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Stories from the Home We Love So Well: Virtual Career Counseling

The Home We Love So Well: Stories from Home Series

Virtual Career Counseling

The world the Huntingdon College Class of 2020 will enter differs in every way from the world they anticipated just six weeks ago. Still, Hawks can navigate their way to hope with the steady help of a number of resources—not the least of which is the Huntingdon Center for Career and Vocation, under the direction of Sherry Leigh Lacey Farquhar ’13.  It’s Sherry Leigh’s job, building on the work of each student’s professors and experiences, to help graduates meet the challenges ahead.

The CCV works year-round to facilitate internships, externships, resume development, interviewing skills, employment, graduate school placement, and even discounted purchases of professional attire for Hawks who are preparing to take flight. This semester almost all of those processes moved online, which required technical savvy and creativity.

Sherry Leigh earned her Master of Education degree in school counseling after graduating from Huntingdon. Her counseling background has been especially helpful in her work in the CCV.  “A big thing that I’ve been telling students right now is to be patient,” says Sherry Leigh. “Businesses are still trying to figure out what their work looks like and what it will look like in the future. But it’s also okay to follow up to show them you are serious. I already was a huge proponent of using LinkedIn for making connections and finding jobs but now it is even more important and a key to success in my opinion. I’ve had several Zoom meetings where I’ve shared my screen to show students how to effectively use LinkedIn as a career resource.”

One of Sherry Leigh’s goals is to meet with each graduating senior during their senior year. Until a few weeks ago, those meetings were in person. Although the method of the meetings has changed, the pandemic hasn’t changed the focus, according to Sherry Leigh.  “During the senior meetings I ask each student their major, what they have been involved in while at Huntingdon, their resume status, if they have completed internships, and what their plans are for life after Huntingdon. I walk them step-by-step through the process of applying to jobs, networking, preparing for graduate school and/or finding meaningful work for gap years. The goal is always to [help students] find a job or get accepted into graduate school and to prepare students professionally. I believe that seniors are actually a little more focused on what’s next right now.”

One major change this year from her counseling in previous years is preparing students for virtual interviews rather than in-person interviews.

Lavia Walker ’20 of Marion Junction, Alabama, has met with Sherry Leigh regularly. “I am planning to get to work once I’ve completed my degree,” she says. “I want to work in public relations or event planning. In our virtual senior meeting Sherry Leigh showed me how to search for the specific job types I want via Linked In, and encouraged me to use the connections I’ve made through interning. I was able to update my resume and apply for internships with Sherry Leigh’s help, and those internships ultimately helped me to determine what career path I’d like to take. Soon, I will be doing a mock interview with Sherry Leigh that will further help prepare me for finding a career in the field I want.”

Virginia Gaston ’20 of Guntersville, Alabama, had a Zoom interview with Sherry Leigh to prepare for a virtual job interview she had last week. She is seeking a job as an elementary school teacher. “This pandemic has changed the game of job searching and Sherry Leigh talked me through the etiquette of virtual interviews, questions that [employers] may ask, and general tips. It made me confident going into my interview. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

“There are a lot of different things to consider when interviewing virtually,” says Sherry Leigh.  “For virtual interviews you have to consider the background you choose—it should not be distracting. Consider the noise-level in your setting and use headphones if background noise is a concern. Dress should be just as professional as if you were interviewing in person (top to bottom, not just the top),” she laughs. She also suggests making sure the phone or computer you’re using is fully charged and that you have silenced any potential phone, text, or email interruptions. “Virtual interviews can hinder how the interviewer perceives nonverbal communication, so it’s important for the student/interviewee to nod their head and show that they are engaged and not frozen on their screen,” she continues. “Students also need to be sure they are not looking at themselves on their screen; they should be looking at the camera.”

Because students can begin working with the CCV as early as the freshman year, many students graduate with impressive and documented experience that enhances their resumes greatly.  One of the first bases for interaction is an externship—a chance to shadow a professional in a job that interests the student and to learn what that professional does on a typical day.

