Career Conversations: Making the most of them during breaks!

By Kathleen Powell, Director of Career Exploration & Development, and Zach Pavol, Assistant Director of Career Exploration & Development

In the next few weeks, thousands of students will be returning home for their winter break. Students see this as a much needed break from academics. What they might encounter when returning home is a new conversation with their parents and relatives. The age old questions of what are you going to do when you graduate? What are you going to do with your major? What can you do with a liberal arts degree? As parents of college students, we often think about “How can I help my student get an internship or a “good job” when they graduate.” Before you begin talking to your student about these issues during the break, I offer a few ideas for your consideration and conversation.
The break is a wonderful time for students to rest and to reconnect with family and friends. It is also a critical time for conversation around career exploration and development. Each January, students come back to campus and tell us how reinvigorated they are about their careers because of conversations, connections and open dialogue with their parents. Some students come back having secured internships or jobs during that time, while others simply have found some much needed clarity in their quest to discover what they want to do next. It is highly recommend that students, and parents, consider conversations around the following:

1. Explore Career Options
Before ordering at a restaurant, you would likely want to review the menu. Right? Likewise, before heading out to a restaurant, there is discussion around what genre of food is in order. Career exploration is similar in the sense that it is smart to explore many possible careers before making a decision on which to begin pursuing. Leverage websites like What Can I Do With This Major, Occupational Outlook Handbook, and Spotlight on Careers can help your son or daughter gain a foundational understanding of several popular career paths. Have conversations related to career aspirations. Put the same thought and intensity into your career conversations and as you would with any other day-to-day topic.

2. Network
Networking doesn’t need to be a scary. It is simply talking to people, something we do all the time. There are many opportunities during the break for networking to take place. For example, when Uncle Bill or Aunt Betty sits next to your son or daughter at the dinner table and ask about experiences at school and what they want to do after graduation; that is networking. Have your student take full advantage of those conversations and ask family members what they do, how they got into a particular field, what they think about their companies, what they see as growing career paths, and so forth…that is networking! Have your student start with family and expand to others you know, friends of the family, high school friends’ parents. One of the many strengths of Denison is our alumni. They are a great network of professionals who are usually willing to offer career advice and for some, allow students the opportunity to spend a day shadowing them (aka an externship). Denison students can begin tapping into the alumni network using the mentor directory in or by searching through the “Find Alumni” feature in
3. Research Employers
Encourage your son or daughter to do their homework. Before applying to any career opportunity, whether summer job, internship or full-time position, it is important to be well informed about the organization and industry. The process can begin with basic online research. In addition to reviewing the companies’ specific websites, we recommend following a company’s official page on LinkedIn and/or liking them on Facebook. Students can also leverage sites like The Muse to get an overview of a company’s culture. Encourage your students to be mindful of the many opportunities available to them.

4. Apply
Employers are increasingly looking to secure interns and full-time hires early because there is tough competition for top talent. Many positions already posted on DULink, LACN and other sites like and CareerShift have approaching deadlines. In addition, many graduate schools have deadlines during the next few months. Effectively customizing application materials takes a significant investment in time. Using the break from course work allows students time to focus on developing quality applications. Talk with your son or daughter about their prospects. Discuss the types of positions or programs they are considering.

5. Reflect and Dream
Take full advantage of this time when your student doesn’t have to worry about project deadlines, studying for tests or attending group meetings to reflect on all they’ve accomplished. Think about and discuss what is next in your students’ career preparation. Finding the career path requires a very strong understanding of SELF; this takes significant time and reflection. Have conversations around the knowledge and skills they’ve gained. What are they finding to be their biggest strengths? What experiences have they found most interesting? How have their experiences helped to shape and affirm their values? How can they find a career/industry/organization that aligns with their strengths, interests and values? Allow time to dream about what an ideal life and what career path would make that dream a reality.

By knowing your student’s interests, values, strengths and dreams, you will have a better understanding of their career path, career plan and how your conversations and insights have shaped their world of work. Encourage your student to articulate what they are looking for in a summer experience, what they want to do after graduation. The response, “I don’t know or I’ll take anything” leaves one without a path to help. It’s hard to find “I don’t know” or “I’ll take anything” on job boards or when networking, but just a few specific ideas can open up a realm of possibilities. In Career Exploration and Development at Denison University, one of our goals is to educate and equip students with the tools to be resourceful, motivated and well-informed architects in their career decisions.