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VALLEY BUSINESS | Preparing Students for the Real World

Emphasis on Job Placement Is Big Draw at Woodbury

Networking: Campus' lecture series exposes students to professionals in management, accounting, fashion and computer fields.


BURBANK — As graduation day at Woodbury University approached this spring, Patricia Fitzpatrick began some serious job-hunting.

She wanted to turn in her waitress apron at Coco's restaurant as soon as she got her diploma in accounting. So she scoured the classifieds for accounting work, posted her resume on the Internet and sent out about 150 mailings to possible employers.

The response was underwhelming.

"Two weeks after I started sending out my resume, I started getting frustrated, because I wasn't getting any calls back," said Fitzpatrick, 22, of Woodland Hills. "I was really counting on talking to recruiters at the career fair, but not a lot of companies were offering finance jobs and the ones that were, didn't show up. That's when I told myself I had a lot of work to do and had better get started."

Then, the week before graduation, Fitzpatrick saw a classified ad for an entry-level position at Weiss Accountancy Corp., a Van Nuys accounting firm.

Two days after a first interview that included taking a basic accounting test, Fitzpatrick was called in for a second interview with Scott Weiss, a senior partner in the family-owned firm.

"During the interview, he said, 'Stop looking for another job, because we want to hire you,' " she said. "I immediately put in my two weeks' [notice] at [the restaurant]!"

For Fitzpatrick, finding a job quickly after graduation was one of the main reasons she chose Woodbury over Loyola Marymount University and Cal State Northridge. She was impressed with the school's reputation for preparing students for their job search.

"They really helped me to get a handle on what's out there and what to expect in an interview," said Fitzpatrick, who made the decision to attend Woodbury after campus reps visited her high school during her senior year in 1996.

Another plus for the students enrolled in the business programs is the teachers themselves, she said. Many are working professionals, from Walt Disney Co., Time Warner and Universal Studios, as well as major accounting firms and banks.

Students can earn degrees in four major areas of concentration through the School of Business and Management: accounting, business and management, computer information systems and fashion marketing.

Richard King, dean of the School of Business and Management, said two main programs designed to help students make contacts with working professionals in the world of business are offered.

In the Leadership Lecture Series, top executives are brought in four times a year to speak to the juniors, seniors and graduate students. Each 30-minute lecture is followed by a question-and-answer session.

"There are amazing linkages made between [the executives] and the students," said King, who spent seven years on the school's board of trustees before being named dean two years ago.

In Lessons in Leadership, what King calls "management gurus" from all over the country speak to Woodbury students via satellite broadcast. Afterward, regional executives address the students and conduct a question-and-answer period.

"We place a high priority on student exposure," King said. "We also get companies calling me directly looking to fill a position. They range from banks and accounting firms to small- and medium-size businesses."

King said Woodbury has always had a high percentage of students getting jobs upon graduation, but this year that figure jumped to 90%. The remaining students were hired within 30 days of graduation.

"There is tremendous competition for employers to find employees right now. It's a great time for students," he said.

Weiss, who hired Fitzpatrick, said his family business has typically avoided hiring recent college graduates, preferring job candidates with two or three years experience.

"This is where we are at today," he said. "For employers, there are not as many people to choose from, because of the state of the economy.

"Also, with the people who already had experience, we were finding they were still lacking in the grass-roots fundamentals of accounting," he said. "With Patricia, she exhibited a willingness to take on this position so she can learn and invest in her long-term career."

With the first day at her new job out of the way, Fitzpatrick finds she is still learning.

"I was so nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach all night before I started," she said. "Now, I realize there is so much I don't know, and I just want to learn it all," she said. "And I thought school was tough!"

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