Podcast: Connecting Companies with Students & Universities – with Executive Director of Career Management, Toni Rhorer

By Published On: February 3, 2022

Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

We are joined by Toni Rhorer, who provides her unique perspective on how to connect industry and students through university career services. She also talks about ways that companies should be connecting with universities, students, and staff, plus how students should be developing themselves and their personal brands. 

Who is Toni Rhorer?

Toni Rhorer is currently the Executive Director of the Career Management Center at Rady School of Management at UC San Diego. The majority of Toni’s 15year experience has been at business school career centers at Duke University and Arizona State University. Toni has worked extensively with MBA students, specifically in supply chain, on their career management.
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Mike Ogle: [00:01:39] Toni, welcome to the supply chain careers podcast.  

Toni Rhorer: [00:01:42] Nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:46] How did you get started in career coaching and management?  

Toni Rhorer: [00:01:49] It’s been a long journey. I love education and my undergrad is in English education. So, I actually taught high school English, but as an undergrad, I worked as a peer advisor and realized that I really loved working with college students. And I was a first-generation college student myself and realized how much help students need and support to do well in college, so I did a master’s degree in counseling, focused on student development in higher education. Throughout my whole master’s program, I was focused on the first-year experience. I did a semester long internship at a women’s college in Raleigh, North Carolina in first year experience. And when I graduated that had been my goal all along. But like a lot of people, my career took a little shift because when I graduated, what I realized is I loved the women’s college environment and I really wanted to do work there. And the only position they had available was in the career center. That had not been my focus, but I really wanted to work at that college. So, I applied and luckily got it. I think it’s one of those things of the universe pushing you in the right direction, because I realized that I love career services. There’s a teaching element in it. So, I got to continue some of my teaching through courses or workshops, presentations, but also really got to support students in their development. 

And although it wasn’t first year experience, people come to college to eventually get a job and a career that they are interested in. So, I was able to support people through that journey. And that’s something that 20 some years later, I still love doing, and still enjoy helping students on that journey and discovering where it is they see theirselves in the future 

Rodney Apple: [00:03:54] Speaking of coaching, we know coaches come in many forms and I would love to hear from your perspective, what do you attribute to your success when you look at kind of the soft skills or hard skills and what’s the magic formula for you? 

Toni Rhorer: [00:04:09] That’s a great question. I think a lot of people come into career coaching or career advising mainly because they want to help students. Maybe not always understanding exactly what kinds of skill sets help them be a really good career coach. I think a lot of people can be a career coach, but to be really good at it, I think there are some skillsets that help. The active listening is really, really important. A lot of what students are talking to you about are the things that they’ve liked or not. 

You have to sometimes pull a lot of information out of students. They come often with a very surface level understanding of their own backgrounds and their own skillsets and their own interests. It takes a lot of conversation, but in order to really help them extract the learning from that reflection, you do have to have really good, active listening skills. And I know there’s a saying out there that’s listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. And I think that is one differentiating factor between maybe a good and a great career coach. Really can actively listen, ask the right questions probe on the things that they’re connecting and be able to help the students connect the dots, because students come and they have all of these lived experiences, but most people have never taken time to really reflect on that. And what did you learn from that and what can you take from it? So, I think a really good career coach can help with those conversations and the listening and help students and to get to that place.  

