Everette Fortner’s mission is simple: give University of Virginia students the resources they need to find careers in which they will succeed.
As the associate vice president of career and professional development and the head of the UVA Career Center, Fortner oversees a team of career counselors and administrators dedicated to helping students find internships, jobs and other post-graduate opportunities. They advise students in one-on-one meetings, hit the streets to connect with employers, and plan events ranging from the next week’s Spring Job and Internship Fair, featuring more than 100 employers, to Spring Break job treks with handfuls of students.
Breaking down this complex world of work and tailoring advising, programming, newsletters and job postings to students’ interests is really helpful.” - Everette Fortner
President Teresa A. Sullivan’s Cornerstone Plan calls for major investments in career advising, and the Career Center’s budget has grown by about 50 percent, Fortner said. His office has used its capital to hire additional career counselors and employer relations managers, create a new internship center and launch new “Career Communities,” a unique model among peer public institutions.
Career Communities group services by industry, rather than by major, and encourage consistent networking among employers, alumni and students interested in a particular field. The model is particularly helpful for liberal arts students, whose career interests often extend well beyond their major, Fortner said. There are currently six Career Communities: creative arts media and design; business; education; public service; government and law; and engineering, science and technology.
“Career Communities make the whole process much more personalized,” Fortner said. “The concept of a career is daunting, but thinking about a specific career, such as being a movie producer, a sales manager or a teacher, is something that students can fathom more. Breaking down this complex world of work and tailoring advising, programming, newsletters and job postings to students’ interests is really helpful.”
UVA Today sat down with Fortner to find out more about how the Career Center is giving UVA students an edge in the job market.
Q. What do you believe is the most important thing that your office can do for students as they begin the career search process?
A. Beginning early in their college careers, we need to help students broadly understand the world of work and engage in career exploration. We also need to debunk the “major equals career” myth. We advise students to choose a major they are interested in and focus on developing skills and competencies that will serve them well in different career paths. Once they begin to focus on that, our career communities and services are designed to help students of all majors get the expertise they need to get the job they want, in the field they enjoy.
We have several ways of accomplishing these goals, from quick online assessments to in-depth workshops with alumni and advisers, to my semester-long course, “Liberal Arts and the World of Work.” It is so important for us to build awareness of our services and confidence in our brand, so that students know that we can provide resources and assistance no matter where they are in their career search.
Q. How does your office reach out to, and cultivate relationships with, employers that students are interested in?
A. We have been dramatically increasing our employer outreach. Part of that is providing a really high level of customer service to companies that come on Grounds to recruit – mostly banking, consulting and technology firms that hire earlier in the year. We want UVA to be the No. 1 place that they recruit, the one that they feel the most comfortable coming to.
We are also doing a lot of external outreach to companies, especially those that cannot come to Grounds, but that make many just-in-time hires in the spring. We planned several job treks for students to visit companies over the winter and spring breaks. We have a designated employee focusing on company relations for our five non-business career communities, traveling to companies and building alumni and parent contacts. Thanks to funding from the Parents Committee, we have a job developer position dedicated to conducting company research and gathering new job postings for our jobs site, CavLink. These new positions are helping us to connect with alumni and companies who can provide important connections for our students.
UVA alumni are doing some incredible things, and helping our students network with them can lead to some great opportunities. The UVA Alumni Association, the UVA Clubs and the Parents Committee are all important partners in extending our reach on behalf of students.
Q. What industries have you seen significant growth in?
A. Technology continues to grow, and what is exciting is that the growth is beyond just engineering or tech-focused students. A lot of English majors are thinking that working for Google in marketing would be a great gig, and technology firms are increasingly looking beyond engineers for new talent, especially for sales or marketing.
Health care, defined very broadly, is another area that we will emphasize more this year. The entire health care chain will grow over the next decade and many UVA students are interested in the field. Even if they forgo medical or nursing school, they can explore opportunities like pharmaceutical sales, research or technology development.
Education is another growing field, especially education technology companies.
Interest in entrepreneurship has also grown rapidly around UVA. The number of students who will start their own venture is relatively small, and they will get most of their assistance from professors and local entrepreneurs. However, there are a growing number of students interested in working for established startups or working on innovation within larger companies. Those are two areas that we are paying particular attention to. We are working on a start-ups-only career fair, and are in general doing everything we can to connect students to local and alumni-founded startups that have opportunities.
This generation really likes the idea of being creative and starting things up, and you can do that within big companies. We are trying to help students articulate that skill and desire in their job applications and interviews. Companies need that innovation and creativity, so it is a nice match.
Lastly, “green” careers are growing both in supply and in demand. We added a Green Career Fair to our Spring Job and Internship Fair and immediately had 15 companies on board for that portion.
Q. What can parents and other adults do to support their students as they begin thinking about their careers?
A. Nurture investigation. Nurture exploration. Help your student to think broadly and encourage his or her interests. If they want to play guitar in a rock band, see where that interest goes. Those interests and skills could lead to careers as music executives or producers.
Share your contacts with your son or daughter to teach them the process of networking. Introduce them to friends in other industries and create opportunities for them to learn about that business. If nothing else, they will learn the skill of networking, which is so important in our economy.