“I worked with our CCV through my Business and Professional [Communication] class,” says Candace Carnegie ’21, from Montgomery. “I was in need of an externship for my course of study. Sherry Leigh was very helpful when assisting me with this assignment. She really considered what I liked and enjoyed doing and tailored [my search] to what would best suit me.”

Internships provide essential work experience and exploration for students as they consider different career fields. The placements can be paid or unpaid, for credit or not for credit, and semester- or year-long. Lavia was in the middle of an internship for credit this semester when classes ceased. “Sherry Leigh helped me come up with a plan to successfully complete my internship hours without needing to report to my internship site,” she says.

Noah Harrison ’20 was interning for credit in the CCV this spring. “Like most others, my internship was altered this semester,” she says. “Sherry Leigh is a rock star. She had a plan that enabled me to continue growing and learning even remotely. I appreciate how she has stayed in constant communication with me through all this. She’s always concerned about me and how I’m doing outside the internship, which is really encouraging.” Noah will begin a graduate program in media and communications at Indiana University in fall 2020.

“I worked with the CCV on two different occasions,” says Tristan Powell ’20, an exercise science major from Prattville, Alabama, who is planning for a career in physical therapy. “My first encounter was to organize and initiate my official internship with a local physical therapist. Sherry Leigh assisted me [with]  the necessary paperwork and instructed me on how to execute the task. Any questions I had regarding my internship were answered effortlessly and [in a timely way]. My second involvement was concerning my senior advisory meeting. Sherry Leigh met with me on a virtual call and listened to all of the ideas and possible opportunities I had thought about regarding my career. [She] advised me on what matters were important in terms of short- and long-term goals. The CCV helped assure me that my plans were not just ideas, rather they were solidified and achievable. Sherry Leigh also advised me on my PTCAS application and on the best time to complete specific parts of the application.” Tristan will complete some undergraduate prerequisite courses this summer to facilitate his application for physical therapy school.

Virginia also found ready, resourceful help in the CCV, both for her own future and as president of the Student Government Association in 2019. “I have sought help from the CCV on multiple occasions. A lot of the reasons revolved around resume and interview prep and help. Sherry Leigh has the best advice, is so intentional, and doesn’t just do it for you. She challenges you to give reasons to your answers and to be real. I’ve worked with her office in preparation for orientation and SGA events and they are always the most accommodating and willing to help. They are fantastic, to say the least. I also had a senior meeting with her at the beginning of the fall semester. It was so helpful and answered the questions I had about next steps. She introduced a lot of ideas and tasks that I would have never thought of and that ultimately have led to my job search and graduation experience being less stressful because I was prepared.”

“Sherry Leigh gives you the information and steps to help reach your dreams and goals, but it is up to us to apply and use them,” says Candace. “Sitting and talking with Sherry Leigh broadened my paths and options for my career and future after Huntingdon. I talked about what I wanted to do, and she helped me find ways to make that happen.”

The CCV had planned five programs that were canceled or moved online after classes went virtual in mid-March. A law school information session and teacher education job fair weren’t cyber-friendly and could not be offered, but an internship information session, a job search session, and the annual Professional Head Shots day took place via Zoom and social media.

The Huntingdon College traditional day program has the privilege of serving nearly 900 bright minds and eager hearts who will one day go into the world as Huntingdon graduates. Each one has gifts, knowledge, skills, interests, experiences, and talents that are unique—shaped by life, learning, and that mysterious, innate element born in each of them. The Huntingdon Center for Career and Vocation connects each student with the wider world before s/he graduates, which builds confidence for all they will face with a diploma in their hands, even in a pandemic.

“All students, regardless of whether or not they have an idea of what they intend to do after graduation, should stop by the CCV and simply meet with Sherry Leigh to talk about life, careers, and opportunities,” advises Tristan. “It never hurts to listen and gain advice from people who spend their day educating themselves on guiding college students to a career after school. Additionally, Sherry Leigh is  … easy to communicate with, so simply discussing something small can easily turn into discussing something much greater.”

Today is the last day of classes for the spring term, but Sherry Leigh can be reached throughout the summer by email at CCV@hawks.huntingdon.edu or phone at (334) 320-9678.

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Read more Stories from the Home We Love So Well.

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