Career coaching is changing, I think in the past, very traditional kind of come in, what do you want to major in? Great. You can do these jobs with that. But the real value now with career centers and career coaches is more around adding value, being able to create content that’s relevant and curated for students understanding the student’s journey. I know there’s always a lot of information and a lot of research and learning around the different generations and how those students are reacting to the world, what they’re thinking about for the future. Understanding those pieces really goes into it. And then I think something that’s important for career coaches and maybe harder sometimes with the undergrads, really being able to be objective in your coaching with students. We all have our own opinions about what makes a good job or not a good job, what company might be the right place to go, or, maybe you have your own biases against consumer brands, certain places. But a good career coach really is an objective landing place for people to come to have those conversations. Like not your parent, I’m not your best friend. I’m someone who has a really, really broad understanding of many different industries and many different functions. And I can ask the right questions to help students think about things in a certain way, as opposed to trying to direct them in a way that I think is right. So, they have a lot of people in their lives telling them what to do. Parents, significant others, friends, a lot of people have opinions and advice. And I think the benefit of a career coach is that you add that objective voice and ask the right questions to help them get to the answers that they’re looking for or the information they need to make a decision in that way. Students and alums and people we work with always appreciate being able to have that kind of sounding board. I think that’s something that makes a career coach a really good asset for students. 

Mike Ogle: [00:08:10] Tell us about some of the ways that you’ve worked with companies to connect them, to students, to faculty and staff resources at the university.

Toni Rhorer: [00:08:19] I think traditionally, most university career centers are doing a lot of the same things in terms of career fairs and events and that type of thing. The last year and a half has really changed things a lot, with everything being virtual and having to re-assess what’s happening in the career space for employers and universities. We’ve done a lot of traditional things like on campus recruiting events, we’ve had case competitions, connecting employers to students that way. Our supply chain executive consortium has done a really great job of connecting employers to students through some events they’ve done. 

One specifically that’s really successful is a women in supply chain event that they started about three years ago in conjunction with the corporations that are part of that consortium. And so, they’ve been doing that each year. It’s been really great event getting women in supply chain in front of the students to understand how they can be successful in supply chain roles. What’s changing is that with everything going virtual, is they actually have direct access to students without a career center. So, if you think about traditional events or coming to a classroom or coming on campus, you need someone on campus to advocate for that and bring you there. You can’t just show up. But in the online space you can just show up and you can have your own events. Something companies thought about this year is, well, we don’t have to go to the career center events. We can actually host our own event and invite all of the schools to our event. And then we get access to all the students and we only have to do one thing. The challenge of that is that there’s so much noise for students in the recruiting space. There are so many companies doing their own thing, but the career centers are still doing their own thing. And the students are getting overwhelmed and not really understanding how to navigate the process and where they should show up. Companies are often doing multiple events. We had one company that did I think 25 events for our students. What is their expectation of engagement? It’s getting really messy.  

Where the career centers can really add value and, put some bumpers on things is to work with the employers to figure out what are your goals. And so, we still have a value add of creating access to students, because even if employers want to do things on their own, who knows who’s showing up. Could be students unprepared, could be students, not even really interested, could be not qualified students. So, I think where the career centers that need to go in that space is understanding what the employer’s goals are and then giving some individualized advising services on where they should engage. 

So, depending on what the goal is, it may be connecting them with a faculty member who has an applied project. Getting them inserted into a case competition that’s happening. Creating new events if a lot of companies have the same goal. So, I think a really good example of that is all of the initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. Earlier this year, we heard from a lot of our organizations that their strategic goals were around DEI and DEI recruiting. If we think about this as a goal, all of our employers have, how do we add value by creating access for them to the right students at the right time? And so, we did create an event this fall, we called it the multicultural club expo. We collaborate a lot with our student clubs and orgs. And so, we identified all of our multicultural student clubs on the undergrad and grad side, and we invited them to this event. And then the employer engagement team worked with all of the employers that have been talking to us about their DEI initiatives and invited them to the event. And then what we did is we held an online event, where we had the clubs create introductory videos about their club and their members and their goals. And we posted all the videos on a platform. And then we invited the employers to watch the videos and identify which clubs they wanted to engage in based off what their goals were. We matched them up in an event online and hosted conversations between the club leaders and the employers around their DEI initiatives. And then the clubs had an opportunity to highlight their members and the goals for their club and what they were working on. And then after the event, we had collected resume books from all the club members and we sent the resume books over to the employers. The idea and the goal is to A, highlight our DEI candidates and club members to the organizations that have those initiatives, but then also create a longer relationship building between the organizations and the student clubs, so that they could continue that pipeline down the road. The real opportunity is finding mutual interest and helping create those access points, as opposed to a buffet of events and choose one to come to.

