You got your degree. Now what?
Students need job shadowing, mentorship and much more to help them find their way into the workforce.
This past spring, Yolanda Huillca was filled with excitement and anxiety — excitement because she was about to earn her MBA at Metropolitan State University of Denver; anxiety because she had no job prospects and didn’t feel confident about job hunting or interviewing.
But then, she found a lifeline. She joined a new program from MSU Denver’s Classroom to Career (C2) Hub called COMPASS (Community of Mentoring Professionals and Student Scholars), where she met mentors who shared exactly what she needed.
“I actually had three mentors who helped me master interview questions and answers,” Huillca said. “They shared their experiences with job hunting and helped me to understand the hiring manager’s point of view and what they’re really looking for in a new hire.”
One of her mentors, Matthijs van der Vegte, who works for tech company Arrow Electronics, said he gave her advice on what hiring managers look for, how to start a career and how to grow in it. “And I told her not to be fazed by rejection,” he said.
Turns out she didn’t need that last tidbit. In June, Huillca started management training at FirstBank.
It was the exact outcome Eunice Reyes, equity and career-success coordinator for the C2 Hub, was hoping to see.
Reyes, who runs COMPASS, said the program is designed to help underserved students with career readiness in high-demand industries and includes access to mentors in students’ areas of study. COMPASS also helps students with résumé and cover-letter writing, interviewing tactics, salary negotiation, professional and leadership development and more.
COMPASS began as a pilot in fall 2021 after investment-bank giant J.P. Morgan Chase gave $500,000 to MSU Denver as part of a new skills-readiness-initiative grant.
“(We) recognized how important professional mentorships and networking are to students’ career and personal development,” Reyes said. “COMPASS is committed to students’ academic persistence and career success.”
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COMPASS served 41 students in the spring, and Eboni Nash, COMPASS’ recruitment manager, expects that 100 students will take part this fall along with 100 mentors from 28 employers.
Another COMPASS student, Isaac Barrera, a senior studying Marketing, credits COMPASS for a promotion he received recently at his part-time job.
“A manager was overwhelmed with different tasks like marketing and keeping up with the shop’s reputation on Google and other websites,” Barrera said. “In passing, I mentioned the professional-development courses and meetings with my mentor. From that, they realized I could take over some of the things that my manager couldn’t keep up with.”
Barrera added that his mentor, Lara Smedley, who owns a special-events-management company, helped him with time management as he juggled school and three jobs.
“She helped me organize my life and build a more structured day,” Barrera said. “And it helped. Eventually, I was less tired and less aggravated by things. Mentorship is probably the best thing to help (you) grow … professionally and personally.”
Smedley praised Barrera and said he’s taking every opportunity available to prepare for his future and continue to learn. And Smedley said mentoring is an immensely valuable tool. “I applaud MSU Denver for not only thoughtfully developing the program to support their students but also engaging the business community,” she said.
Reyes said she believes the most important aspect of COMPASS is the conversations that students have with their mentors.
“Mentorship is vital because it builds the confidence and network of students and young job-seekers,” she said. “COMPASS makes it easier for students who may not otherwise have the time or energy to seek out those connections.”
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Reyes added that while networking is important to career success, not all students have a preexisting network to support their professional growth. “This is even more important when it comes to people with marginalized identities because representation of those identities isn’t always present in the careers that people want to pursue,” she said.
Dia Cook, a junior Computer Information Systems major, said she liked how COMPASS connected her with experts in her field. Cook met with her mentor, Angelina Yaeger, a project manager at an information-technology-solutions firm, twice a month. “After each meeting, I felt like I had a better understanding of how computers work,” Cook said, “and our meetings were a great supplement to what I’m learning in my classes.”
Cook said she also job-shadowed Yaeger, watching her coordinate projects with her staff and writing instructions for her clients. “Job shadowing has given me a glimpse into what it’s like in the IT world,” Cook said. “I feel like I’m better prepared to work in IT after I graduate.”