” And that may happen, but probably not because of that.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So I’m curious, Leonelle, why is this partnership between career services and employers working together to improve career readiness… Why is that so important for both sides?

Leonelle Thompson:

It’s important for both sides. One, with my career services hat on, it shows the importance of career services. Career services has got to move away from the transactional piece. And I call it transactional. The resume writing, the mock interviews, the posting of the jobs. There’s so much now that can help with that. And just my intern, I was like, “Did you use career services to find us?” She was like, “No.” If there was a partnership between career services, and we’ll use my company Williams as for an example on, here’s how we develop those students. And I’m going to go to career services, maybe byproduct get my resume review, but they’re going to help me be ready to enter this career. I have my academic piece down. I know how to… I’m an accountant by degree, so I know how to… Now I’m losing all my accounting terms.

I know how to do a T-account. I know how to balance my ledger. But gosh, I don’t know how to communicate that I balance my ledger. Who can help me with that? If career services could change the profile of who they are and really be more transformational and facilitate some of these skill sets, facilitate the learning of these skill sets, then when we as employers come and say, “Hey, where are your students? We didn’t get this many applicants.” They can say, “Well, it’s not because they just didn’t apply.” It’s like, “We saw that you all needed this particular skillset, and we haven’t trained them in that. We don’t want to send them to you just yet. Or here’s some that have this skillset that we know you are looking for. So, let’s go ahead and I’m going to encourage them to apply.”

I think that’s going to be the beauty of a partnership between career services and employers. So, getting away KPIs are important. I work in corporate America KPIs, OKRs, they’re very important. But let’s not look at the volume, but let’s look really truly at the quality of what we’re getting. We would love if we only got three resumes. But you know what career services, without a doubt could say, “You know what?” But they hit all the things. “We heard you in our meeting that you needed someone who knew how to communicate”, but they’re going to talk to you in the interview about how they demonstrate that.

Meredith Metsker:

So it’s about staying constantly up to date with each other.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes. Up to date. Yeah. And I’ll be honest, we love to give feedback after the fact. So in November, when all the offers are out and we maybe didn’t hit our number or we didn’t hit as many from one particular school, it’s like, “Well, what happened? We got to get an employer.” I’m putting that on us as employers. We’ve got to get on the forefront of that. “Have we told the career services offices this is what we need?” We also got to get away from these generic job postings of come be an intern. And then that’s all it says.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s like, “What does that mean?”

Leonelle Thompson:

Yeah. Because it’s a partnership. So, we want career services to at least sell our internships or full-time jobs and help us find those students who meet those qualifications. We’ve got to spell out what we’re looking for.

Meredith Metsker:

And then ditch the things that maybe aren’t as relevant. Like you were saying, that might eliminate a lot of students.

Leonelle Thompson:

Do you really need to lift 50 pounds? Is there ever a time where you need to lift? I still see that in job descriptions. I’m like, “I’m never going to lift 50 pounds. Why?” Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, I love that. So I’m curious, what are some things that you wish that career services knew from an employer’s perspective?

Leonelle Thompson:

From the career services perspective, I wish that employers knew writing a check isn’t a fix-all. Don’t get me wrong. I talk about corporate sponsorships a lot. Career services, I know been there. Very limited budgets, but we need to have you on-site. We need to have you on campus. And that can be virtual too. We know times have changed, but we need to see you. We need to have this open dialogue with you. And the earlier the better. Telling us after the fact, and I’m totally guilty of this. “Hey, university XYZ, your student didn’t show up to this event.” Well, there’s nothing they can do when it’s two weeks later or they didn’t respond. But, being more open with the feedback in real-time. It’s a constant movement with career services offices, short staff, so telling and then coming with those solutions too. Not just telling us what the problem is. Guaranteed crew services officer know what the problem is, but they want help in solving that problem.

But, you got to be there in this day and age. Again, money’s important. Not saying those who are listening, who are corporate, still write your checks. But also have back it up with being there and really being a true partner in every sense of the word, having a presence.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Gotcha. So now putting your employer’s hat on, what are some things that you wish career offices knew about what y’all are dealing with?

