Saint Leo's career services advisor dedicated to online students offers her best advice: Don't wait until you're ready to graduate to focus on career development.

Did Nik Wallenda just wake up one morning and say, "Hey, I think I'll walk a quarter-mile across a 2-inch cable 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge today."

Of course not.

It was a feat he had been preparing for all of his life.

The same is true for any of the tightropes we walk in life – the job market tightrope included.

Take advantage of career services now.

Economic conditions of recent years have altered the job search landscape for the foreseeable future. Fewer positions and more competition place tremendous pressure on job seekers.

A recent report by Hanover Research says that while graduating students may have the most immediate need for career services, research suggests that such services are most effective when implemented throughout the entire course of a student's educational experience.

As a result, college career services advisors are focused on more than job placement but on students' career development.

That's the reason why Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning (COL) offers the services of a dedicated career advisor, Katrina Wahlstrom*.

COL offers proactive approach to career development.

"In offering Career Services geared towards adult learners, our objective is to provide proactive, strategic resources allowing students to enhance their already marketable skills," said Shadel Hamilton, COL director of undergraduate student services.

"We do this through career webinar series, for example, where students are provided program specific career information, as well as one-on-one services where students receive feedback on resume writing and interviewing skills. We are excited to work in conjunction with our University Campus partners to offer these additional resources for our students."

Helping Saint Leo' s COL students prepare for career success.

Helping Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning (COL) students cultivate the job search skills they will need for a lifetime is Katrina Wahlstrom's mission.

Katrina comes to Saint Leo with a background in business and human resources, as well as experience in helping students land positions in the health services field. She plans to assist Saint Leo's online students by offering a wide variety of career development services – from cover letter and resume writing to interviewing techniques – tailored specifically for adult online students.

Here she answers a few questions about how she plans to do that and offers a few career development tips.

How are the career services needs of online students similar to those of traditional campus students?

Katrina: Both traditional campus students and online adult students care about the same things. They want to be able to find a job, so they need to understand the importance of networking, interview preparation, a strong resume, and how to conduct an effective job search.

How are the career services needs of adult students different from traditional-age students?

Katrina: Most adult students don't need as much career exploration assistance as traditional students. They already know the field they want to enter, but they may not be sure about the specific opportunities in that field that could be available to them.

What career services are available to COL students?

Katrina: I work one-on-one with students on writing resumes and cover letters. We conduct mock interviews and provide dressing for success guidance, job search information and resources.

We have a robust webinar program on a wide variety of career-related topics – from video resumes and networking to social media. We're also working through the online academic clubs and organizations to conduct program-specific career webinars.

What's your greatest challenge in providing career services to COL students?

Katrina: Raising awareness!

We want to make sure that all online students are not only aware of the career services and support we offer but understand that they really do need to take advantage of these services as early in their educational journey as possible.

What will help students reach their career goals?

Katrina: If you want to be successful, you have to invest the time in your career development. It doesn't happen overnight.

It's sort of like going to the doctor. You don't want to wait until you have a serious problem, if you don't have to. That's why you go for regular check-ups.

It's the same thing with career services. You don't want to wait until you're ready to graduate. Building the skills you need to conduct an effective job search takes time and practice. So take advantage of career services throughout your college experience.

What can students who want to advance in their current fields do to achieve that goal?

Katrina: First, identify the skills you will need for that next position. And then make sure the goals you are setting will help you develop those skills so that you can easily answer the question, "Why are you a good fit for this position?" Lead a project at work or come up with a creative idea that will shine some light on you and your skills. Continue to work well with others. Find a mentor or someone with more experience than you and discuss how you can move up and ways to strengthen your skills.

What about students who want to pursue a totally new career path?

Katrina: Talk to people who are already working in the field so you can get a better picture of what it's really like. Set up an informational interview and ask how he or she got that position, what they like and dislike about position. Do an internship or volunteer – you won't be doing the exact position you are looking to attain, but it will give you a feel for the environment.

What are some of the current trends in Career Services?

Katrina: For one, recruiters and hiring managers are saying that when it comes to resumes, get rid of "career objectives." It's great to have your own objectives, but they don't mean all that much to anyone but you. Instead, tell more about yourself.

Another tool that's gaining in popularity is video resumes. More and more companies are accepting them because it gives them a taste of who you really are, and it's a great way for you to stand out from other applicants.

How can online students network effectively with other students?

Katrina: Online students can start networking by getting to know their classmates. Discussion posts are a great way to begin that process. Working on group projects is another way to get to know other students and to demonstrate your dependability, commitment, and teamwork. Online students can also reach out to other students who may live in the same town and get together face-to-face – or simply develop a relationship via e-mail or chatting.

I would also recommend getting involved in an online club offered through Student Life. We currently offer psychology, criminal justice, and business degree-specific clubs and plan to launch social academic clubs and a peer mentoring club in the near future.

What are some of the most important skills applicants need to be successful in the job market, regardless of field?

Katrina: Communication. Problem solving. And creativity.

Employers want people who are literate and can communicate well verbally and write effectively. They want people who are thinkers and can sort through problems. And since organizations are all about improving processes, they need people who can come up with new ideas on how to improve or be more efficient. So creativity is a must regardless of field.

Do you have a single most-important piece of career advice?

Katrina: Do the research so you can make informed decisions. The experience of doing coursework in a particular field is entirely different from the real world. You may love studying marketing, but actually doing marketing is a whole other thing. So talk to people and really investigate so that you don't make a career choice you will regret later on.

* The current career advisor for online students is Nancy Cheek. Center for Online students can contact Nancy at or 813.221.6342.

Image Credit: Larry1732

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