Nathan Hayden admits he needed polish when he started Wichita State's Professional Edge Program in the W. Frank Barton School of Business.
“I had the desire to improve different skills,” he said. “The big thing I got out of it was the idea of having the tools to learn how to network and communicate – what in the business world they like to call soft skills.”
Now in his third semester in Professional Edge, Hayden understands the polish needed to start a search for a job and career. Hayden, a junior accounting major, interned at Spirit AeroSystems over the summer and put those “soft skills” to work.
“Those are what a lot of employers are really looking for these days to differentiate yourself from other people,” he said. “The accounting world is extremely small in Wichita. Even if you don't think you're going to work somewhere in the long-term, building those long-term relationships – you don't know where those are going to lead five, 10, 15 years down the road.”
The Professional Edge Program, open to all undergraduate business majors, is a free four-semester non-credit program. Its focus is to provide students advanced and specific skills such as leading and contributing to meetings, negotiating compensation packages, work-style identification, choosing a mentor, and strategic social networking.
Professional Edge Program
“(Nathan's) idea was to get more involved and he also wanted to prepare himself to go out and seek that perfect accounting job,” said Wendy Veatch, Professional Edge director. “It allowed him the opportunity to interact with other employers, in different industries. He said it really opened up the doors to other accounting roles in various job settings.”
The program, launched by a $324,000 donation from Meritrust Credit Union, started in the 2017 fall semester with 148 students enrolled. A year later, Veatch said enrollment is roughly 260 students and will continue to increase throughout the semester.
Spirit's tax and accounting division sees the value in the program and knows it is a key indicator of future success. Because of that belief, they will interview those students participating in the Professional Edge Program.
"The skills that we help business students develop in our Professional Edge program are essential for their short and long-term success," said Anand Desai, dean of the Barton School of Business. "In a recent Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92% said 'soft skills' were equally or more important as technical skills. And 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes. Many say this problem spans age groups and experience levels."
Students participate in required seminars that deal with topics ranging from communication and self-assessment to interviewing and diversity, presented by professionals from companies such as Koch Industries, Spirit, Meritrust and Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd.
"It is unfortunate that these skills are labelled as 'soft skills,' generally implying that they are not important," Desai said. "I, along with many others, believe they are critical to success and should really be referred to as 'critical skills. 'This is why, with the help and support from Meritrust Credit Union, we launched the Professional Edge program. A salient feature of our program is that virtually all of the skill development workshops, seminars and activities are conducted by area business men and women – they see the value of what we are doing and we are grateful for their participation."
Students can choose from a list of seminars organized by the Barton School of Business, Career Development Center and business networking seminars sponsored by groups such as the Wichita Manufacturers Association and the Young Professionals of Wichita.
From those talks, students can learn how to make their resume avoid the “No pile” and how they can land a good job and advance in their career.
“It's important to build out your personal and professional network," Veatch said. "Focusing on how to refine your first impression to the potential employer is crucial. We don't want our students to think a vacation picture is an appropriate LinkedIn head shot."
Employers will tell them that a negative digital footprint can disqualify you as a job candidate. Preparing for an interview means researching the company and its culture – checking LinkedIn in the lobby is not appropriate preparation. Showing up 30 minutes early for an interview is too early – 15 minutes is preferred.
“(Local industry experts) talk about ‘This is why we don't hire people,'” Veatch said. “'At the end of the interview, if you don't ask questions about us or our company, we don't bring you back in.' That's what employers share, all the inside pieces of success. All the unknowns. All the hidden business acumen and savvy.”
Hayden's endorsement of Professional Edge comes with his advice to participate fully. He talked with two members of Spirit's tax department after one seminar last fall and said that networking helped him get more out of his finance internship. He recommends that those one-on-one conversations that Professional Edge provides are critical career connections for students.
“These tools are being provided by the program, and it's what the students decide to do with those tools,” he said. “It's really about being proactive and determining that I am going to learn these types of skills that aren't being taught in the classroom.”
For more information, contact Veatch at 316-978-3441 or email@example.com.