By Damian Cristodero
Christine Cruzvergara is often asked for evidence that George Mason University is a leader in producing career-ready graduates. Mason’s director of career services points to the FBI.
Last year, the FBI interviewed 65 Mason soon-to-be graduates. It offered jobs to 58. Cruzvergara notes that those offers went to a range of disciplines, not just criminal justice majors. Job offers also went to English, philosophy, economics, finance and marketing majors.
“We’re doing a good job preparing students to not only be masters in their area but be excellent in communicating across multiple disciplines,” Cruzvergara said. “We know the world’s issues are not siloed for one particular discipline.”
Preparing students for professional careers goes beyond providing the best education. Universities must also work to help connect students with potential employers. At Mason, that happens through internships, job fairs, networking events and cultivating relationships with businesses.
Such commitment is a big reason that 74 percent of Mason students in the 2014 class were employed or in graduate school, slightly ahead of the 73 percent national average for public universities, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
“We place a heavy emphasis on preparing our students,” Cruzvergara said. “Often it’s not enough to get your degree; you also have to know your strengths and how to market them, what the marketplace needs, what does the economy and society need and how can you match those contributions.”
Representatives from eintern, an internship service for IT programmers, were amazed by both the turnout and the quality of students when they visited Mason’s campus for the first time this past year.
“I kept telling my colleague I felt like a shark chasing a school of fish,” a company representative wrote in a testimonial. “We have hired many Mason graduates; we anticipate tripling those numbers based on the quality of the students we met.”
Developing relationships with businesses is not always easy. A company’s recruiting budget may limit it to working with 10 universities. Becoming one of them demands persistence and imagination. Having an active career services department is key.
“It’s a lot of listening and understanding what employers want and need,” Cruzvergara said. “We’ll ask about internships or full-time jobs, their profile of an ideal candidate, what is the interview process like? We’re asking those questions so we can help them have their candidate pool be the most competitive possible.”
Mason also develops a recruiting strategy with the employer “specific to their needs to match it with what Mason can offer,” Cruzvergara said.
For large companies, a campus recruiting program might be best, Cruzvergara said. For smaller, boutique companies, a more intimate approach might include “practice” interviews with students “or participating in one of our industry-specific weeks” in which students learn about trends and issues of an industry and then connect with employers through networking events, educational panels and workshops.
“We customize it for the employer based on need,” Cruzvergara said.
Some stats worth noting: Among Mason students with undergraduate degrees, 73 percent work in jobs related to their career goals. For students with graduate degrees, it is 87 percent. Facilitating that is Mason’s push for experiential learning—internships, research and service—in which 70 percent of the class of 2014 participated.
“One of the things I did at Mason my last semester was an internship,” 1998 graduate Abra Hogarth said. “That is an opportunity George Mason not only affords its students but is very proactive about engaging in the community and making sure there are a lot of opportunities out there, and that is a huge plus.” Hogarth is the director of communications for the Amputee Coalition of America.
Add 123 career programs Mason put on in the past year, including networking events, job fairs and brown-bag lunches.
But the most important sign is employers’ satisfaction.
“Sherwin-Williams was built on a foundation of seven guiding values: integrity, people, service, quality, performance, innovation and growth,” Sherwin-Williams wrote in a testimonial. “The same values that describe the Sherwin-Williams brand are used to describe the quality of education and student that can be found at the core of every Mason Patriot.”