Texas Tech University

A Point of Frequent Return

December 12, 2023

A Point of Frequent Return

The University Career Center provides Texas Tech students and alumni with an array of resources to help them be successful professionals.

(This is the last in a series of stories looking at examples of innovation on the Texas Tech campus. This installment examines the role of the University Career Center.)

The way Jay Killough sees it, the path to the University Career Center should be familiar, inviting and worth the journey to virtually every student. 

The center has offered within its space an ever-growing repository of resources and people committed to helping Red Raiders smoothly transition from their time on campus to their first days in the workforce. 

The career center, located in the Wiggins Complex just west of Chitwood Hall, should not be seen as the last stop on the way out the Texas Tech University door. That has been the aim since 1948, when it was christened the Texas Tech Career Planning and Placement Center.

Now, though, the center should be woven into the fabric of a student's college journey as they survey the rapidly shifting work landscape and assess the best options for a post-diploma future. Just as important, the facility is also available to Texas Tech alumni.

“I think there's a perception that we're something students are supposed to use when it's time to graduate and find a job,” said Killough, who has been with the center for 22 years. “We try to make it clear that we want to be involved throughout their undergraduate experience.”

To reinforce that pragmatic reality, the center has levers students can pull at various times during their days at Texas Tech. Beginning a professional career can be a daunting and intimidating task, and it can be complicated when students arrive on campus with one idea about what they want to do in life only to have their mind changed by a class or an instructor's wisdom.

Likewise, life after college as far as work has changed dramatically during the past couple of decades. The once-bucolic portrait of people going to work for an employer and spending their entire career there is now an outlier experience.

More typically, people change jobs and even careers regularly, sometimes as a result of dissatisfaction or unexpected factors and sometimes because employers can change through growth or downsizing following economic pressures and other challenges. The job someone was certain would be a dream on arrival can change and is no longer be appealing.

The center can help with all of those things.

“One of the first interactions we have with students is through our career counseling and coaching,” Killough said. “We offer five different career assessments to assist students with their decision making.”

The assessments identify the student's strengths, personal interests and personality type. Together, the data guide a student toward a place where they have a better chance of finding professional fulfillment and striking the work-life balance that has become so pronounced in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The information provides a baseline from which to work and can inform choices such as major area of study, the most likely work options to result from that and even a projection of the possible earnings trajectory. 

“When they see themselves through the lens of who they are, what they're good at and their strengths, it makes a big difference,” Killough said. “Then we point them to resources like college websites, academic advisers, connections we have in the different academic areas to meet with these students.

“That allows them to make a better decision on choosing their major versus throwing darts and seeing what sticks.”

The idea is the center should be top of mind while students complete their education. Their introduction to it occurs during Red Raider Orientation, and students can make an appointment to meet with a career counselor through the Raider Success Hub. Counselors are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Word of the center's portfolio and prowess is spreading as between 5,000 and 6,000 students make appointments each year with the facility's 11 counselors. The center also serves Texas Tech's distance-learning community with a distance counselor specifically dedicated to that segment of the student population.

First-year students can use the center to find their path. Second-year students often visit for a resume critique as that is a point when they might begin thinking about finding work related to their field of study.

To meet that need, the center offers its College to Career program where students provide information regarding skills they want to gain while in college as well as the type of work that interests them.

“We have employers in the community and on campus who will provide those mentoring opportunities and skilled work,” Killough said. “We will place students into those jobs for 150 to 180 hours of work, and we'll pay them.”

The program is not limited as students from first to fourth year all have access. Real work in an area of appeal is only part of it, though. The center can also help students brush up their resume and their interviewing skills as they prepare for employment. Too often, resumes lack professional polish, which can drown their prospects in the candidate pool. Along the same line, face-to-face interviews can create anxiety among applicants. 

Texas Tech's available resources are meant to propel students ahead of the curve and equip them for success in this most critical phase of landing a job – making a good early impression. Students can receive feedback on cover letters and personal statements. As students gain experience, they are encouraged to keep their resumes updated and seek critiques regularly.

Helping these processes flow smoothly is a tool called Quinncia, an artificial-intelligence (AI) service that flags resumes with possible issues that may prevent them from getting attention in the job market.

For example, a resume may be flagged for using certain tables or images or for employing too many fonts or even if the margins aren't up to specifications. The information again is given to the student, who can then adjust the resume accordingly. The critique also includes explanations regarding why the resume didn't measure up.

The system also can create a mock interview based on the student's resume. It allows students an opportunity to prepare and will ask questions they might hear during an actual job interview. The difference, though, is each answer is critiqued on the spot.

“You might be asked about a certain experience on your resume,” Killough said. “You answer the question, and the system is thinking about keywords you mentioned in your response, comparing that to what is on your document and giving you feedback like, ‘You didn't mention this skill, or you should elaborate more here.'”

As one might imagine, students are not exactly in a hurry to line up for an AI-style mock interview, but once they go through the process, they see it as invaluable. Quinncia has become a popular fixture in the center with thousands of students taking advantage of it.

During their final two years, students more than likely would interact with the center through the eight career fairs it hosts each year. Those offerings include a graduate school fair for those interested in continuing their education and a nonprofit fair for those considering work in that space.

Despite all the success stories, the center always has room for more students to take advantage of its services.

“Our satisfaction rate is good with students who use us,” Killough said. “But there are so many students who don't. I would like to think there is pretty good saturation around campus, but I think we can always do better because we hear about students who graduate and say, ‘I wish I would have known about this.'”

Of course, not all students visit the center in person. They can also access services online through the website or social media. Students also might attend a career fair, but not make an appointment with the center. 

Two other resources students should be aware of are the center's clothes closet and its headshot photobooth. The closet is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and has a variety of professional attire for those preparing for a job interview. Appointments are recommended through the Hire Red Raiders site, and the center always welcomes donations of gently used professional clothing.

The photobooth is available from 8 am. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and offers a setting where a high-quality, professional headshot can be taken to include with resumes or post with online candidate profiles.

Texas Tech alumni can also access the center and use its services in numerous ways. Some may be wrapping up a long career but want to land a part-time gig in retirement. Other may have been downsized and are looking for a new opportunity. Killough would like to see even more seasoned Red Raiders access the center.

“There may be a feeling that once you leave here, a lot of your connection points no longer work, other than the alumni association,” he said. “But this is something that can help people have lifelong access to a sound career.”

Alumni can make an appointment, and the center has access to employers seeking people with experience rather than entry-level workers. Available employment options are also posted to job boards and other networks.

The center is a resource that should be on every student's radar from the moment they step onto campus. As enjoyable and important as their years at Texas Tech will be, they will end, and another chapter will begin. The career center gives students the power to have a say over how those next pages will be written.

“I would tell them not to delay getting started,” Killough said. “It's always better to start early. I know there is a part of every 18- to 24-year-old who would rather put it off and not think about because it can be a stressful decision.”

The pressure can be neutralized through basic steps like taking an assessment, learning about the connections between specific majors and career paths and talking through options with well-informed people who want to see Texas Tech students succeed because knowledge is always power.

“I once had a dad call us the happiness factory,” Killough said. “That resonated with me. Students may be fearful about coming in here because they don't want to think about their future, but we're friendly people who want to assist them with what's around the corner and what they can do with their Texas Tech degree to be successful and thrive.” 

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