Leonelle Thompson:

Ebbs and flows. So, we see… Here recently we’ve seen a lot of [inaudible 00:35:19] on offers, and that throws us into a tailspin sometimes. And how we budget. Also letting us know that career fairs or… Career fairs are interesting. I’ll put it that way. So, is there some other way we can be involved? And I think career fairs work for a lot of campuses. It doesn’t work for every employer. And so having those opportunities for employers to be engaged in a non-career fair sense to meet students would be very, very beneficial.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah. I imagine it’s hard to make an impression when you’re one employer of dozens or hundreds.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

In one career fair.

Leonelle Thompson:

Extremely. And then if we want to be there, but we just don’t have the staff to send to a particular school, or it’s limited space-wise. So, I think career fairs definitely are beneficial, but I think there’s other ways too. And again, just having those conversations and it’s so hard. That’s why I think this partnership is so important of, we can’t expect as an employer for career services to come with, “Here’s a menu of options for you to be involved in.” Employers have got to do our part and say, “Here’s where I would like to be involved. Is that okay? Is that an opportunity for me, because we think it may be unique and we can’t do the career fair for whatever reason, but we could do this event. We could do this seminar, we could do this kind of branding, this kind of merchandise, that kind of thing to help.” Again, tying back to really helping a student on a journey from beginning to end. Of course, the career is not the end, but that next step after college or university of what does that look like?

Meredith Metsker:

And to your earlier point, it’s important for career services to ask that question.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

How do you want to be involved?

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes. Please don’t just throw the menu of, you can only do the career fair or nothing. Just having those conversations and you may not decide on something in that first year. That’s okay. It’s relationship building.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s so important. It’s thinking back to your previous episode where you were talking about your digital corporate sponsorship program that you set up there at Langston. And yes, you had companies that were sponsoring your virtual career center. Their logos were there, they had whole info pages. But if I recall, those employers were also on campus. They were also involved in person or virtual.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yep. Absolutely. That was key. It’s great to have your logo up there, but the students need to see you. Career services offices need to see you, and vice versa. We need to not just write a check. We need to be there.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yep. It’s all about building that brand. And it starts early.

Leonelle Thompson:

Very early. Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So I’m curious, Leonelle, you’ve given a lot of great advice here, but is there any other advice that you would give to career services leaders who want to better partner with employers to get students more career ready while they’re still in school?

Leonelle Thompson:

Reach out. That first step is going to be reaching out. And you may not know what to ask, and that’s okay. But reach out to your big supporters or even the ones who you want to get more engaged with, and just start the conversation. And just asking the question of what are you seeing? And especially for the ones who are recruiting from your schools. There’s a whole lot of national data out there. I always ask my team, “So, national data’s fantastic. What’s happening in Oklahoma? Where we’re headquartered or where we recruit from Texas and Pennsylvania and everything.” So, just making that initial step of saying, “I need help.”

And from the employer side, knowing that career services offices are short-staffed and from most cases, so I was answering the phone, the email and everything, be persistent in that, I want to help. Saying, “Here’s where I may see a gap. Can we have some time?” Now, it may be a while before they get back, but don’t cut career services out of the process, just because you don’t hear a response. A lot of time employers like to go back to, “Oh, I had this professor, so now this professor can help me find students.” We really need to focus and let the career services offices do their job and help them to brand themselves. Again, not as just the transactional folks, but also the facilitators and a lot of this career readiness and Career Everywhere movement.

Meredith Metsker:

I could not agree more on that last point. And I imagine too, for employers partnering with career services over an individual professor, that’s how you scale it up. That’s how you reach more students.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Otherwise, it’s just like one-to-one.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes. What if you had that one professor, speaking from experience, who you didn’t like? Is he going to give you those opportunities? Or she, not calling names. But you got to scale. To your point, you definitely have to scale up and you can’t do that with one-on-one professors.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah. I didn’t even consider the access part of that. You don’t want professors gatekeeping opportunities, right?

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes, exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, Leonelle, is there anything else that you would like to add about this topic or any questions that I didn’t ask but should have?

Leonelle Thompson:

Very passionate about this topic and can talk about it all day long. Happy to partner with anyone to get a list of questions to facilitate. What should we be asking in these meetings? It’s much needed. I think it’s long overdue. Again, I love that I get to straddle both worlds and can help bridge this and build this partnership.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Well, maybe I’ll give you a chance to plug Williams here. Are you guys recruiting?

