Office of Career and Calling Helps Students Take the Next Step

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that youth ponder long before they become college students. The query is answered not in one step, but in many, through occupation exploration, experiences along the way, the declaration of a college major and minor, as well as presented opportunities.

Like many college students, HBU senior Zachary Lounder had a general idea of what he wanted to do in a future job. He was drawn to business, so he decided upon a management major. A professor noticed that Lounder had the aptitude to excel in accounting, and steered him to specialize in that area. The new major was a natural fit, but Lounder needed more guidance to put the career puzzle together.

His junior year, he stopped by the HBU Office of Career and Calling, located on the first floor of the Hinton Center. The office helps students determine their paths through testing, coaching and training. Staff members are Certified Professional Resume Writers, and assimilate students’ experiences into appealing presentations. The office offers classes and seminars, mock interviews, career fairs and networking events, and a myriad of connections and resources which students can tap into.

“They helped me build my resume and taught me how to do it properly. They helped select a business card for me. I took a business etiquette course, went to a financial seminar, and I listened to a professions panel too,” Lounder said. His extra effort paid off, and at the recommendation of Debra Bell, HBU coordinator of Student Work-Study and Internships, Lounder was selected by The Maven Food Service Group for an accounting internship in the summer of 2017.

“It was a big learning experience going from theory to actually putting accounting concepts into practice. Things started to make sense,” Lounder said. The company extended his internship past the summer, and by that November, they offered him a full-time position. As an accounting specialist, he handles accounts payable and receivable, journal entries and reconciliation of accounts. Lounder is balancing his schoolwork and career work, and will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in December.

“My employers were extremely happy that they chose a student from HBU,” Lounder said. “One of the reasons is the level of education; the HBU curriculum goes more in-depth. Also, coming from HBU, it’s expected that we have higher morals and standards. They’ve said they love having me there.”

Lounder never dreamed he would have a professional position a year before graduating from college. He said the Office of Career and Calling helped unlock his potential. “They’ve done a lot – above and beyond. Ms. Debra went to bat for me. I was very blessed to have them,” he said.

Whether a student is required to complete an internship for his or her major or not, it’s always an excellent idea, Aaron Swarts, assistant director of the Office of Career & Calling, said. “It helps students determine if the major they’re pursuing and the career path they’ve chosen will be a good fit,” he said. “It’s the answer to the circular argument: ‘How do you get a job without experience? How do you get experience without a job?’”

Bell and Swarts cultivate relationships with area companies and organizations for the HBU Community Internship Program. They organize the Career Insiders Series, a set of workshops that prepare students for job searching, networking, negotiating and more. There are multiple ways for students to move forward in the pursuit of their goals – from joining professional organizations to working on campus, to even interviewing with companies who visit campus.

The office’s partnerships span from employers to professors to the 2018 Co-Partners of the Year, Dress for Success and Career Gear. The two organizations provide young women and men with the clothing they need to make their best impression. Both organizations were recently involved in HBU’s Dining for Success Fashion Show.

An important point for students to know is that it’s never too early to visit the Office of Career and Calling, Swarts said. “Careers may not be the first thing on students’ minds as freshmen, but planning ahead is in their best interest,” he said. “See what resources we offer. Don’t be that senior who regrets that they didn’t see us earlier.”

Even if students aren’t ready to enter into an internship or job yet, it’s important to establish new friends and business contacts, Bell said. “It’s good practice to go to a career fair and give an ‘elevator speech.’ Freshmen should build relationships now,” she said. “A career fair is a great way to do that.” When employers complete a survey at the end of career fairs hosted by HBU, they often say they wish there were more students in attendance, but they say they’ll be back, Bell noted. “They have come to expect quality over quantity,” she said. “One of the best pieces of feedback we get from employers is that they get a more polished and confident candidate through our program,” Swarts said.

The work of the office is really a ministry to students, many of whom have a mix of apprehension and excitement as they peer into their future. The faith basis of the University allows students to truly explore their career and calling, as the department name connotes. Bell is even a licensed minister with experience in corporate career services. Swarts taught professional and career development at the college level before taking on his current role. They have adopted Isaiah 30:21 as the department’s theme verse: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Swarts said, “I hope we can reach even more students. Students and alumni are welcome to come here at any point. I think HBU students bring a level of professionalism and integrity to the workplace. Any role we can play in transitioning people to their jobs, we want to do that.”

© 2019 Houston Baptist University