Mike Ogle: [00:14:28] Are there any other ways that you’ve seen some companies do anything particularly innovative lately and being able to reach out to students?

Toni Rhorer: [00:14:36] Yeah, just recently I met with this student and she said she had an upcoming interview, and so I asked her a little bit about her process. It’s with a very sought after company that doesn’t do a lot of recruiting on our campus. So, I was curious, how’d you get that interview? She explained to me their process and what I think is important about it is, one thing we’ve seen with our students is they’re really looking for a more individualized approach from companies. People always want people to recognize them. You’re a great candidate. But I think even more so with our gen Z students, really wanting companies to invest in them. This company hosted a webinar online through the handshake platform and she attended the webinar. And then after the webinar, they had representatives from different function areas. And you could choose to go into a one-on-one chat with the different areas. So, you could learn more about some of the functions, which she did. And then through that they invited students to attend a coffee chat, to learn more about some of the sub functions within the bigger areas. And she took them up on that and she went to the coffee chat. And then from there, the person she talked to invited her to connect with him on LinkedIn, which she did. And then through that connection, he invited her to have an informational interview with him specifically where he gave her feedback on her resume and her cover letter and did some of this pre-coaching with her. From there she applied and got an interview. What’s great about that is the company is really spending the time to develop the talent ahead of time. As opposed to saying, just apply and we will decide if you’re qualified or not. They’re really bringing them through the pipeline and doing some of that coaching because when you do that, then you’re investing in the success of the student and helping them be the best they can be in the interview. And really, you’re able to assess the candidate at a deeper level than if they just showed up and answered your questions. Especially if a student’s looking at multiple companies. So, I think that’s something I saw just recently that companies are doing. I think they need to get away from just the mass student events and really try to curate it down to here’s what we’re really looking for. What are you really looking for and find that mutual interest and then coach them along the process, as opposed to this idea of show up and we say yes or no.

Rodney Apple: [00:17:29] That sounds like they’re moving away from the speed dating to more of a courting type of an approach while supporting and coaching and trying to get them ready for the big dance.

Toni Rhorer: [00:17:41] Yeah. Yeah. I definitely see companies investing more on the front end with students and I think that is what those gen Z students are looking for.

Rodney Apple: [00:17:53] Are there certain things you do, on the outbound side, where you’re coaching the students? Coaching them to figure out those companies that may align with their values and the kind of work they want to do. Could you speak to that?

Toni Rhorer: [00:18:07] How do you get people to think about a broader career search? Everything you want to do is not necessarily in the location where you want to do it. One thing we really focus on is the front end of the career decision-making and goal setting. Helping students really build a strategy, helps them to consider other options. So as opposed to what job do you want? Oh, you want to be in supply chain? Okay. Here are the jobs you can do. Find those jobs and apply to them. So instead of that, we have a career management model. The first step is of course strategy and we’re a business school. So, we’re focusing on building the strategy first. And we’ve created a proprietary process we call the career blueprint. I think that’s something students don’t automatically understand about career development and career management is you don’t just one day say I’m going to do this job and I’m going to go get it. It’s a process of reflection, assessment, understanding, where you’ve come from, what your skills are, what your strengths are, what your values are. Students love the values exercise, because they’ve never really thought about that before and how that affects what kind of environment and job they want to be in. So, we do this process. It has three modules with some reflection and then some identifying career paths.  

