The best route to the job market
Students, lecturers and careers officers who attended a conference on preparing for the job market advise encouraging students to explore their career opportunities as soon as possible. What works?
From CV and interview training and online tests to placement offices and job fairs: Leiden University already does a lot to prepare students for the job market, but by no means all students make the best use of these facilities. Students and staff discussed experiences and best practices at the conference on 12 January.
What do students need?
Maaike van Vliet, student and chair of the Leiden University Student Platfrom (LUS), presented the results of a student brainstorming session. Many students who were nearing the end of their studies admitted they had started considering their options too late, she explains. First-year students often have no idea what they can do. They mainly want information that applies to where they are in their studies, Van Vliet continues.
Involve senior students
Students do not need to have a specific job in mind, but it does help if they are familiar with their career options and which competences – such as the ability to work in an international team – are required for this. Senior students can help them come up with a clear plan: for instance, when best to arrange a placement. Van Vliet says: ‘Tell new students about what the Career Services in the faculties and at Plexus have to offer.’
Online mentor network
Departments are increasingly using senior students as mentors. In addition, an online mentor network was launched in 2016, with more than 1000 Leiden alumni volunteering to help. Students and recent graduates can ask them for advice and gain access to their network.
'Dreams & do' workshop
Vice-Rector Hester Bijl is also aware that some students only start considering their options right at the end of their studies. She is a big fan of a new initiative: a ‘dreams & do' workshop for first-year students. The workshop challenges them to think about the kind of work they would like to do later and how to achieve this. During their studies, students can already build an online portfolio of assignments that they have done. This enables them to show employers what they have been up to.
Career preparation in the curriculum
In a pilot study, 19 departments are currently looking at how they can make career preparation a more integral part of the curriculum. They are not just looking at separate courses on the topic. According to Jos Schaeken, Professor of Slavic and Baltic Languages and former dean of Leiden University College The Hague, all courses in a programme could refer directly or indirectly to the job market and the world out there, without turning the programme into a vocational one more suited to a university of applied sciences. This is because in all courses students develop academic skills, such as critical reflection skills and the ability to conduct thorough research, which are essential to their later career.
Lectures and seminars by guest lectures are essential because they give students a good impression of professional practice. The Faculty of Law uses real judges in its Moot Court course and the Faculty of Humanities invites journalists such as Sander van Hoorn, NOS correspondent in the Middle East, to give lectures.
Learning entrepreneurial skills
Bijl commented that programmes are increasingly teaching entrepreneurial skills. Courses such as Entrepreneurship for Society encourage students to come up with solutions to societal issues. The lecturers and students at the conference were also enthusiastic about HUBspot, a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship which opened in Leiden in 2016. Here students can develop skills that are important in business, such as conducting market research and developing a business model. They can also receive help starting their own business.
What kind of work do alumni find?
The lecturers and students all said they wanted to keep in touch with alumni. A survey is currently being conducted among alumni of Russian and Eurasian Studies to find out what kind of work they have found. This information will be passed on to the students, because the sooner they know their strengths and options, Schaeken concludes, the better they will find their feet in the world.
The conference was part of the Job Market Preparation project. All 19 participating departments are working together with partners such as HUBspot, LUS, the Careers Service and many more. The departments launched an employability programme in their degree programmes at the conference. They will test this programme in a pilot study that will run from September 2017 to August 2018.