Student Affairs Podcast — Episode 2: The Career Services Roadmap

As we recently announced, the Student Affairs team at Penn State World Campus — in collaboration with our many colleagues and partners across the University’s Student Affairs teams — has launched a new podcast called “Conversations with Student Affairs.”

You can now listen to Episode 2 below. Here are some highlights.

Title: The Career Services Roadmap

Participating staff members: World Campus career counselors Lynn Atanasoff and Matt Soroka

Summary: Career Services is here to help students through their journey at World Campus, and career counselors are available to advise, coach, and help students navigate available resources. Areas where Career Services specialists provide assistance and support include reviewing résumés and cover letters, helping students prepare for career fairs and other events, and educating students about how to best use resources such as the alumni network.

Three helpful takeaways from this episode:

The sooner you reach out to Career Services, the better. Students often wait to contact Career Services until they need help with a résumé or want to seek an internship, but connecting with a career counselor early allows you to build a partnership that can help you throughout your entire time at World Campus. “The support and resources that Career Services provides to students is really a roadmap in thinking about where in their journey they might be, and how we can help them,” Matt says. “I often think of our role as being like the passenger in the car who helps them navigate, showing them options and possibilities they can explore, and helping decide the best route to get where they want to go.”

Internships can be a valuable experience for adult learners. Adult students sometimes have a misconception that internships aren’t for people who already have years of professional experience. But Lynn says internships are a great way to refresh your skills or build new ones, and can also let you gain current experience in the field that can strengthen your résumé. This can be especially helpful for people who are changing career fields.

Networking is a tool you should be using all the time, not just at career fairs or other structured events. Building connections should be an everyday habit, and fortunately it is one that’s easy to cultivate. “The Penn State network is everywhere,” Matt points out. “You don’t need to look hard to find alumni or current students who are part of the Penn State community and would be eager to help you.” Lynn also strongly recommends an important resource that many students may not be using to its full potential. “I encourage people to use LinkedIn more extensively, not just by creating a profile but also by joining — and actively participating in — groups that relate to their career goals or interests. This is probably one of the easiest ways to find people who are in your current field or fields you hope to enter.”

Catch up on all episodes:

“Conversations with Student Affairs” Podcasts 

Recommended resources:

Podcast Transcript: The Career Services Roadmap

The Career Services Roadmap


JEN TOOF: Welcome to Conversations with Student Affairs. I’m your host Jen Toof. For today’s conversation, Matt Soroka and Lynn Atanasoff from Career Services will be joining us to take us through the Career Services roadmap which includes discussion about Career Services in the classroom, career fairs, and networking. Let’s jump right in.

I think back and reflect upon my own student experiences. So I attended a small liberal arts college in New Hampshire. It was division III. Was a student athlete. And I never took it upon myself to go and seek out Career Services. I felt like I was a well-informed student.

When I started working in the profession of Student Affairs and working with students, I didn’t realize that Career Services had so much to offer. I didn’t know what I was missing out on an experience. And I think sometimes students don’t know what they don’t know. Matt, could you tell us a little bit about what Career Services can offer to students and alumni and take us through that journey?

MATT SOROKA: Yeah. I think the support, the resources that Career Services provides to our students across the board is really that roadmap. It’s thinking about where they are, thinking about where in that journey they might be, and the resources, the support, the mentoring, the advising, coaching that goes into it, and helping them make the best-informed decision.

And I think one of the unique things about Penn State is that full lifecycle model. It’s thinking about coming in as a first year student in terms of providing them with the best education, in terms of selecting a major, getting engaged across campus, taking on leadership opportunities, developing skills and experience to moving on to an internship and then developing that professional experience whether it’s in terms of full time jobs or research or graduate school and really building upon that through different online and in-person resources to really help them make the best informed decision.

I often think of our work as being the passenger in the car to help them with the navigation, to say, hey, here are the options. Here are the possibilities. Thinking about yourself, your self-awareness, your own experiences and background, where’s the best connection points going to be? And for a lot of students, it might be something basic in terms of developing a resume or a cover letter. It can be joining a club across the system, attending a career fair either online or in person, and then establishing those alumni connections with the larger Penn State network to really cultivate that and leverage that for the rest of their professional career. So I see Career Services as that connection that will allow them to take the maximum utilization of those experiences.