And we work a lot on the market research. Really important for students to get more information, not just surface level. Okay. You want to work at a particular company because you liked the product, right? The customer brand is not the same as the employer brand. So how do you dig in on those things, doing the research, and then you go out in the market and you test those assumptions. You network, you have informational interviews, you talk to people in those roles and companies and industries, locations.  Then we help them build an action plan of how they’re going to get there. And that’s a very individualized process because everyone’s different, everyone’s path is going to be unique. We work with students who are traditional age undergrads. We have non-traditional undergrads. We have MBAs, we have master students, we have people at all different points of their career. And so, the action plan is very individual for that student. And it’s not something that they build and then they never come back to and they just follow. It’s something that we revisit with them as they get more information, maybe do an internship, talk to more people. In terms of helping students, back to your initial question, broaden their ideas, what we’re trying to get them to think about is what is your lifelong career management look like? And what’s the path to get there. And it might not always be linear. It might not be, you get your dream job now. There are steps in between and we’re helping them build that plan of how to get there. And if your goal is to eventually be in a particular location or a particular industry, we’re going to help you get there. It may not be the first thing you do when you graduate, but we’ll help you build a plan to how that works. 

We use the two-hour job search book. And one thing that I really appreciated about that book is there’s a process in there to build a target list of companies.  If you ask a student to sit down and list out the companies they want to work for, I could tell you the top five companies on most people’s list. And it’s really just the companies that are in the news all the time that people hear a lot about, or maybe have products that everyone uses. But there are more than 10 million companies in the country that have amazing opportunities and great environments and work places. How do you get people to think about that and consider that? And the one thing I like about building the target list with the two-hour job search is there’s a section where you build out companies from other things that you may not have ever considered before. And there’s a sorting function. And so sometimes you’ll get companies at the top of your list that you hadn’t considered that we suggest you go and do some more research on. I’m a big believer in being creative being open-minded.  

We always talk about something here in the job search. We say it’s a paradox because we really want you to be targeted. We could talk about this with resumes and communication. You need to be targeted, but you also need to be open-minded. And so those two things, I think initially sound in opposition to students, but you can do both. Really trying to get students to often expand the way they’re thinking about companies, industry’s, job roles is something that we work on with them throughout the time.

Mike Ogle: [00:23:54] You had some very interesting ways that companies have been changing their approach to how they work with students. Have you also seen some of the ways that industry should probably change some of their practices, maybe particular techniques they should avoid?

Toni Rhorer: [00:24:09] If we’re talking about recruiting students, I would say the things that students don’t like are probably the same things companies don’t like. So, for example, a lot of employers spam students, and with some of the technology nowadays, it’s made it much easier for them to do that. They’re able to just email thousands of students at once and our students get lots of emails that are not relevant. They’re a supply chain student and they’re getting investment banking emails, or they’re a sophomore and they’re getting emails about full-time jobs. It’s not curated, it’s not targeted. Nobody likes spam, so that’s not helpful. In fact, the negative effect of that is our students stop reading all their emails. And so, then it makes it difficult for us to get them information for relevant companies to be seen because they’re getting all of these kind of spam messages. 

The other thing that’s interesting, a lot of companies ghost students. Even sometimes after students had a phone screen or the company has reached out and said, they’re interested, then students never hear from them again, sometimes after an interview, they never hear from them again. We work really hard with coaching students on, you need to respond to people, even if you’re not interested, let them know. I find it interesting that companies do that too. Everyone’s just overwhelmed with information right now. It’s even something that we’re really trying to think about and be strategic about, but I think employers need to consider as well, is all the noise that’s happening and how can you make your communication very specific or your event, curated. Get down to more mutual interest. Avoid the broad things, do some more specific, targeted types of events with students.

Rodney Apple: [00:26:19] Toni, in light of the talent shortages, as someone that’s been recruiting in supply chain for over two decades, I have never seen a market like this. The demand is unprecedented, compensation is trending upward, companies poach talent, it’s kind of insane. Are you seeing more assertiveness or aggressiveness with recruiting students, whether it’s supply chain or any other functions?

