How Minority College Students Can Find a Workplace That Fits
By Peter Vogt, Monster Senior Contributing Writer
Many companies are going all out to recruit minority college students for co-ops, internships and entry-level jobs. For some organizations, it's simply the right thing to do. But for many more, hiring minority candidates has become a business imperative stemming not only from government regulations but also from the increasingly global economy and the growing diversity of customer or client bases as well. In short, having a diverse workforce is now an essential part of doing business.
But that doesn't mean that as a minority college student, you'll have an easy, straightforward job search. On the contrary, you may need to ask tough questions about the motives, sincerity and commitment of at least some of the organizations you interact with. You'll have to be proactive in seeking out useful resources -- on campus and off -- that will help you land the position you want in an organization that matches your goals and beliefs. Here's how to do it.
Assess Cultural Competency
Kim Wells is director of career services at Howard University, a historically African American institution. But he once worked in consulting, where he first encountered the healthcare industry term cultural competence. This refers to an organization's ability to not just talk a good game about understanding cultural differences -- in the workplace and out -- but also to prove it through measurable actions.
"From my standpoint here at Howard, we have certain company recruitment teams that are highly culturally competent," Wells says. "They know they're dealing primarily with African American students from different economic backgrounds. They can adapt their messages to different populations. They can adapt to the given environment they're in."
Wells points out that it's a mistake for company recruiters at Howard to pretend they're at Stanford. "The population of students is reacting differently, reading different things into your behavior and has different expectations," he says. "It's all driven by much larger issues, but when the rubber hits the road, the question is, ‘Can your organization perform across different cultural environments?'"
Minority college students, Wells says, must answer this essential question for every company through research. This means talking to people, such as alumni, who are working or have worked for the target company. It also means using Internet search engines to see what various media outlets have to say about the company. It can even mean looking for blogs that mention the company. All this should tell you: Is the organization as culturally competent as it claims or needs to be?
Seek Career Assistance
Lauren Brooks graduated from the University of Cincinnati's civil engineering program in 2003. One of the few unique stumbling blocks she feels job- or internship-seeking minority college students face is the interviewing process.
"Typically, minority students do not receive the proper training or are not aware of the proper interviewing etiquette and techniques, due to either their environment or a lack of resources," says Brooks, who is now a bridge engineer for URS.
The solution? "Colleges and universities can have workshops, maybe sponsored by various minority groups on campus, that provide networking tips and techniques, and maybe even conduct mock interviews," says Brooks. "These workshops can cover topics from proper attire to how to answer common questions.
What Brooks describes is the experience of about 300 minority students at Syracuse University during the school's Diversity Business Summit. Presented by the school's Center for Career Services and the African American Male Congress, the program features a keynote speaker, student workshops, employer education sessions and a case-study competition, according to Gregory Victory, associate director of campus and employer engagement at Syracuse.
Other colleges and universities nationwide are creating similar programs. Investigate the options -- not just at your own school. Look into off-campus resources and organizations such as INROADS, which helps 5,000 minority college students land internships with more than 600 participating companies each year. According to the INROADS Web site, over the last two years, 90 percent of participating students accepted full-time jobs with their sponsoring companies.
The more hard questions you ask and the more resources you investigate, the better the chance you'll find a workplace that not only appears to fit your values, but also demonstrates them every day.
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