JEN TOOF: Mm. So, Matt, if I think back to my student experience, which was so many years ago, I wasn’t even the passenger really in the car at that point. So let’s think about car shopping. So I’m the student. How do I find out if I’m a residential student or a World Campus student? Where should I go if I want to see what services are available for a career?

MATT SOROKA: Well, I think the best starting point especially for our World Campus students is going into Nittany Lion Careers and establishing a meeting with myself online and just starting that conversation. Here’s where I am. Here are my concerns. Here are the opportunities in front of me. And us to just brainstorm around the possibilities around that. I think that’s one of the best starting points whether it’s looking at the Penn State Career Services website, the World Campus career services website so that way, you get an understanding of the menu of options that are out there.

And I think that’s an important place for students just to gain awareness. Oh, what is this? How does this work? There are some career counselors. What does career counseling look like? How can they best serve and assist me throughout the process? And thinking about it as a conversation instead of a checklist of deliverables in that sense. And once we get going, we can formulate a game plan to best empower the student to make the best decisions. But I think that starting point is just understanding their interests, their concerns, the opportunities in front of them, and how do we build that bridge forward to support them.

JEN TOOF: Thanks, Matt. And so, Lynn, when I’m thinking about this experience here, I might get a little bit of Career Service experience in the classroom. So can you tell me about how I might see this pop up in my courses?

LYNN ATANASOFF: Well, sure. I absolutely would be happy to talk to you about that. Jen, I wanted to react to one thing you said earlier if you don’t mind —


LYNN ATANASOFF: — before I answer that question about how this may pop up in classes. You had mentioned that you didn’t really use Career Services as a student. And I think that’s a common experience. And as I work with adult learners, I will often hear from people, boy, I wish I knew about Career Services while I was in school because this might have helped me formulate where I’m heading, maybe feel a little bit more confident about the searches I’m doing like job searches and all of the things that come with it.

What’s hard to understand is — it’s not hard to understand. But what is interesting or what’s been interesting to me over the years in doing this is that it’s almost like it’s not until somebody needs it that they realize it’s here.

JEN TOOF: Uh-huh. So true.

LYNN ATANASOFF: It is. And people are like, well, I don’t know how to write my resume. I don’t know how to find a grad school that I want to go to. I don’t know what major I want to study. And those questions arise. And then people are like, well, how do I figure that out? Then they start looking maybe for a little bit of support and find that they’ve got these robust services that are available to them equal to what any student would get at Penn State honestly.

JEN TOOF: Mm-hmm.

LYNN ATANASOFF: But you had mentioned the question how would this come up in classes?


LYNN ATANASOFF: And I’m going to say that there are some academic majors who have really strong partnerships with us. In fact, there are assignments in some of the courses that people have. That’s one way that we might enter into — of course, faculty members will do additional things within their own specific discipline.

So what does that mean? So for some majors, they have to go and do a mock interview in a mock interview system that we have. For some, they are offered the opportunity to have a resume reviewed or an assessment done with them to see what kind of things they can learn about themselves. And in one case, there’s some information that’s directly in the system itself or in the structure itself — in IST, for example.

Built into every course, there’s some career information. And it’s mostly in that case because there’s internships required. And that’s another way that it is oftentimes embedded in classes is people will have in their academic major a required internship. And students will often ask, how do I find an internship while I’m working full time? And how do I make this kind of thing work?

And that can be kind of a — but it’s really a great idea for people to do internships. It’s a great way to build up your current skills and skill set to be able to bring to an employer the kind of current experiences that sometimes students are wondering, do I have any current experience? I’m coming back into school. Do I have experience? Or for that matter, it’s like I’m switching careers. And I need to get some experience in the field. It’s a great way to do that, whether it’s required or not. But for your question, in terms of how many come up in class, certainly internships is one of those touch points as well as assignments that different faculty members put into their classes.

JEN TOOF: That’s awesome. Extending that experience outside of the classroom can be so valuable. You were talking about building current skills. And I just think that this completely fits naturally what are some of the opportunities where students can keep building those skills. So I’ve heard about career days. Can you tell me about career days? Is it offered a certain time of year? Is it offered multiple times? How might that be an experience where students could be building those skills?

