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Mark Colvenbach of the University of Tampa on How to Demystify Networking for Students

Students often perceive networking in a negative way. Mark Colvenbach, Director of Career Services at the University of Tampa, works to demystify the networking process for students. On episode 6 of the Informational Interview 2.0 podcast, he spoke about how and he and his colleagues do this. He also shared thoughts on:

  • The importance of building a strong digital footprint.
  • Student success stories.
  • How the UT Career Development office has adjusted to ensure continuous support for their students during the current world circumstances.

Rough Transcript:

Kevin Anselmo:

I am delighted to welcome Mark Colvenbach to the Informational Interview 2.0 podcast. Mark is the director at the University of Tampa Office of Career Services. Mark, thank you very much for taking some time on this rainy Thursday afternoon to discuss with me some of your thoughts on how communications can spark innovation and career growth.

Mark Colvenbach:

Thanks so much for having me, Kevin. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.

Kevin Anselmo:

Great, Mark. Before I get into some of my questions. Can you just share briefly a little bit about the work that you and your colleagues do at the University of Tampa?

Mark Colvenbach:

Sure. Yeah. So the University of Tampa career services office has a multi-level approach. We work with students obviously on the job and internship search side, but I think the stereotype out there for Career Centers is that we only help students when they’re graduating and I think it’s really important that we get in early and often at their freshman year even before they even get to campus. And so we do a lot of enrollment management with incoming students to help them understand a little bit more about themselves and how that relates to major career paths. We also have an employer development side. So we have a team that works with companies to help develop internship and employment opportunities, not only in the Tampa area, but nationally as well. We work really closely with our University Relations Office. Our office serves as a central point of contact for all internships. So if a company is looking to hire an intern, they don’t have to go to communication, marketing psychology, they come to our office, and we work behind the scenes with the faculty on that. And one of the things that we’re seeing obviously an uptick with the current economy is serving alumni. And so unfortunately, with the economy and that economic downturn, we are starting to see more alumni either lose their positions, be furloughed, seeking different career paths, and so our office does serve alumni as well.

Kevin Anselmo:

Right. One thing that I like to do on podcasts is to kind of explore the different types of best practices from different experts as well as stories examples, and I just wondering off the bat, you know, you mentioned it’s a tumultuous time to say the least what are some, whether it’s one individual or a couple? What are some interesting stories that you can share about how you have seen students innovate in different ways and how that has kind of sparked and helped them grow throughout their careers?

Mark Colvenbach:

You know, there’s definitely a couple stories that come to mind. And then there’s also a program that we’re doing to try to help with that as well. We have had a couple students in particular that had a real passion for some areas that I would say would be non-traditional career paths. We had one student in particular that a couple of us were talking about the other day, he just recently graduated, and he was super involved with scooter. I’m talking like a kid scooter. But he was a skateboarder and scooter but what he did over the course of his four years is really tied his passion together. He created YouTube channels by his sophomore year I think he had three or four sponsors. And he really kind of elevated this passion that he had with scootering to create a huge following. And I looked him up last night knowing I was going to talk to you. I think he’s really been doing pretty good and trying to break world records of different things, lots of followers, but he really uses social media extremely well. I think he did a great job, obviously creating a YouTube channel for himself putting social media out there. It did seem it took a toll on his body. You know, every time I saw him, it looked like he had a different cast on. So he took it to the extreme in that sense, but I was really impressed with how he tied his passion and how his using his academic classes to kind of help foster that through social media through personal branding and take that to where it’s now part of his profession moving forward.

Kevin Anselmo:

Fascinating, I’m curious. So how do you work with students in terms of helping them kind of replicate some of the things that this student has been able to achieve here?

Mark Colvenbach:

It sounds basic, but a lot of it’s just listening at first. So we when we’re working with individuals, students, On this, whether it’s I, you know, I have some ideas, or maybe they come in and they don’t have any clue of what they want to do. We have staff that work with the students. And the first meeting typically is a lot of listening, a lot of asking clarifying questions, depending on how well the student knows themselves. We do a lot of devil’s advocate, so to speak, and try to challenge how deep those really understandings of themselves are typically of a student’s really like I don’t know where to even start. We have different assessment tools that we use with students. There’s some self assessment tools, we use ones called focus too many of you probably you are familiar Kevin with The MBTI, the Myers Briggs, so we really focus on their VIPs their values, interests, personality and skills, kind of use that as kind of the puzzle piece to kind of help them put those things together. And so one of our staff in particular, Rachel works with students when they coming in, typically at the freshman sophomore year level, like you’re asking about, and she has a whiteboard. And she just asked questions and drops all the information that the students share on the whiteboard. And at the end, she ends up taking a picture of the student next to this whiteboard. And it really kind of catapults that conversation to help move it to the next level. So that could be, like I said, an assessment that might be conducting an information interview, just as your podcast is called. I think those are extremely, extremely valuable for students, we really walk students through what that process is that it’s not just talking to somebody and finding out what they do, but getting more behind the scenes and applying your values.

