Two students collaborate in Design Your Career.

BA 2021 provides a toolset beyond foundational career skills

Monday, February 5, 2024


The two shake hands as the interview ends. The interviewer sets down their notes, and lets the applicant know how they did. However, this isn’t a job interview. This is BA 2021: Design Your Career.

BA 2021 is a required course as part of the Carlson School curriculum, designed by the Student Life and Career Design (SLCD) team. The SLCD team supports students at all stages of their career. They also teach BA 1021: Design Your Life, another required course which empowers students to tailor their college experience to their own goals. Together, both courses provide students the opportunity to reflect on themselves and what they value as well as the tools required to successfully navigate their futures.

In BA 2021, students learn effective information gathering skills such as networking and informational interviewing in order to explore careers of interest. Students also learn how to navigate the job search, from developing their resumes and cover letters to evaluating a job offer. However, BA 2021 goes beyond teaching these skills by teaching students a concept called strategic empathy.

“Strategic empathy allows students to fully understand every angle of their career journey,” said Rebecca Dordel, Associate Director of Student Life & Career Design and course coordinator of BA 2021. “They practice taking on different roles, so that they can view their job search journey through the lens of employers.”

This helps them to strategically position themselves against other candidates. In one activity, students take on the task of sorting through job applicants and their resumes, cover letters, and experiences.

“The hiring committee activity was my favorite,” said Roshini Senthil, ‘27 BSB. “Gaining the perspective of what recruiters are actually looking for in candidates has given me a better idea of what I can do to show up as a better candidate when applying for a job. I learned that if a job doesn’t require a cover letter, they are probably not going to look at it, so I do not need to write one for every job.”

Another core assignment in BA 2021 is the informational interview. Students set up a meeting with a professional working in a field they are interested in learning more about. This pushes students outside their comfort zones by forcing them to learn networking skills.

“My informational interview helped me understand what an Associate Data Engineer does on a day-to-day basis,” said Seyi Benson, ‘27 BSB. “My interview helped me realize that I’m not super interested in data and that I should explore other areas. Instead of waiting four years to figure this out after graduation, I can make changes now to find a fulfilling career."

This class also has a unique spin on grading. Many assignments in BA 2021 are analyzed through specifications grading, where assignments are either given zero or full points. Students who receive zero points are then provided resources, tailored feedback, and the opportunity to resubmit for full credit.

“The goal of specifications grading is to replicate the actual hiring process,” said Dordel. “Your job application is either accepted to move forward in the process or rejected. It’s an opportunity for students to go through a secondary feedback process without punishment, and to learn to make improvements.”

Through the feedback process, students are required to meet 1-on-1 with their instructors, who are all Student Life and Career Coaches within the SLCD team. Coaches are well-equipped to support and assist students at any stage of their career. By engaging with the coaches early in their college experience, students gain a valuable resource that can assist them throughout their career journey.

“The foundation of our work in the Student Life & Career Design team is to help students build their personal and professional identity,” said Dordel. “BA 2021 does more than help students plan their career. It helps students understand their own strengths, interests, and values and how to communicate that to their audience.”

BA 2021 is constantly iterating to fit the needs of students and the changing business landscape. After each semester, the SLCD team gathers student feedback, and implements changes. One of the more significant changes this semester is the incorporation of AI into the curriculum.

“Generative AI is a useful tool to leverage during the job search,” said Shontel Smith, a Career Coach and instructor of BA 2021. “It’s a tool that is not going away, so we want to teach students to use it wisely and understand its strengths and limitations.”

Generative AI is used in class to help students brainstorm for their resumes, cover letters, and informational interviews. Rather than copy and pasting answers from AI tools, students learn strategies that leverage AI to augment their career search.

In fact, the SLCD team’s work with Generative AI was so impactful that the team was selected to give a presentation at the National Career Development Association’s conference in San Diego this coming June.

“At the end of the day, this class provides students the tools to succeed,” said Smith. “Even if they don’t take from the whole buffet today, these tools will always be there for them if they need it.”

BA 2021 encourages students to think about their futures, and what they want to accomplish in their lives. The activities in the course provide students a toolset and mindset to accomplish their career goals.

“As a freshman, one of my biggest worries coming into college is that I don’t have enough experience or skills,” said Senthil. “Coming out of this class, I am already using the tools I have learned in my career search. I have realized the importance of how you present yourself and the experience and skills you have. This class gave me the tools to succeed.”

The work being done in BA 2021 is helping students succeed in their job searches.

"As a recruiter who has talked to many Carlson students over the last 6 years, I can tell you this course is helping them build a foundation for success in their job search," said Leah Cochran, Senior Campus Recruiter at Baker Tilly USA. "It's rare for me to come across a Carlson student who isn't putting the techniques they learn in this class to good use - from resumes, to networking at campus events, to interviews - Carlson students are on top of their game!"