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The art of stacking: Using new and underutilized resources to engage international students in career services

interstride logo by Interstride
May 21, 2024

This blog post was co-authored by Liz Matthews and Katie Pluemer, Associate Directors of Career & Life Design at John Hopkin University’s Carey Business School, and is based on a presentation delivered at the 2024 Interstride Symposium. 

John Hopkins University’s Carey Business School has a high international student population. Over 75% of the 1,077 full-time graduate students in the program are international. To meet the needs of this population, the school’s Career & Life Design Center tailors their services with international students in mind. This includes operating through a lens of equity and inclusion and toward the goal of helping international students feel like they belong in the Carey Business School.

Why Peer Career Advisors (PCAs)?

We decided to create the Peer Career Advisors (PCAs) program to increase student engagement in career services. We define an engaged student as one who has completed at least one of the following:

  • Attended a career-related event
  • Attended an appointment with a staff member (could be a PCA)
  • Applied to a job 

In 2022, there was a high demand for career support. With only two full-time career coaches, the center was not able to meet the needs of all students. Through data collection, we found that the majority of appointments at the center were for document creation such as resumes and cover letters. The vision was that PCAs would help with these initial document creation appointments so that career coaches would have more time and capacity to provide workshops and higher-level coaching. 

Can you explain the PCA pilot program?

PCAs are paid student employees, so we had to submit a proposal for the program to the university in order to get approval. As outlined in our proposal, four PCAs worked 7-10 hours per week each. During the pilot program, PCAs were trained to help students with:

  • Resumes
  • Cover letters
  • LinkedIn profile reviews
  • 1:1 and email correspondences

Through this on-campus job, PCAs had the opportunity to develop the following skills:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Analytics
  • Advising

What was the timeline for the pilot program?

The idea to use PCAs started in the fall of 2022. From there, it moved very quickly. We were able to write the proposal and get it approved that same semester. We hired our first four PCAs (two per campus) at the end of that semester to work during the spring 2023 semester. They completed a three-day virtual training in mid-January and then began working under our supervision. Training continued throughout the semester with dual appointments and shadowing. We provided ongoing support to the PCAs as needed.

How did you structure the PCA Program for the 2023-24 school year?

We were able to start recruitment a little earlier this semester. We started in July because that is when new international students enroll in classes and get access to the employment platform for on-campus jobs. In August, we chose candidates to interview. Our six new PCAs (three per campus) were onboarded and trained before classes began. 

This year, our PCAs were specifically chosen to:

  • Represent multiple academic programs within the school
  • Reflect the international student population
  • Represent themselves in an ambassador-like capacity 

We looked for graduate students who have strong relationships with peers and faculty and are heavily involved on their campus. Furthermore, we chose to hire three native Mandarin speakers because many of our students are Mandarin speakers. 

What changes did you implement based on the pilot program?

This year, we added one more PCA per campus and added another supervisor so that there was one supervisor on each campus to provide in-person support for all PCAs. We also expanded services to offer additional training on LinkedIn presence and Chinese resume writing because many of our Chinese students return to China for work after graduation. Keeping track of the career outcomes of our international alumni has helped us better support current students.

We were happy to be able to provide professional development opportunities for PCAs this year. Lastly, based on data and feedback from the pilot program, we intentionally scheduled PCAs during highly requested times and gave them time off during exam weeks and holidays.

Since its start in Spring 2023, the Carey Business School Peer Career Advisors have served 230 students in 288 total document-creation appointments.

How did you leverage partnerships with faculty and staff to increase student engagement in the program?

Increased partnership with faculty and staff was another big change this year that has positively impacted the Career & Life Design Center. We partnered with the Director of Programs and Advising, and she invited us to join her weekly meetings with department leads. This plus hosting monthly stakeholder meetings helped us build relationships with other departments. 

We also started getting invites from faculty to visit classes to observe or share job search tips, events, and services including PCAs. We even had one professor incorporate PCAs into a class assignment. The assignment was to create an employment-ready resume for their field. Part of the requirement for this was that the students had to meet with a PCA to review their resumes. This program that included this course saw the highest rate of student engagement with career services!

How do you measure the outcomes and success of the program? 

We use Handshake to gather data throughout each semester. We regularly review data and use it to inform decisions. Overall, feedback on the program has been very positive. 100% of participants said the PCA service provided them with the help they were looking for, and 100% of participants would recommend the PCA service to other Carey Business School students. 

11.3% of students met with both a PCA and a supervisor for their document-creation appointments, and 5.9% of students met with a PCA and then met with a supervisor within 30 days for an additional document-creation appointment. All other new students who visited the Career & Life Design Center were able to get the support they needed from the meeting with just the PCA. 

Because PCAs were covering most initial document-related appointments, the two full-time coaches could focus on providing other types of appointments. Since we started utilizing PCAs, we have seen a:

  • 100% increase in industry insight appointments
  • 53% increase in self-discovery appointments
  • 13% increase in job search strategy appointments

Key takeaways for engaging international students in career services

With a high demand for document creation support, hiring Peer Career Advisors was a natural choice for Carey Business School’s Career & Life Design. Having access to PCAs, many of whom are international students themselves, helped international students feel comfortable seeking the support they needed from writing their resumes and cover letters to responding to email correspondences with a potential employer. It’s crucial to understand your international student population, their needs, and their long-term goals in order to provide the most relevant and helpful career services.