Kevin Anselmo:

And that’s probably as you’re probably discovering with alumni and even older populations, you know, these things evolve and yeah, so “The Scooter Guy” – what is his name?

Mark Colvenbach:

Jared.

Kevin Anselmo:

So in the case of Jared, in one of these examples in terms of how he was able to create all this interesting content, build a following and sounds like he’s turned us into an interesting business, just curious how you maybe talk to students about like networking, assume that a lot of what he’s doing is networking, what kind of things do you share what kind of best practices and maybe look at this both from the student perspective, as well as from, you know, the Career Development professional perspective? I am interested to hear your thoughts on that? 

Mark Colvenbach:

Yeah, I think the biggest thing with students in particular is when they hear the networking word, they automatically have a conception of what that means. And it’s typically kissing up to somebody talking to somebody that they probably didn’t want to talk to anyways, and it’s only for a job. And I think that a big part of what we have to do at the beginning of this process, when we use the word networking is to try to demystify it, make it seem a little bit more casual. Have students understand what it’s what’s in it for them really ultimately. And so we have a series of workshops, we talk about it obviously, individually, we have an event called Art of mingling, which kind of takes it from, you know, a networking professional suit and tie to more of like you’re at a party or you’re at a gathering or how do you blend in? So it’s kind of the do’s and don’ts almost of networking. But as far as capturing what you can, you know, what he ultimately the goal is, is to get information out of that it’s really as simple as kind of pointing out what the strengths are of this opportunity and what you know, what are you hoping to gain? For some people I think networking is really it’s to get an internship or a job. But we’d like to introduce that concept as early as freshman year networking, kind of tying it in hand in hand with an information interview. So helping students understand, okay, when you’re talking to this person, what are you what are you really hoping to get, you know, what’s important to you to find out from this person about the career path or what kind of education or values Many years ago, and I still remember the students, she was in my class, and she’s like, she was one of those students that had her life planned out. And I’m not just talking like, I know a girl I want. I’m going have four kids, I’m going be married by 25. And this is where I’m going live. And she’s like, I have to do this information interview for you. And I said, “What do you know, you want to be a lawyer, right?” She’s like, yes. And I said, “What concerns you about being a lawyer because she was very concerned?” And she said, “I want to raise a family, can I do both?” I said, “Can you just interview someone who is a female that has kids.” So that’s what she did. And it gave her the context to be able to make some decisions moving forward. And, and I always stress to students like networking and information interviews, I think they go hand in hand, but they I think you need to do multiple ones. You know, you may talk to this case, the super woman that is able to do everything and make it look easy. But you also probably need to talk to somebody who’s really struggling through that and understand why they’re struggling through that. And that’s what she did she was able to kind of get some different perspectives on that glean the information that she did. A typical student is not going to ask an information interview or a networking contact, like, how do you balance work and life and family. They’re probably asking more about salary, or they’re probably asking more about what kind of skill sets. And so depending on where the students at, I think that they can get a lot from that. I think it’s you putting yourself out there, which seems easy, but I think you know, practicing it is different. We have an event called speed networking. So it’s based on the dating speed dating model. We have our board of fellows who are community leaders or counselors. Some of them are UT alum. And we just set up like, hey, this is this event is kind of like Vegas, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It is very much about you being comfortable with a networking opportunity. And then the students just bounce around to different employers. The first few rounds are like an awkward high school dance or people don’t know what to do. But they get into their routine. And then you know, we only limit to three minutes. And we’re like trying to push them along after a while because they get comfortable with that. So networking is kind of a skill set that for a lot of people’s natural, and for many it’s, it’s not. And so what we want to do is try to make that through practice a lot easier. 

Kevin Anselmo:

So, you know, as I share with you the past, you know, I started this program called Global Innovators Academy. We have a course called interview an innovator and that talks about, you know, doing an informational interview, but then taking it to the next level, creating a strong digital footprint. You mentioned Jared at the outset and how he’s been able to do that. I kind of gather that he was probably doing that before he even did it came to UT Tampa. But curious if you could talk a little bit about some of your advice that you would share again with for both career development professionals as well as for students on the importance of creating content? And using that to spark your innovative ideas as well as your kind of career journey?

