Kathryn Van Ness
Kathryn Van Ness, Director, Career Center, is a living our values award winner.

It’s textbook economics: As jobs grow scarce, demand for services at the UC Irvine Career Center increases. Kathryn Van Ness, center director, has been busy fielding inquiries from anxious students, colleagues and friends, who want to know how to land a good job in a tough market and survive the financial storm. Her advice?

“Continue to deepen your skills, and expand your networking. Anyone who does that will be in a better position,” she says. “We’ve weathered many of these times before, and students need to realize there are still plenty of opportunities.”

Despite the economic slowdown, Van Ness says she has seen “only a slight downtick” in employers who want to hire students.

“There are fewer full-time offers, but most employers are still eager to hire interns,” she says. “Internships allow the employers to test drive the students. It’s a small investment for great talent, and for the students, it often results in full-time offers.”

Van Ness’s job is helping students find jobs of their own, and she does it so well she earned a 2008 Living Our Values Award. The awards are given annually by Chancellor Michael Drake to staff, faculty and students whose actions best embody UCI’s values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun. (Her team showed their pride in Van Ness’s award by holding a Living Our Values jeans day.)

“Kathryn’s commitment to excellence has enabled the Career Center to become a role model for university career centers in the UC system and nationwide,” says Karina Hamilton, SAGE Scholars Program executive director and 2007 Living Our Values Award recipient. “She encourages the creation of student-friendly tools and strategies that will help our students for the rest of their lives.”

Van Ness and her team have developed programs to help students discover opportunities that match their interests, including Career Fest, a month-long series of career panels featuring guest speakers from diverse industries held each February. She also supported a student initiative to create short videos on “How to Work a Career Fair” and other job-hunting topics.

“I’ve met many people who are unhappy in their jobs,” Van Ness says. “They’re just doing something because they fell into it, and didn’t know there were so many career options.”

Van Ness joined UCI 10 years ago after serving as associate dean and executive director of the UCLA Anderson School of Management career center, taking it to No. 1 in the country according to rankings of M.B.A. placement offices by Business Week. Now she loves working with undergraduates because they’re at a turning point in life and career.

“Career anxiety is so high for this gifted UCI population. It’s the real world of business or an academic specialty after this, and now they have to make decisions.”

The first step, she tells students, is to “identify your strengths, apply them to any area of passion or interest, and make that your career.”

Van Ness, who has a master’s in counseling from the University of Wisconsin, says simply talking with students about their strengths is one of the best ways she can put them on the right path.

“We have a conversation. I’ll ask questions like, ‘Tell me where you are now.’ ‘What are you all about?’ ‘What do you love to do?’ Your strengths are what excite you,” she says. “There’s a misperception that the Career Center is only about jobs. It’s mainly about helping students find out who they are and uncovering their future. We’re making a difference in these individuals’ lives.”