Leonelle Thompson:

We are. Yeah. So we of course have our summer interns here. They’ll be here through August. We will be everywhere, no pun intended. Career Everywhere. Our internships are in full-time positions are posted on williams.com/careers. We, of course, will be attending career fairs, events. So be on the lookout for us. We have a stellar, stellar internship program. I’m a little biased, but I have a great team that runs our internship program and our new hire program. Tons of opportunities. Come see how we make clean energy happen is our tagline. And just understand more about the energy industry through Williams. So, would love to have you.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. Well, there you have it. Career services folks, if you need somebody, an employer who has solutions and ideas for on-campus things, just ask Leonelle.

Leonelle Thompson:

Here to help. I’m here to serve.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, Leonelle, if anyone would like to connect with you or learn more from you, where’s a good place for them to do that?

Leonelle Thompson:

LinkedIn is awesome. That’s where I have most of my connections. Shoot me a message, connect with me there. Once you connect, I think you can see my email address and all that good stuff. So, definitely reach out on LinkedIn and let’s get this conversation going.

Meredith Metsker:

All right. I love LinkedIn. I’m a total nerd about it.

Leonelle Thompson:

I know. Me too. I’m like, “Let me… I didn’t post today. Let me post, let me like some things.”

Meredith Metsker:

I love it. So to wrap us up, I’m going to do this thing I do at the end of all of the interviews, which is this, answer-a-question, leave-a-question thing. So I’ll ask you a question that our last guest left for you, and then you will leave a question for the next guest.

Leonelle Thompson:

Okay.

Meredith Metsker:

So yeah, the last person I talked to was Mark Peltz from Grinnell College, and he left this question for you. What book has been most impactful on you?

Leonelle Thompson:

Whew. I will say, it’s one I just reread as my teams merged. Two teams merged under me, and it’s the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. I had read it in graduate school, was not… I was in graduate school, so I was not a formal leader at the time. But the way he lays out building trust, how do you handle conflict, commitment, team accountability, and then working towards those team objectives just has really resonated with me here lately with my new team. So, in a way that it gives you a nice sense to look at. Every team does have a little dysfunction junction, but that’s okay.

Meredith Metsker:

Right.

Leonelle Thompson:

It’s how you go through them? How do you deal with that? And what I really love is that team accountability. So it doesn’t just fall on the leader, but working through what is normal. Conflict is not a bad thing.

It’s just a difference of opinions. Difference of perspectives. So, that would be the most impactful one that I usually don’t go back and reread many books. Very different now to read that than when I was in graduate school and practical advice. And it just lets you know like, “Okay. This isn’t… You’re not alone in this”, but also helps to build a great team and establish those partnerships. So to bring it back to our topic on the podcast, there are habits and behaviors, dysfunctional behaviors of anything. But as we’re partnering together employees and career services offices, let’s build that trust and look at those team objectives, which is helping students get career ready.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s great. I love that. It’s a good book. I had to read it for a leadership development course, and he does a nice job of laying out examples.

Leonelle Thompson:

Exactly. Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

Explaining it in a story format. Okay. So, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Leonelle Thompson:

For the next guest, for anything you would be doing. So whether it’s a podcast, speaking at an event, what would be your entrance song?

Meredith Metsker:

Ooh, I love that.

Leonelle Thompson:

You may be a wrestler too. So what’s your entrance song if you’re a wrestler?

Meredith Metsker:

Don’t baseball players do that too?

Leonelle Thompson:

I think they do that.

Meredith Metsker:

[inaudible 00:45:59] That’s a good one. I’m excited to hear the answer to that one. I feel like I just want to ask everybody that and just create a playlist.

Leonelle Thompson:

I know. Just a playlist.

Meredith Metsker:

Everyone’s entrance…

Leonelle Thompson:

I can tell you mine is, She’s a Bad Mama Jama by Carl Carlton. It gets me going. It gets me…

Meredith Metsker:

Yes.

Leonelle Thompson:

It’s like a seven-minute-long song, but it’s great.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, that’s great. I love that. Well, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I think this was an awesome conversation, and there was so much tactical ideas that, I hope everyone who was listening had a notebook and was writing stuff down.

Leonelle Thompson:

Yes. If you didn’t, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and I’m happy to share all of that. Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

There you go. There you go. Well, thank you so much again for just sharing your time and your knowledge today, and I hope you have a good rest of your week.

Leonelle Thompson:

All right. Thank you. You too. Thanks for having me.

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