Mark Colvenbach:

Fair. And I think that COVID is obviously I think I changed a lot of different things with this. I think, originally, the digital footprint was limited to certain industries or certain majors with portfolios or soundbites, students who were interested in television. Obviously, the digital footprint could be as basic as a LinkedIn profile. We use a system called Handshake for jobs and internships. So they have a digital footprint on there with resumes and letters and samples. I went to graduate school at Florida State when their portfolio platform was being created. And that’s a great tool, obviously, so there’s different portfolio platforms. I think it’s like not to water down to too simple but I think one is that anything that you put out there obviously has a long lasting impact. So I think it needs to be complete, it needs to be proofread, it needs to kind of create a brand for yourself. And so whatever that brand might be, we want to make sure that that student has thought through that. Okay, this is how I’m looking at it as a career services professional, in my interpretation of you. I remember meeting with a student on their resume. And this wasn’t a digital necessarily, but she was about to post this to multiple outlets. She was an accounting major with a 3.96 GPA. She entered with two or three accounting firms. One of them was a big four. She was a member of the accounting society beta alpha si. I was like why are you here? No, like you could get a job by just walking down the street. It was it was really impressive on paper and her digital would have been the same. And she’s like, I hate accounting, and I’m just graduating and I want to do XYZ and nonprofit. So that’s an extreme example, but one that works was putting something out there that didn’t match their goals. And she would have been very frustrated with her job search, obviously, she came in for that reason. But on paper, and then what she would have looked like out there in the universe would have been very different from what her real story was. And so these things need to weave a story in a lot of ways. When students are trying to create that brand, they have to kind of anticipate what HR professionals are going to be seeing and looking at where graduate school depending on that I think graduate school is sometimes just as intense or more intense than a job search. And so whether they’re looking for graduate school or job search, that consistency and that that cleanness goes a long, long way for that.

Kevin Anselmo:

Yeah, just curious. If you have an example, the example of Jared of an entrepreneur, any examples come to mind in terms of students who were really effective in creating this personal brand online and then using that to convert into an interesting job or internship or whatever it may be?

Mark Colvenbach:

We had a student that was a financial major applied to a finance position at Raymond James in Tampa, and a great student, but extremely well written communication. And I think when he sent in the cover letter and resume, he did not anticipate what happened next. But what happened was is that they were so blown away by his cover letter and how well written it was that they’re like, hey, yeah, we know you want to do finance, but we have a brand new opening for a technical writer, and how would you like to switch gears and think about. To the student’s credit, he didn’t say, no, I want to go to finance. He said, you know, what I’m willing to like, understand what, like he didn’t even know what technical writing meant. And sometimes students in English and writing don’t know what technical writing is. And so he took the chance, it was kind of more of an information interview. And he was willing to kind of put his neck out there, so to speak, and he’s like, you know what, I think I could do this. And we had him on panels for years, three or four years in a row. He just kind of sharing like you just because you majored in this, your skill set is really what you’re bringing to the table to these employers. And we’ve had students, you know, when you’re going back to the digital footprint, now we’ve had students, especially like in the theater area, and some of the performance where I think the kind of compiling of information in a digital format is huge. Theater majors in particular, they’re not going to do a traditional resume, right? And so things that they have on their resume and on their digital footprint, are things like height and weight, and roles that they played a part in. And so those are the types of students filming media in our communication area, especially music and theater where, you know, that’s a necessary thing. But it’s also again, you want to put the best effort out there so professionally done, and it’s a lot it’s obviously a lot easier transition if you’re doing those things.

Kevin Anselmo:

So in your role, you’re always working with students and helping them think about their career journey and how they might innovate and do things differently. You know, one thing that’s been particularly interesting over the last couple months is how everyone really in higher education has had to innovate and had to do things differently. You’ve been in your role for a number of years. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you innovate in your own career, whether it’s just looking at the recent circumstances and how you had to do things a bit differently, and also how you see yourself. Obviously, things change and evolve, but how you see yourself innovating in the future.

Mark Colvenbach:

I appreciate not saying I’m old.

Kevin Anselmo:

I think we both graduated I think, according to my LinkedIn research, so if I say you’re old, I’d say I’m old, and I’m young.

Mark Colvenbach:

