Faces on Campus – Sharon Leary
Sharon Leary graduated from Northeastern University, with a Master of Science in College Student Development and Counseling, in 2011. She took advantage of Northeastern’s experiential learning opportunities, working in career services and academic advising, and is excited to be integrating those two functional areas in this new role on the Seattle campus. Before rejoining NU, Sharon spent nearly five years as a career counselor, and developing and delivering professional development programming at MIT. Sharon was on the University of Minnesota swim team. In her free time, Sharon enjoys traveling, a good workout, watching her favorite sports teams, and exploring the city.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am originally from Philadelphia, I went to the University of Minnesota for undergrad and majored in psychology, got my Master’s from Northeastern University in college student development and counseling. During that time, I interned in the career services office on campus in Boston and then I went on to work in career counseling for a professional development program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before I came back to Northeastern for my current role.
I am currently the career coach on campus in Seattle, which means that I meet with students one-on-one. I also organize workshops, and prepare resources for students on career-development topics. These topics range from resumes and cover letters to interviewing, job search strategies and career exploration, to name a few.
Aside from that, on a personal note, I just like exploring the city and going to new neighborhoods, trying new restaurants, and meeting up with friends. I am also really into podcasts!
How can career services help students with their job and internship search?
I would say that career services is a valuable resource for students. They have the opportunity to meet with someone one-on-one for feedback on their resume or cover letter, or to talk about a specific approach and strategy for a job search. We have various workshops and online videos on those topics as well, so there are lots of options! I think it’s important for students who are entering a job search to reflect on their skills, strengths, and interests; to identify where they should focus their search; and what’s going to be a really good fit. Once they identify what they want in a career, I inform them of the resources available to them. That means they are tackling a job search in a strategic way, both in terms of how they’re branding themselves and in applying to jobs in which they’ll have a good return on their investment in the application process.
What are the basic characteristics that employers are looking for in someone who has just graduated?
First, take a look at job descriptions for the types of roles that you’re interested in and make an inventory of the consistent skills and qualifications that they’re looking for. Obviously there is discipline-specific knowledge that you need to know (for example, if you’re a computer-science student, there are specific programming languages), but outside of that, really what employers are looking for are the so-called “soft skills.” These skills include the ability to work in a team, to make decisions and solve problems, to communicate with different types of people, as well as the ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work and to obtain and process information. These attributes are all highly regarded. So, outside of learning the specific technical and discipline-specific program, it’s also important to figure out how you can learn and demonstrate to employers that you have these other skills and abilities.
What career resources are currently available to students on the Seattle campus?
Me, the career coach on campus! I’m available for appointments; students can schedule online—right here! There are also a number of affiliated career services sites that students have access to. First, the career development website (northeastern.edu/careers) is a very helpful resource. The career guides, in particular, are useful because they identify a major or program or field, and outlines what that looks like (in terms of job titles, skills that are useful, and companies that hire). If you’re someone who is still exploring or figuring out where specifically you want to go, that is a useful resource. There is also a wealth of information on resumes, cover letters, and networking.
There’s also a blog called The Works, which has great content on specific topics. You will find the calendar of events for career services there. Many of those events are delivered virtually and are tagged accordingly. Also, I deliver on-campus workshops. We are looking into holding additional employer events on campus in the spring. I’d also encourage students to check out the employer events that CCIS hosts on campus. These events are great networking opportunities.
There’s also NUCareers (nucareers.northeastern.edu). It is the job portal for Northeastern students, so when an employer wants to hire a Northeastern student, you’ll those job opportunities there.
I’d also encourage students to look outside of Northeastern, specifically for networking opportunities. Meetup.com is huge in the Seattle area, because there are so many transplants and people are looking to make connections. Because the tech industry is so big in Seattle, a lot of meet-ups are looked at as an opportunity to make friends, but are also tech-related and offer a lot of opportunities to make networking connections. There are also events tailored to help practice specific skills; hacking groups, coding groups, etc. There are also some good professional networking opportunities and many companies in the area will organize or sponsor networking events. It’s important to just keep informed and up-to-date of what’s happening in the area and look at those other opportunities.
What advice do you have for students who are currently seeking employment opportunities?
Start by making a plan. And start that by knowing what job search sites are most applicable to you and being aware of what skills you will need to get the job you want. It is also helpful to know what companies you are specifically interested in and do as much networking as you can, both strategically to make connections and develop advocates at organizations, as well as to use networking to explore and find out about all of the opportunities in the area. You never know what might come up through conversations with different people. Networking is a super-important piece of the puzzle, as well as determining how to stick to your plan and project-manage your search.
A job search takes time. It’s very helpful to take something that is big and daunting, like finding a job, and break it into smaller action steps. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Even if you think you’ve got it covered—sometimes people just give you a few pieces of advice or can help you tweak your resume in one little way that ends up being extremely helpful.