Toni Rhorer: [00:26:43] Specifically to your point about the lack of talent and the competitiveness for talent right now, one thing that is concerning is companies encouraging students to renege on offers that they’ve already accepted, and try to entice them to come with a better offer, more money or whatever. We have a professional policy students sign and we really work with students on their offer management and how to move through that process so that doesn’t happen. But, it’s pretty tough for a young student who’s graduating, to have some of these very big companies coming at them, asking them to come and give them more money, a signing bonus, whatever. I haven’t seen it broadly across the board, but it may get worse as we go on. We talk with students and help them think through these situations and make sure they’re making good decisions, regardless of which way they end up going, how do you do that professionally? How do you make sure that you’re maintaining your reputation, the school’s reputation, and making the right decision back to what we talked about before on your strategy, and your career management, are you making the decision based off the right factors and what you need to do? 

What I’ve seen is a lot more movement for experienced candidates. A lot of my alums, I’ve seen them get poached a lot more. Some of the big tech companies and that sort of thing. In the pandemic where everyone was getting laid off, I was having a lot of alums email me and tell me they got new jobs and I found it very interesting to see what was happening. 

One thing I think that is also happening is companies need so many people, they’re looking outside of traditionally backgrounds that they’ve considered before. I’ll just speak from my own experience in higher ed. I see people leaving higher ed and going to industry at rates that don’t typically happen. I’ve had people on my team, career coaches, hired in industry as program designers, content creation, right? That’s what we’re teaching our coaches now. We are not just doing resumes and cover letters. We are building capabilities around content creation, program design. How do you do these things? And I think what people are seeing is those skillsets can be used broadly across industry.

Rodney Apple: [00:29:31] I’d love to hear your perspective as a certified professional resume writer. What are some of the key things that you advise your students as it relates to creating that resume, that attracts employers and wows them?

Toni Rhorer: [00:29:43] It’s funny, although I am a certified professional resume writer, I would say my advice is never let someone else write your resume. I don’t think anyone can ever really understand your background, your experience, what you did, the way that you can. But I also think about that saying the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’ve been doing resumes for a really long time. There’s not a lot of difference in how people do resumes. So, it might be like, oh, the trend is putting an objective. Oh, now the trend is don’t put an objective. What I talk to students about is, anyone can take everything they’ve ever done and put it on paper. That’s not hard. Right. Anyone can do that. The skill that comes along with resume writing is being able to look at all of the information, pare it down to what’s really important and be able to clearly and concisely summarize. That’s a skill that can be used across a lot of areas. But you can apply it to the resume too. Resumes should be targeted. Don’t send a generic resume out. What I would say is what I talked about earlier with our process with students and how we have a career development model. The first step is that strategy I talked about, the last step is your resume and cover letter and your communication. And the reason for that is if you don’t know what you want to do, and you don’t know what your value proposition is, how are you going to write something that reflects that? Resumes are tactical. They help people feel like they got something done. People don’t know what else to do. So, they go to the resume first.  

If we have students who come in and they’ve never met with us and they want a resume review, we pull them back, and the first question we talk about is their strategy and their focus and what they’re looking for. We want to help students really understand that career management process before they can focus on the tactical stuff. 

It’s not different advice than people have always given, which is, make your resume neat, easy to read, targeted. The format is important to have it just be really simple and clear. What I usually tell students is the format of your resume should not take away from the content because the content is the important part of that. We hear a lot of things in the media about recruiters and how much time they spend on our resume. The one I usually quote is six seconds or less. In six seconds, what have you put on your resume that’s going to get someone’s attention that will put your resume into the pile, that it will be reviewed more closely. 

With students, one thing I always try to caution them about is trying too hard to tailor their resume to ATS systems. There’s importance in understanding how those systems work. There are lots of programs that’ll tell you like specific companies and they use this ATS system and this is how it works. With students, what I find is if they focus too much on that, their resume ends up sounding very disjointed and it’s harder to understand. It’s good to understand how it works, but in trying to sort of game the system, ends up making your resume, not as easy to understand, and it doesn’t really highlight the things that way you want it to.