No I really appreciate that. I’m feeling old these days. So one of the things that I’ve been thinking about recently, especially as our office was able to transition. We closed on basically a Friday went virtual on Friday, moved to it Monday morning, we had workshops via Zoom. We had career coaching appointments, individual appointments. It was like as if we had always been doing it and I so I think one of the things that, you know, I’ve always believed in, but I think it’s actually led to some innovation, or at least to me developing some additional skills as hiring really good people. We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of somebody in our office, and he went to grad school at Kansas State. We sort of knew he had some technology background, but every day he is teaching our whole team so much about technology and how we weren’t capitalizing on that. So I think when you hire really good people that are all these different things, and we have a really good team at University of Tampa, it helps kind of push you a little bit as well. I signed up for an Excel class this past like two or three weeks ago, like I would never have done that but like, yeah, you know, I probably need to do that. I signed up for an online course – The Crisis Leadership Program – that they announced. Again, these are little things that I think probably if, if we didn’t have staff kind of pushing us as an office and technology, for example, I think that’s really helped me out. Me personally, I’ve benefited tremendously from support from UT to get involved with different associations. So I’m involved with our regional association called SOACE, and it’s not directly related, but NACE is the National Association of Employers, which a lot of people are familiar with. So I’ve been able to really kind of stretch myself and my kind of skillsets. When you’re managing a budget for an office of nine people and a private, small, medium sized University, that’s one thing. When you’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars for an association that covers 15 states to serve members, it’s a different responsibility. So getting involved with those types of boards, I think has been really tremendous for me, we just work through a letter about all the racial inequality. And so that’s something I’ve probably, you know, thinking about 15 different states and 1500 members, like how do you kind of speak to that audience? I’m involved with the local YMCA board here down by where I live, that doesn’t really do my work, but it’s a community kind of thing. So I think saying yes to those things. I wasn’t a chronic joiner in college or high school. It wasn’t something I would volunteer to do much of anything. Honestly, I enjoy just kind of staying in my lane. But it’s one of those things I think exposes you to a lot of different technologies and software platforms that you never use before.

Kevin Anselmo:

Yeah, I love the example you showed of like letting one of assume the person that you mentioned we hired last year was a younger person was in college graduate. Yes, yes. way. So cool example of how to trigger mentoring him. But at the same time, you know, he’s providing a lot of value and education to you and your colleagues and that type of thing is awesome. Final question is around just kind of general best practices you would share for educators in general, regardless of where they’re at kind of these can they do to help students find purpose, curiosity and improve communication skills? I realize that’s a lot of three big things there. But what if you could break that down on purpose, curiosity, communication skills, what can educators do to help students in those areas?

Mark Colvenbach:

I think a lot of is just listening. I mentioned that earlier. I think one of the other aspects besides that, not to spend too much time on listening, but through that, I think there’s self-reflection. I mentioned, the devil’s advocate. I think it’s really important to push students to see if they own that. So for example, if we’re working with a student on the MBTI, and they get their four letter code, and we’re talking through what this really means, and I almost would prefer that they disagree with that completely and they actually explained to me why. Because then I think what they’re doing is owning kind of their personality, their values and showing me exactly why and that I’m fine with that. Like, I almost prefer that and you know, we want it to support what a student’s thinking and give them some kind of confidence. But at the same time, I think they can gain a lot of confidence by playing that devil’s advocate game of pushing back and saying, you know, that doesn’t make sense based on what you’re saying. And typically, when a student is like, no, this is me, and here’s why. And they can give really good sound kind of guidance. I’m like, “Did you just hear what you said, like you’re owning this?” So yeah, let’s think about this. This is really important to you, and why is it important? So asking this kind of how and why questions. I just had a call with our, this morning, actually, with our Center for Public Speaking. And so we’re talking a lot collectively of how we can help support students in this communication, both just general communication skills, but now in the post COVID area, whenever you want to call it where students are going to have to really think about their nonverbals. We’re fortunate enough when we got our new space last year, we were able to get Polycom tech rooms that allowed us to do the virtual interviewing no matter where a student was, or a company was. But with that came zoom software, the platform Zoom. So we’re using it for about a year before we had to do anything with it more recently, and that gave us a lot of confidence. But the software platform called Quincy that we’re using is a mock interview platform that gives a student’s score on their resume, gives them score on their interview, like a lot of software platforms do. But what it also integrates is artificial intelligence. So it’s phenomenal, kind of scared us a little bit of facial recognition cues, and they also score students on so if they’re talking to an employer on a screen, like a computer screen, it’ll tell the student whether they look engaged or not based on different facial features in their eye, their cheeks, their nose, forehead, actually points those things out. So it’s really easy to measure my looking in the camera or not your engagement level, your interest level, are you looking positive? Are you looking negative. Saying that you’re really excited about this opportunity, but you have a very flat effect verbally and verbally doesn’t match up. And it’s typically not going to do very well for that interview. So think the self-reflection piece is really, really key to that, along with some other things we just talked about.

Kevin Anselmo:

Wow, that’s, that’s fascinating. In closing, Mark, is there any place where you would like our listeners if someone’s listening would like to connect with you any place you’d like to direct them to?

Mark Colvenbach:

Yeah, thank you very much. Our general website just for information about the university itself and career services is ut.edu backslash career. My personal email I’m happy to share it’s [email protected]

Kevin Anselmo:

Great Mark. Really appreciate your time and sharing some of these insights with me and my audience and I look forward to being in touch.

Mark Colvenbach:

Awesome. Thanks again.

The post Mark Colvenbach of the University of Tampa on How to Demystify Networking for Students appeared first on Experiential Communications.



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