LYNN ATANASOFF: Look, when I think of career days, I think of spring career days and fall career days, which is oftentimes associated with career fairs, which are opportunities for students to network with different employers. At the core of it, that’s really what you’re doing at a career fair.


LYNN ATANASOFF: And so that is an opportunity to meet employers, to interface with them. Employers who you will network with after the event is really what it’s all set up for. And so when I think of career days — and World Campus students, because of the pandemic — OK, so people started thinking a little bit more outside of the face to face box. And because of that, there are opportunities now. It’s a little more hybrid. And this is driven largely by the employers because the employers are like, oh, we can see the benefit of virtual interfacing with students.

So when I think about career fairs, and people might say, well, do I need to come to Pennsylvania? Well, you can. But you don’t have to necessarily because there are some virtual opportunities through, like you mentioned, the career days activities. But people should also look for in their colleges, there may be those kind of opportunities as well as additional tools, additional ways that you can connect with employers.

JEN TOOF: Anything that our listeners can pick up to add to that toolbox of whether it’s programs to look for, whether it’s networking tips, I think any of that can be really helpful for our listeners.

LYNN ATANASOFF: OK. Well, I’m going to talk a little bit about skills and skill building. And I’m launching off a little bit from what I mentioned with internships. But when I’m thinking of World Campus learners, the adult learners who are primarily a part of our campus, I think about people saying, how am I supposed to develop skills to get to where I want to go either within the company I’m or in another kind of organization? And the idea of doing an internship can be like, that’s one too many things I could do.

So what I will sometimes talk to students about — and this is something that I think would apply pretty broadly across academic majors — is if you have an idea of where you’re going, but you don’t quite have those skills yet, looking for opportunities in your existing workplace — so if you’re employed, for example, and you wanted to develop technology skills, or you wanted to develop leadership skills or anything that an employer might want, looking for these opportunities in your workplace can sometimes be a really fruitful activity because there may be some things that you can tag on to what you’re already doing.

So rather than create a whole other experience internship, for example, sometimes you can build skills within where you are. The trick is always knowing what skills to build. And that’s a moving target to some extent. And what I mean by that is as we develop in technology and the way that we work in the workplace, things change. So we’re constantly trying to upskill.

One of the ways that you can try to figure out what skills you might be trying to develop is to talk with somebody such as a career counselor who can individually work with you to talk about what is it that you’re aiming for, what are some of those skills that may be that maybe you need to develop. And it’s not like I’m here knowing what all those skills are. Sometimes what we need to do is the strategy is to reach out to people who are in a particular field and say, what are the things that I really need to be adept at to be a competitive person in the workplace?

And so when we talk about something like networking, I know that networking oftentimes is associated with events. People will talk about networking events. But it’s more than that. It’s actually a skill that you want to use not just to do at a career fair but also to just connect with people in your field. It’s a great way to find out about opportunities. But it’s also a great method if you’re trying to figure out what kind of skills do I need to target as I’m moving in this direction, people who are already in the field can tell you this is what’s going on right now in the field and what you really have to be able to do or talk about or what you want to highlight even on your resume as far as skills.

So when we talk about networking, it can be used for a lot of different things. I think it’s a tool that is underused. And I’m going to add in with this networking includes LinkedIn. And I think a lot of times, people go on LinkedIn. And they make a profile. And they’re like, that’s about where I’ve gotten with it.

I encourage people to really go into networking to LinkedIn by joining different groups. And if you’re not sure how to do that, you should definitely get in touch with a career counselor. It’s probably one of the easiest ways that you can find people who are in your field or the field that you’re aspiring to get into. So when I think about some of the services that we provide and some of the skills that people need, networking is definitely one of them.

And I’m going to say this with a lot of confidence because I’ve been doing this for over a decade. OK? And I’ve talked to people from I’ve lost count how many countries. Networking works every place in the world. I’m serious. This is a tool that everybody uses. And it works to find out information from other people about what it is that you maybe want to do, the kind of things that people do in their jobs. You can network and ask people about that and certainly finding opportunities as well.

