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Archive for Friday, May 26, 2006

Flexible schedules help students on job hunt

May 26, 2006

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Mark Zwahl, owner of Z's Divine Espresso, isn't a fan of common hiring practices.

"An application and an interview is such a crappy way to make a big decision," he says. So when talking with potential employees, he uses a well-devised screening method: He asks for a one-year commitment.

"It serves to get people to screen themselves out," he says. "I try to move the conversation to where I get them doing a personal evaluation of why they want this job."

In Lawrence, the job market for students can be intimidating. Calling a new city home for only four years coupled with demanding class schedules can make the commitment to a job difficult.

Fortunately, most Lawrence employers are understanding.

Zwahl, who owns coffee shops at 10 E. Ninth St. and 1800 E. 23rd St., doesn't judge KU students differently than any other applicants. He sticks to his set of standards regardless.

"I take everything into consideration, in terms of screening whether they're a good fit and how long I think they might stay," he said.

Zwahl even appreciates the short shifts students' schedules require. Of his more than 20 employees, he says about 80 to 90 percent are students.

"Our schedule was designed to fit students' schedules - these aren't eight-hour jobs. The more bodies you have, the more flexible you can be," he says.

However, he says he knows his perspective is unique to food service jobs.

Bring on the skills

John Flynn, co-owner of Mass Street Music, says he has nothing against hiring students. But due to the time commitment the job requires, it doesn't lend itself well to a student's schedule.

"As long as they have consistent time to work, I'll hire them," he says. "And it helps if they have some sort of experience for the job."

Flynn says he might make an exception if an applicant has exceptional people skills for the retail end.

As of May, just three of Flynn's 13 employees were students. He says that even five is too many for his store due to scheduling problems, especially during finals week.

Across town at SuperTarget, Adam Lemos, a manager, says by school status.

Lemos estimates that about 35 percent to 40 percent of all Target employees were KU students, and that they make up the majority of the lower-level employees. He says job turnover is higher for students than non-students, but he understands why.

"They're under the pressures of trying to work and maintain school," Lemos says.

Timing and perseverance

Preston Troyer, a KU sophomore, can attest to these pressures. In summer 2005, he moved to Lawrence a few weeks before the fall semester started to find a job. After applying at and following up with about 10 to 15 places around town, none called back.

"When I called them, they all said they'd get back with me, but they never did," he says. Eight months later, he applied to Jimmy John's and was hired on the spot.

From his experience, he learned that timing and perseverance are key.

"Places won't call you back, and an application isn't enough," he says.

Troyer says he didn't apply to any on-campus jobs because he heard the pay wasn't good.

But it's all in how you look at it.

Campus gigs

"I feel like there are jobs out there if people aren't picky," says Jamie Parker, a Kansas University sophomore and desk assistant at McCollum Hall.

In her opinion, any Kansas University student can get a job in Lawrence if they're not too selective about it. In working her regular four-hour shifts at McCollum's front desk, she works a graveyard shift once a week.

She sought out her position for the location and the low level of responsibility.

"I can sit here and do my homework," she said, "but I wouldn't recommend it if you're picky about the time."

Ola Faucher, director of the Department of Human Resources and Equal Opportunities, says scheduling is one of the main advantages of on-campus work for students.

"The departments try to be really flexible with student hourlies because their primary responsibility is to be a student," she says.

Faucher's office maintains jobs.ku.edu, at which all students seeking campus jobs must fill out a general application. At the close of the spring semester, more than 200 student positions were listed.

On the list, student jobs ranged from "summer library assistant" for $6.50 an hour to the off-campus job of "part-time nanny" for negotiable pay. The highest-paying jobs went for an hourly rates of $10.

Students must be enrolled in six or more credit hours to qualify for on-campus jobs, and they are not allowed to work more than 30 hours a week when classes are in session.

Back at Z's Divine, Zwahl says he works hard to set his baristas' standards high, for application well beyond their college years.

"I hope to spoil them," he says. "So when they get into a place where their voice isn't heard, I want them to feel uncomfortable and get out."

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