Alumni Panel to Students: The Jobs are Out There

KENNESAW, Ga. (Dec 18, 2020) — The coronavirus pandemic has upended how people look for jobs, with remote interviews and work-from-home policies becoming the new normal. With students unsure how to navigate this new landscape, alumni from Kennesaw State University’s Department of Information Systems and Security recently headlined a virtual panel discussion about finding career success during the pandemic.Information Systems Alumni Panel

Each semester since 2018, the Michael J. Coles College of Business has hosted its Information Systems/Information Security and Assurance alumni panel, where current students learn from recent graduates what to expect when they enter the IS/ISA job market. This year’s event had a slightly different tone, as the 10 alumni shared how they have adapted to changing working conditions throughout the last year.

“I was able to provide a few key insights,” said Alex Liquori, a 2018 graduate of the ISA program who is a Splunk professional services engineer with Aditum. “From a market perspective, I reminded them that cybersecurity is an incredibly hot market that wasn’t impacted as much as other industries by COVID. Hiring continues to increase.”

Much of Liquori’s advice was centered on the need for students to take steps to differentiate themselves from other applicants.

“It’s very important to build up your technical skills outside the classroom using something like the Linux Academy [an online training course for cloud computing technology] while also improving your communications skills, because those will be applicable no matter what industry you work in.”

For Wes Rhea, a senior lecturer of information systems and the event’s host, the panel’s goal this year was to show students in the IS and ISA degree programs that jobs are still out there.

“Some students are saying that, with COVID, there are no opportunities,” he said. “I’m saying ‘yes there are.’ And bringing in our alumni is a way to reiterate that. There are jobs out there. You are all going to be in demand when you graduate.”

The data backs this up. According to US. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest-growing job of the last five years for professionals aged 22 to 34 is information security analyst.

See Information Security is the Fastest-Growing Field for Young Professionals

Both of the panel’s central themes – that information systems and security jobs are plentiful and that students should focus on developing professional skills – resonated with the attendees.

IS senior Marcus Wren was skeptical about his ability to gain anything from a virtual career panel, though he admitted that it was beneficial to hear lessons from people actively working in the field.

“I plan to use my free time to try and sharpen my skills towards a certification,” he said. “Also, I learned to ask plenty of questions to potential employers. It helps them know you take your career seriously and want to do the job right.”

Several of the panelists mentioned that, while having certifications and essential skills are important to launching a successful career, employers do not expect new hires to know everything on their first day.

IS senior Alison Smith said that lesson was her key takeaway.

“The most valuable lesson I learned was that our degree doesn’t make us perfect for the job, it makes us trainable,” she said. “Companies are looking for employees that are eager to learn. Our degree in IS or ISA shows them that we are.”

Other topics covered during the panel included how the coronavirus pandemic affected the hiring process – one panelist had a job offered in the spring, put on hold, and eventually finalized in September – and the importance of maintaining integrity during a job search. A panelist described walking away from an otherwise great job once he learned some of the company’s business practices did not align with his values.

Panelists enjoyed having the opportunity to share their experiences with current students.

“I believe it is important for me to give back to my alma mater, which has already given so much to me,” said Ambrielle August, who graduated in 2020 from the IS program and is now a junior project manager and SCRUM master at OMNY Health. “Paying it forward, even by simply sharing my experiences and giving advice, allows me to send a ladder down for someone also trying to climb to success.”

More than 70 students attended the virtual alumni panel, which was co-sponsored by the Information Systems Club and the Offensive Security Research Club. Since the event’s inception two years ago, it has become popular with ISS students.

“I was impressed with the insights provided by the panelists on job search and competencies valued by organizations,” said ISS chair Khawaja Saeed. “The event also offers our students networking opportunities, which are critical in the current job market. The IS and ISA faculty are passionate about student experience and this event is a reflection of that passion.”

-Patrick Harbin