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MU Program Gives Students an Edge in Tough Job Market as Graduation Nears

Students learn how to capitalize on strengths to find jobs

December 14th, 2011

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

By Brad Fischer

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In an economy with the highest unemployment rates since the early 1980s, the job market has become increasingly competitive. Now, a program at MU is giving students the confidence and guidance to choose careers in which they will be the most successful. By choosing the right major, students can avoid the expense of staying in school longer than needed while changing majors. In addition, students are likely to be stronger employees because they can find a career that energizes them.

During the 2010-2011 academic year, 4,080 students and faculty members took a 35-minute assessment and participated in a combination of coaching sessions and workshops during which their top five strengths were identified. With this assessment, participants recognize where they are naturally gifted and what type of work energizes them. For example, one person might be skilled in efficiently managing and juggling variables in a complex situation, while another might be skilled in commanding a group and making decisions. With this knowledge, the person can pursue a career in which their talents could be put to best use or cater tasks to take advantage of their personality.

The post-assessment session helps students understand how they can improve their education and pursue opportunities to leverage their strengths. For example, a student skilled in managing variables in a complex situation might thrive as a project manager or industrial engineer. During individual consultations, students work with Career Center staff members to understand these opportunities and identify ways that they can pursue them through education and experience. For example, a person who is able to manage complicated situations could pursue a management degree or master project management software.

“The philosophy is that people are most likely to thrive in positions where they can play to their strengths and are excited about their work,” said Craig Benson, director of career exploration in the Career Center, who oversees the career development and assessment program at MU. “We empower people to find ways that they can succeed by giving students guidance on what careers and majors will energize them, and best suit their strengths. This enables students to graduate sooner because they choose the right major. In addition, students are stronger job candidates because they have made a career choice that energizes them, and they have more time to acquire experience and skills that will enable them to succeed in that field.”

The Sinclair School of Nursing, the Crosby MBA program and the MU Chancellor’s Leadership program are three examples of groups that require students to take the assessment. In addition, Benson and other staff members gave more than 75 workshops on the assessment to classes and student organizations this fall.

Besides career and major guidance, this program helps people understand their strengths and how they operate. Benson said this gives students language they can use in interviews. For example, students who learn that they thrive in group leadership and decision-making might be able to give examples of how they were able to guide a student organization to success. Previously, these people may not have realized that this was a strength they possessed or how to describe their strengths.

Brandon Walker, a senior studying strategic communication in the Missouri School of Journalism, first took the assessment in the summer of 2010. Now, he is working in consumer research on the school’s student-run advertising agency, MOJO Ad.

“Through the assessment, I found that I enjoy research because I value learning, and I enjoy marketing planning because I am skilled in strategy development,” Walker said. “The program gave me confidence and helped me understand what opportunities best suit me. As I search for jobs, I will continue to consider my strengths in applications and interviews.”

The assessment costs $15; however, some programs cover the costs for students to take the assessment.