I’ve been stunned by how universally used networking is across the globe. I guess we’re just built that way as humans. But definitely a tool that people can leverage for their career in so many different ways.

JEN TOOF: I’ll say there’s always networking opportunities. When I used to live in the Pittsburgh area when I started working for the university, I was flying out of Boston. And I met some alumni and their family in the airport. And so you just never know where this happens. And so I know I had asked if you could talk a little bit about some networking tips. Do you also have any unique networking stories or anything that you could share with us?

MATT SOROKA: Well, I think it’s looking at networking as a community. And it’s really thinking about how do I turn this into a habit? How do I make this an everyday practice? And I connected with Lynn in the idea that it’s everywhere. And my Penn State experience, I’ve had the opportunity to go to China with some of our MBA students. We got to meet with alumni there. And you realize how universal the Penn State experience is.

And so for myself, it’s realizing that this is the community you’re building around you. These are the professionals that are going to help support you and help you really build upon where you want to go. And the nice piece at Penn State is — Lynn when touched upon LinkedIn. We have a significant population on LinkedIn whether it’s the World Campus or a larger Penn State University-wide that we can really tap into and understand we have other resources like LionLink and the Blue & White Society, different alumni associations, the Penn State chapters that might be in your local community.

So it’s a nice piece. And one of the things that’s really unique about Penn State is you don’t have to go far to find this. In many other universities, you can’t. You got to find the right person who to talk to and the gatekeeper. Penn State is everywhere. And that’s the nice piece of being part of this community is that you have a significant population of people that want to support you no matter what stage you are professionally, personally, what your interests are. And so it’s a really dynamic experience.

And I think when I talk to students a lot of times, they want to reach out to somebody. And they’re not sure what to discuss with them or how to connect with them. And I just say something basic like, figure out your shared interests. What do you have in common? What are those experiences that you can learn from? And whether it’s just an easy coffee conversation or a Zoom call or an informational interview, look at all of these and think about how can you keep that momentum building and going in terms of continuing that partnership.

And it needs to be genuine and authentic. That’s the piece that I think builds the quality there. If you can find somebody that’s willing to coach, mentor, advise, or even just share experience with you, and it’s authentic, it’s a really enriching experience. If it’s more transactional, that’s where networking doesn’t provide as much value in the process.

And looking at the different events, looking at your classes, your teams, your professors, your faculty, whatever, always look at everybody as an opportunity to network. Whether it’s going to office hours or you have a team meeting coming up, but you show up five minutes early just to chat with your team members, that’s networking. And so it needs to be that everyday practice where you’re building on this. And then you’ll cultivate this. And you’ll see the return on investment through networking down the line. But it needs to be that everyday practice.

JEN TOOF: Thank you so much, Matt and Lynn. Miraculously, this has gone so fast where we’re coming in close to our time. And I thank you so much for taking us into this world of utilizing Career Services. Going back to the beginning where I think about as a student, I wish I would’ve spent maybe five minutes of talking to somebody to expand those skills of that five minutes before class learning about somebody. Maybe I would’ve learned from a classmate if they were using Career Services.

So I’m so grateful for your time today. And for our listeners, Matt and Lynn and some of our other colleagues will continue to join us for our podcast Conversations with Student Affairs. And thank you both for your time today.

LYNN ATANASOFF: You’re most welcome. Can I add something —


LYNN ATANASOFF: — just because I feel inspired to do so today? I think (LAUGHING) that one of the things that we want to keep in mind is we’re here to support you. It would benefit you greatly even if you’re not sure what that career question is that you’re having because sometimes that’s where people start. It’s like, I just sort of have this vague idea that I think I need to figure this out.

But that’s what we’re here for. That’s what our services are for. We’re here for you. We’re here to help you and help you be successful. And if you’re not sure where you’re starting with it, just start with the conversation like Matt mentioned earlier because we’re really good at helping you figure out what you’re really trying to figure out. I know that sounds kind of funny. But if you’re stuck with career, just come and talk to us. And we’ll help you to sort through it.

JEN TOOF: Great. Thank you so much, Lynn. And I think that’s a really great final thought for us for ending on. So thank you so much.

LYNN ATANASOFF: You’re welcome, Jen.