New Price program sends students to ‘boot camp’ to launch careers

November 17, 2015

By Cristy Lytal

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From small peer-to-peer sessions to major networking events, Price students can take advantage of a broad range of professional development offerings through the Office of Career Services. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Two hundred students from the USC Price School of Public Policy are enrolled in boot camp — but not the kind that requires pushups, burpees and jumping jacks. Instead, this extracurricular boot camp inspires students to realize their professional aspirations, and serves as a rite of passage into the Career Development Program, or CDP.

“It just seemed like a really great opportunity to fine-tune some of the skills that you need to get into the job market,” said boot camp participant Rachel Huguet, a first-year Master of Public Policy student with five years of professional experience with the Peace Corps, Mercy Corps, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s also a great way to get connected with different internships and part-time jobs while you’re in the program. I think that it’s unique that USC Price offers it. I hadn’t seen that at any of the other schools I was looking at.”

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The CDP is an entirely new effort launched by the USC Price Office of Career Services. The innovative program is comprised of three key components: the boot camps, an individual Career Development Plan (iCDP) and labs.

The five 90-minute boot camps cover topics ranging from “visioneering” your professional future to sharpening your interview skills, from enhancing your LinkedIn profile to networking with alumni.

“The first session was actually focused on evaluating your skills, what you like, the environment you like to work in — so it was a lot of self-reflection and also looking at the market,” Huguet said. “And then the [most recent] session was more specific: It was fine-tuning your resume and cover letter, and then writing your brand statement. Those were really helpful, tangible skills that we developed.”

Students “graduate” from boot camp with individual Career Development Plans (iCDPs), which outline their professional objectives, potential roles, strategies to address any weaknesses, core competencies, target markets and organizations, networking strategies, execution plans and timelines.

With their iCDPs in hand, students can then attend a series of hands-on interactive “labs,” enabling them to delve further into the topics covered in boot camp. A career adviser facilitates the sessions, but the goal is for the students to guide each other.

“We are trying to create an open, collaborative environment where students can get the help that they need from one another,” said Scott Turner, director of career services at USC Price. “So it’s not necessarily us driving the process; it’s the students driving the process.”

Students are also taking the lead in spreading the word about CDP through its Twitter campaign at #FindingYourCareer.

Diverse professional programming

Students and practitioners learn more about one another through the Price Professional Mentor Program. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Students and practitioners learn more about one another through the Price Professional Mentor Program. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

To complement CDP and further promote student success, Career Services offers several other key programs.

Career Immersion Weeks invite students to explore specific areas of professional interest — such as public administration, policy, planning, health care administration or nonprofit leadership. Each week features specialized career programming, including tours of job sites, workshops, networking salons, job and internship fairs, and TED-style talks.

Drawing on the potential of USC Price students to help each other, Success Teams provide a collaborative environment to discuss job searches. Hosted by career advisers, the groups consist of no more than 10 graduating students looking to secure full-time employment.

“These teams are designed to be very relaxed, informal, collaborative, so that students can help each other out with the job search, coach each other, be there to support and offer advice and resources,” Turner said.

Another opportunity for USC Price students to support each other is the Career Coach Peer-to-Peer (P2P) program, which allows second-year graduate students to serve as career development coaches for first-year students.

The USC Price Office of Career Services is also engaging the Trojan Family’s powerful alumni network through several initiatives.

Offered once or twice a month, Alumni Panels shine a spotlight on potential career paths related to a specific major.

Executives-in-residence, alumni with more than 20 years of professional experience, hold office hours for students to drop by and have candid conversations about job search strategies, networking opportunities or anything else on their minds.

“It’s a great opportunity for a student to really sit down and get some free advice from someone who’s been out in the workforce for a long time,” Turner said. “And these executives-in-residence are volunteering their time to come in — it’s wonderful.”

The Career Services Office also matches alumni and students with similar career interests and goals through the Price Professional Mentor Program. Alumni mentors serve as role models, offer advice and feedback, and guide students as they develop their professional networks.

One-on-one student advisement

MPA student Hayley Falk

MPA student Hayley Falk

In addition to these structured programs, Career Services caters to individual requests from students of all degree programs, like Hayley Falk, a first-year Master of Public Administration student.

Hayley initially met with Turner to perfect her resume, cover letter and personal statement, and applied and interviewed for an internship in the City Manager’s Office in Burbank.

When she received an invitation to a second interview, she emailed Career Services again, and promptly got a crash course on panel interviews from Julie Labich, associate director of employer relations.

“And then I got the job,” recalled Falk, who is also enrolled in the CDP boot camp. “I’m interested in becoming a city manager, so it’s really the ideal situation for me.”

As a management intern, Falk’s responsibilities range from drafting mayoral speeches for city council meetings to informing the community about a new bus connecting the Red Line subway to the Burbank airport.

Grounded in experience

Career Services Director Scott Turner (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Career Services Director Scott Turner (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

The design of the CDP is rooted in the experiences of Turner’s own professional journey. After earning an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Michigan, Turner ended up working in financial analysis.

“I did well in that role, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” Turner said. “And when you ask most people, a large portion of the working population isn’t happy about what they do, but they do it because they have to.”

This led to what Turner has dubbed a “doom loop” — securing a job out of necessity, growing to dislike the job, and getting a sinking feeling every Sunday night at the prospect of going to work on Monday.

Turner’s break from this cycle began with earning his MBA from Loyola Marymount University and teaching undergraduate business courses at California State University, Long Beach, and DeVry University.

“When I started teaching as an adjunct instructor, I realized very quickly – almost that first night – while I was standing in front of 30 students talking about finance concepts, that’s where I belong,” he said. “I fell in love with the whole academic environment and the students.”

For nearly four years, he continued working full-time in finance while teaching courses two nights a week — before making his major career move into higher education.

“I love working with students and helping them be successful, and so I tell this story to my students — about finding your passion in life and what really motivates you,” Turner said. “The whole reason why I launched these career development programs is because I didn’t have that when I was going through this transition. I had to figure it out on my own, and it took me a long time. And what we are trying to do with these students here at Price is to get them to that point much faster.”

Maximizing potential

Price students and employees from diverse fields and sectors interact at a recent networking event. (Photo by Tom Queally)

Price students and employees from diverse fields and sectors interact at a recent networking event. (Photo by Tom Queally)

To achieve this, he leads a team at Price to help students to identify what will make them happy, fulfilled and passionate in their lives, both personally and professionally. The aim is to inspire them to be proactive in attaining these goals by identifying their “target organizations,” finding alumni who work there and arranging informational interviews.

But Turner believes that training the students is only half of the equation.

“Students plus employers equals MEP, which is Maximum Employment Potential,” he said. “You’ve got to get the students prepared, which is what I’m doing through the Career Development Program. You’ve also got to get our employers in here to recruit our students.”

Professor Marlon Boarnet, vice dean for academic affairs, believes that Career Services has made great strides not only towards achieving Maximum Employment Potential, but also in supporting USC Price’s larger educational mission.

“Career Services and professional development are central to the way we educate our students,” Boarnet said. “Our mission is to improve the quality of life for persons and communities, and we do that in part by turning out students who can take jobs in their professional fields. Scott Turner has been very strategic in leading the Career Services office through a process of developing new programs and implementing those programs, and really providing a broad level of professional development support, and we’re thrilled to see that.”