If you’re a UNLV student wondering what you’ll do for a career once you graduate, you’re not alone. Eileen McGarry is wondering what you’ll do, too.
As UNLV’s executive director of Career Services, McGarry and her team work both with students and alumni seeking jobs as well as with companies looking for new employees.
McGarry brings decades of experience to the job, including 22 years at UNLV. She previously headed Career Services from 1988 to 2010 before serving at the University of Arizona (her alma mater) and University of California, Merced. Back at UNLV since July, she is working to increase the resources available in her office while also coordinating with career services centers located in some of the individual colleges.
She took a few minutes to talk about her plans, her experience, and what has changed at UNLV in the years she was away — as well as what has changed in just the past couple of weeks as coronavirus has had a major impact on operations across the world, nation, and UNLV.
First, tell us about what has changed in your office since UNLV has moved most efforts online because of the coronavirus situation.
We’re still here for our students and alumni, offering our usual services. They can get career coaching, work with us on their resumes, etc. We’re just providing virtual meetings on Google hangouts instead of meeting with them in our office.
And today and tomorrow we’ll be offering some sessions on how to prepare for the virtual career fair. Those will be available today at noon, 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 7 p.m.
Tell us about the virtual job fair.
It’s the first time we’ve tried this, so it’s uncharted territory. So far, the number of employers signing up is small, but they can register until noon today so that number may increase somewhat. Among the potential employers that will be participating are the Clark County School District, Helix Electric, E&J Gallo, Target, 2K Vegas, Fresenius Medical Care, and TTI.
Some employers also are operating remotely instead of in their usual offices and are finding it technologically challenging to participate virtually in a fair. Others have had to lay off employees and are choosing to wait for our fall fair on Sept. 29 and 30 when they hope to have a better picture of their needs.
What challenges have you faced preparing for a virtual job fair?
Our career services team is building this virtual platform in completely unchartered territory as they work from home — building something virtual while working virtually. While most universities rely on virtual career fair vendors, our team is using existing campus resources and building this platform for free. I think this is a key point given our sudden budget crisis.
Also, there is no fee to students or employers to access our virtual platforms. In addition, our team has been benchmarking with career services departments at other universities. No one we could find in the nation is setting up a platform like ours that includes both live and pre-recorded sessions with employers.
So while we may not be seeing a large number of participants given our current climate, we are being innovative, resourceful, and mindful of our community of stakeholders. It will likely provide a pilot that we can grow in the future as employers again grow their opportunities. We will share what we learn with our colleagues across the country.
Now back to some non-coronavirus-related questions. What brought you back to UNLV last year?
I heard that UNLV was ramping up efforts to re-establish a central Career Services office, but this time to locate it under the alumni office. That model enticed me. I was eager to return to UNLV, bringing with me the additional expertise I had gained during my nine years away.
Some individual colleges, such as Hospitality and Engineering, have career offices. How does the main office work with them?
We work collaboratively, with our office leading the effort. We’re all concerned with elevating the services available to students and to alumni. One thing we do is have a monthly meeting of stakeholders on campus — not just the people who work in one of the career offices, but anyone who has a keen interest in the career development of students. About 30 people attend, including some academic advisors.
What are some of your goals?
Obviously, we’ll continue offering the core services that are designed to help students figure out their career interests and the path to get there. We’re the place that students can come to learn about job and internship openings. We also plan to beef up our data gathering, so that we know where our students are finding their initial jobs and where they move later in their careers.
We are working in partnership with our provost’s office and undergraduate education to better align career readiness initiatives with academic offerings.
Also, we are reaching out to employers to see how we can help them find the right UNLV graduates for their companies. As part of that effort we recently hosted an employer roundtable to learn how we can improve our interface with them.
One initiative I am working on is to move us to Handshake, a platform that is more student-friendly and employer-friendly. It should launch in July. It will let students locate and apply to jobs and internships locally, nationally, and internationally. And it will help potential employers connect with our students and alumni. It already is used by many schools, including UNR and some of the California and Arizona universities. It should bring more employers to our students.
What is the biggest hurdle for students seeking employment?
Lack of professional development and career-related experience while pursuing their degree.
If students have not invested time and attention understanding themselves and their career interests, developing relevant skills and experiences in addition to academic knowledge and/or articulating their learning and development in a resume and interview, the job search and transition to career will be challenging.
First-generation students who aspire to professions their parents have not pursued need mentors and professional role models to better understand expectations and prepare for workplace environments. I encourage them to take full advantage of everything the campus offers from first year and beyond. Interaction with employers and alumni professionals can make a big difference and internship or career-related experiences are critical to entry into career fields and graduate school.
What is the biggest challenge for companies seeking employees?
Finding students with the skills and competencies that will allow them to contribute immediately and also advance in changing workplace environments. At our recent UNLV Employer Roundtable employers talked about power skills like presenting and meeting facilitation, written communication, interpersonal communication, leadership, and supervision. The critical 21st-century attributes include collaboration, adaptability, problem-solving, and professionalism. These are competencies that can be developed through a combination of academic and applied experience as well as early exposure to employers and workplace environments. These are also skill sets that transcend AI (replacement by robots) as they are more complex in nature. Employers also talked about enhancing entry into job markets by adding certificates related to immediate in-demand skills like advanced Excel, graphic arts, social media, basic coding, sales, or human resources.
How is the job market in Southern Nevada different now from what it was when you were here through the 2000s?
There is a growing tech industry, advancing health care, and continuing business innovation in addition to the prevalence of our hospitality industry. UNLV has made progress in developing its programs including STEM. While there are a greater variety of opportunities for students and alumni, the landscape is competitive for the most sought-after opportunities. We also have critical areas where demand for talent is greater than the supply and work is being done to improve those pipelines through partnerships. We also are looking more closely at how we can continue to provide career and professional development to our UNLV alumni in Nevada and surrounding regions through Rebels Forever. We are working to build stronger partnerships with employers and improve platforms for mentoring and access to talent and job opportunities
Tell us about some of the changes you’ve noticed at UNLV since your first stint here.
One change I couldn’t help but notice is the diversity of the student population. When I think about what the campus looked like when I was here before, the diversity is quite noticeable. I want to make sure that Career Services is aligned with that diverse population so that we can provide the best service possible.
It’s been interesting being reminded of the familiar and also finding the new. Hospitality Hall, for instance, is a beautiful building and a wonderful space. The Degree offers a different vibe than what we had before. And, it’s interesting to see UNLV move across Maryland Parkway and occupy some spaces there.
One very exciting thing is the Top Tier mission. I always saw UNLV as having such great potential. The fact that the university has been able to get [the Carnegie Classification as a research university] is quite an accomplishment.
The other thing that is exciting are the new people and fresh ideas that are here, mixed with the people who have been here for a while and have made this place what it is.