Mike Ogle: [00:33:27] You had just spoken about resume writing. What are your thoughts as well about things like LinkedIn and social media advice for students? 

Toni Rhorer: [00:33:37] I love LinkedIn. I’m a huge fan of that if people use it well. We talk about LinkedIn as part of their personal brand, part of those marketing materials. So, I think one of the key things to think about with LinkedIn is to be intentional with what’s on there. I don’t know that people are always intentional. They go on, they follow a bunch of companies and channels and people throw a bunch of skills on there, kind of haphazardly, just put everything on there, sorta like the resume, right? It’s not curated. So really thinking about being intentional in what you want people to know you for. When I talk about LinkedIn with students, I say you have a brand, whether you know it, or want it or not. So why not be the person in charge of that? With LinkedIn, you can shape the way people think about you or what people know you for by following specific companies, liking or posting specific articles or updates. Start following supply chain channels and reading articles and sharing those out. Over time, when people see your name attached to that specific topic, they start to recognize you associated with that. If you share an article about supply chain, and then you share an article about higher ed, and then you share an article about baseball, people don’t know what to do with that. They don’t know what to think. There doesn’t seem to be any focus. And so again, back to the strategy and what you’re trying to accomplish and what you want people to know you for. Those are the things then that you can put out there. And LinkedIn obviously changed a lot over time and things that you can do on there. You can shift your skills around now so that you can highlight which ones show up on your homepage.  

I think the social media, the same things apply that have always applied. If you’re in the job search and you’re wanting to be seen a certain way, you want to make sure your social media reflects that in your professionalism and the things that you’re posting or commenting on. Anytime you put yourself out there, you want to be intentional again about how you want people to perceive what you’re putting out there.  

And I think LinkedIn, what I like about it is I used to tell students it’s more like a 3D version of your resume. So, you can have multimedia on there. The resume’s just a one-dimensional piece of paper, whereas LinkedIn is this dynamic, live vision of who you are and your values and what you believe in and what you want to be.

Rodney Apple: [00:36:31] Toni, you’ve shared some excellent advice. I think both for companies that are seeking to hire students and the other way around with students and putting a lot of strategy and thoughts into how they should look at their career. Would love to hear, what some of the best career advice you’ve received throughout your career. And is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we wrap up today?

Toni Rhorer: [00:36:53] Having been in career services and higher ed for a very long time and seeing how things have changed and shifted over the years, I think probably such a big learning is the ability to pivot and accept change, and move quickly with it is even more important nowadays than it has been. The pandemic was a really big eye-opener for everyone. It was something that forced everyone to look at things differently and pivot and change really quickly. And I think the people who were successful at that were able to internalize that quickly, think about what needed to be done and come up with some solutions very quickly. 

But I think change is hard for people. Sometimes, they can’t quite get onboard with that, but I think if you apply that to your career management, we no longer live in the time where people know exactly what they want to do, get one job and they’re there for their whole career. I have two college age kids, myself. And talking with them, it’s interesting that sometimes students still have this idea that they have to know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life and what I’m really trying to get people to learn, and what I’ve learned in my own career is there’s not a linear path necessarily. Think about where you add value, where you enjoy your work, where you get to use your strengths. And there are a lot of different places you can do that. But if you are able to understand that and pivot quickly, then when these disruptors come to the market, you’re able to pivot and be successful that way. 

You can learn lots of technical skills. You can learn a specific job role and function. But this ability to really pivot, be flexible, be agile and change with the times, because I think, pandemics probably not the last time that’s going to happen, right? Those things happen periodically and to be successful in your career and be able to pivot, the people who can be creative and think about those things. And they’re ready to go because they’ve done the strategy work and they know where their value is can really help people in those situations.

Mike Ogle: [00:39:22] Toni, thank you for sharing your time and great thoughts today on the supply chain careers podcast.

Toni Rhorer: [00:39:28] Thank you both for having me. I enjoyed the conversation.