Student Employment and Good Jobs

The Student Employment Experience (SEE) pursues three main goals:

  1. Create consistency in student employment experiences across the Office of Student Life
  2. Enable students to articulate what they’re learning through employment
  3. Connect campus employment with academic success and career plans

This week, the SEE blog is focusing on #2 and #3.

From an About Campus article in the March/April 2014 issue – “A Good Job Is Hard to Find…Until Students Know What They Do Best” – Shane Lopez shares his perspective on the university’s role in helping students find a good job. While he makes some very interesting points about campus career resources, there’s also potential for application within the context of student employment.

Students Are Looking For Good Jobs

Dr. Lopez writes that recent research (Gallup/Lumina Foundation) identified the two deciding factors in a student choosing a university: jobs data and price point. In other words, for potential students, the percentage of graduates who get a good job is as important as the cost of attending that university.

In a 2013 nationwide survey (Gallup), it was uncovered that employees with college degrees are less likely to be engaged at work than their peers with high school education or less. In other words, even once students find a job after graduation, they may not be happy or fulfilled by it.

By digging deeper into that research, they found that college graduates were less likely to agree with the statement “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” Gallup’s research tells us this is one of the critical indicators of workplace engagement. The identification of this as a determining factor for recent college graduates may create an opportunity for Student Life staff and supervisors to positively influence students before they graduate.

How Can Student Employment be Leveraged for a Good Job?

One way to help students pursue a good job is by helping raise their self-awareness about their own strengths. We can’t expect students to “do what they do best every day” if they can’t yet articulate what they do best. This is the second goal of SEE – helping students articulate their learning.

Through student employment, we can do that in a couple of ways.

  1. An employment experience provides the opportunity for students to try new things, which may help them identify examples of what they do well. When we hire students with little previous work experience, or promote students into peer leadership roles, we are providing them with an opportunity to try new things and build their knowledge and skills.
  2. Several self-assessments exist to provide direct feedback about a student employee’s strengths. One example is StrengthsQuest, which is closely related to the work Dr. Lopez uses in his article, although other self-assessments can provide similarly helpful information. Consider offering a training workshop, or incorporating this into an existing staff meeting.

Final Thoughts

In general, students (and professional) employees are better off when they capitalize on their areas of strength for several reasons. First, it helps them sort through what is a good fit and what is not. Second, it fosters a collaborative spirit by thinking about how you can contribute to a team, rather than what you can’t do. Third, it helps them be more productive by doing what comes naturally, rather than by trying to do something outside of their natural talents.

To make student employment roles “good jobs” we can strive to give every student the opportunity to discover their strengths and then apply them to the right opportunities at work and in their life in general. According to Shane Lopez, by doing this we can “help students learn a set of life skills needed to make their hopes and dreams come true.”

So Your Student Employee is Graduating…

As graduation approaches, many units are getting ready to send off their most senior student employees. To help students close-out their experience, and to help you manage the process, here are a few recommendations for a smooth student employee exit experience.

exit right

An Exit Check-list

Take care of the basic logistical pieces that will create clarity for the student and ensure the security of your office.

  • Identify the student’s official last day of work
  • Remove access to office, building, or other systems on the employee’s last day
  • Collect name tag
  • Remove from rosters, email lists, shift-scheduling system, etc.
  • Submit HRA termination request

Per the Student Employment Policy 10.10, student employees may continue working through the last day of final examinations of the academic session following graduation. Students who graduate spring semester may continue working through the end of summer term. It is at the supervisor’s discretion whether to extend a student employee’s work beyond graduation. Be clear with graduating student employees about your needs as well as their interests and availability to determine their last day of work.

You can access the termination spreadsheet online, and then submit your request through HRA.

thank you type

Communication and Recognition

Send a message, or schedule a meeting, with stakeholders who are most directly affected by the student employee’s departure. This communication can serve a dual purpose – to announce the upcoming change, and to recognize and share appreciation for the employee’s past achievements.

Other ways to recognize graduating students might include a hand-written note of appreciation, or offering to write recommendation letters or serve as a reference. Although not required, some supervisors may choose to get a small gift (like the student’s favorite candy) or take the student to lunch on their last day.

exit interview_graduated

Exit Interview and Reflection

For many students, their employment is a significant involvement experience. Provide closure with your students by holding an exit interview or reflection conversation with them. Possible discussion points might include:

  • What have been your favorite, or positive experiences?
  • What have been your challenging, or negative experiences?
  • How would you describe your interactions with peers, supervisor, other staff, customers?
  • What are your plans after graduation?
  • How did your employment help you prepare for those plans?
  • What other feedback would you like to share?

While not required, this type of conversation may help graduating students clarify their thoughts and feelings about leaving not just their employment role, but the university in general. It may also provide useful feedback for you as a supervisor.

Other Ideas?

What other methods have you used for graduating student employees? Please share your go-to exit strategies using the comment box below!

Positive Psychology and Student Employees

As we approach the middle of the semester, you (and your student employees) may be coming to the stark realization that there are only so many weeks left to do everything you want to do. In that spirit, below are resources related to positive psychology to help you navigate the potential busyness and stress you may face. Each topic also includes a reflection question to consider how you might apply this to your own work with student employees.


What is positive psychology?

A relatively new field, positive psychology focuses on the study of human functioning and flourishing, rather than disfunctions and disorders. Below is a video featuring Shawn Achor with an overview and examples of positive psychology.

How might you use this video to help your student employees think about their own strengths?


Cognitive Reframing

This psychological technique helps you identify and then dispute negative thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts, and emotions to find more positive alternatives.

Think about…

Something you have complained about in the past 24 hours. Make notes to yourself, or share that complaint with a friend or colleague. How do you feel about this complaint?

Reframe that experience…

Share the same story, but this time with a positive spin. Use optimism to reframe the story in a way that looks at the positive, not negative, aspects. Again make notes or share this story. How do you feel now? How did it change your perspective?

How might you use this to help a student employee reframe a complaint by seeking the positive aspects?


Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

It can be easy to pigeonhole people and think that their basic qualities – like intelligence or talent – are simply fixes traits. However, most basic abilities can be developed and improved. Below is a video that outlines the differences between a fixed and growth midset.

Which of these mindsets do you find yourself using with your student employees?
How might you operate from a growth mindset more regularly, and foster a growth mindset with your students?



From the work of Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi, flow is defined as “the experience people have when they are completely immersed in an activity for its own sake, stretching body and mind to the limit in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” It can be conceptualized as a balance between a person’s skills and the level of challenge they encounter.

flow diagram

To foster performance, we must consider both the person (skill level) and the task (challenge level) and strive to make a positive match.

How might you use the concept of flow when training, assigning tasks and teams, coaching, or evaluating your student employees?



According to the Multi-Institutional Leadership Report (2013), resiliency is often seen as a by-product of leadership development, and can also be an important mediator of leadership learning. It is defined as “the characteristics that enable one to persist in the midst of adversity and positively cope with stress.”

How might you encourage the development of resiliency among student employees?
What opportunities exist within your area to help students engage in leadership experiences (for example: project responsibilities, peer-to-peer training or manager roles) that could foster their resiliency?


Final Thoughts and Your Comments

While many of us may be familiar with specific tools related to positive psychology (for example: Gallup StrengthsFinder), there are many concepts that can be applied to foster positive workplace performance and individual development.

Many thanks to Dr. Amy Barnes for sharing resources to develop this post!

As always, use the comment box to share your ideas or reflections on the application questions above.