To help students make connections between their majors and the jobs they want to pursue, Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has embraced a new career development model: the career community. Communities consist of alumni, employers, and professionals who offer students candid glimpses into their workdays and career paths.
According to Susan Brennan, associate vice president of university career services at Bentley, the school first piloted the career community concept after it launched its professional sales major as a way to show students what a career in sales might look like. “It was also an organic way to connect employers and professors to students,” she says.
The school currently operates more than a dozen career communities in areas such as human resources, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and consulting. Each one is designed to align not only with Bentley’s curriculum, but also with alumni and professional networks, labor market trends, and market positioning. Each community is organized by a career services advisor who works with an industry professional, a staff member, a faculty liaison, and a student organization to help market the program.
Students learn about career communities through courses that introduce them to career development. In fact, one class assignment is to attend a handful of career communities to get a feel for how they are run. The groups hold meetings once or twice a month in casual settings, bringing in speakers or planning discussion topics. At these events, students are encouraged to seek advice from professionals who can answer questions about their own experiences.
In the fall, communities hold small group meetings; in the spring, they plan larger combined events that include networking opportunities, roundtable discussions, and job-related activities. For example, during one event arranged by the professional sales career community, Liberty Mutual conducted mock interviews, did a presentation on professional sales etiquette, and offered a site visit.
Outside of meetings, students stay connected to the community through Bentley’s CareerEdge website, which includes alerts for targeted content. They also can interact through the recently launched Mentor Marketplace, an online platform where Bentley students and alumni can form discussion groups and reach out to mentors.
Other schools can begin their own career communities by engaging more with students online through webinars and mentorship portals, says Colleen Murphy, senior associate director of undergraduate career services at Bentley. If they want to take it a step further, she says, they can secure speakers who will add value to students’ career development. To determine how successful a program has been, she recommends that schools follow up with student surveys afterward.
Career communities allow students of all majors to come together and learn about a whole range of industries and companies—including those they might not have considered approaching otherwise, says Murphy. She adds, “Students are able to filter all this information and begin their search for the right role that aligns well with their business knowledge and skills.”
This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2017 print issue. If you have comments or feedback on its content, please contact us at [email protected].