Five Questions

Illustration of Orlando Harris

Illustration by Karen Kemp


Helping You with Your Job Is Their Top Job

An interview with Department of Career Services & Leadership Development Executive Director Orlando Harris

Just like an occasional resume update is a good idea for any professional, big organizations need to stop and take a look at their own CVs from time to time.

After doing just that in 2016, SF State decided the moment was right to overhaul an important component of its services to students and alumni: career development. The result (thanks in large part to generous support from the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation) was a renamed and reimagined Department of Career Services & Leadership Development (CSLD), which Executive Director Orlando Harris has headed since 2017.

How do you describe CSLD’s mission?

We like to say that we’re the office where opportunity and talent connect. The opportunity is the work we do with partners like Microsoft, Intel and others to align our students and alumni with mentorships, internships, jobs and career-change learning opportunities. The talent is our students and alums. We work diligently to prepare them when the opportunity presents itself, whenever and however that happens. Whether it’s that elevator pitch or applying their experience to the specific position they’re seeking, we work to prepare them.

“There is reason to be optimistic. I’m not just saying this, I know it. I’ve told my middle daughter, an SF State junior, the same thing.”

How many students used CSLD services last year? How many alumni?

We’ve been continually increasing our numbers. Even with the pandemic, that hasn’t changed. We quickly pivoted to a full virtual set of offerings, and students and alums responded. On [the digital platform] Handshake alone, student activations have gone from 13,837 in 2018-2019 to 23,376 in 2019-2020. Alumni participation increased from 114 to 225 over that same period. And that’s just one point of engagement. Another example is the work we do with [the nonprofit employment organization] COOP. Their focus is on helping recent graduates overcome underemployment through digital skills and retuning. On average two-thirds of their 200-person cohorts are SF State graduates. The success rate from program completion to job is approximately 80% in six months.

Have CSLD’s services been impacted by the pandemic?

Face-to-face interactions are so important, and the pandemic has taken that away from us. And the phenomenal on-campus part-time job fairs and career fairs were canceled, which had a dramatic impact. But here’s the good news: From a resource standpoint, CSLD is ready and open for business. Everything we offered pre-pandemic we’re offering now virtually. That includes career counseling sessions, virtual drop-in hours and, yes, this fall we’re providing virtual part-time jobs, career fairs and graduate school fairs.

What’s a reason for optimism when looking at the job market? Are there upsides to working in 2020?

There is reason to be optimistic. I’m not just saying this, I know it. I’ve told my middle daughter, an SF State junior, the same thing. Organizations are reimagining how they connect with talent. We’re working closely with them to accomplish those goals. This will include virtual workshops, projects, mentorships, internships and jobs. There’s so much happening, so we’re encouraging everyone to visit our website for the latest news and updates. While these are challenging times, they also present amazing ways for all of us to grow, learn and connect.

What do you wish students and alumni knew about CSLD?

First and foremost that we exist and we’re eager to assist everyone. Companies are still hiring. Many organizations are looking to connect with [potential employees]. I want them to know we are offering a high level of services virtually, so please don’t feel alienated.