Nick Fahnders is the Director of Professional & Career Development, where he works with his team to create space for everyone’s professional story to unfold.

Nick Fahnders

He’s also a doctoral student at Colorado State University, with a research agenda grounded in evaluating power implications between employers and job applicants. This work examines ways to equalize (or neutralize) dynamics restoring power to the applicant and providing a framework for more inclusive and effective hiring models. 

We interviewed him about his role, the services that Harris Career Development provides, and his advice to candidates.

What services does CDO offer students?

Our career coaching team is incredibly dynamic. They are cross-cultural thinkers and relationship builders. Our aim is that from day one, students know they have a support system for life–to us, graduation doesn't mean goodbye. We're there when they need more resources, to celebrate when they are promoted, and to strengthen career pipelines when they’re in a position to hire.

Between internships and full-time work, we see a lot of pivoting from one policy area to another. To that end, our coaching team creates ample space for deep questions and clarity toward what type of work is most aligned with individual skills and aspirations. We also partner closely with our colleagues in alumni relations, as well as the broader alumni network, to further scale skill development within a supportive and familiar community.

On the heels of analyzing the impact of AI and ChatGPT in career materials, we have also developed a library of digital resources for when someone has an application deadline after business hours, or an interview the next morning. There is always a last-minute itch for affirmation, if not clarity, in terms of how to be as marketable as possible. When it comes to ChatGPT, such as for cover letter drafts, we don’t discourage use–it’s inevitable–and I believe it is much easier to edit than write from scratch. Rather, we work to gauge feedback from employers to drive guidelines for using AI while increasing a sense of content ownership and broader confidence in what a student offers a particular role or organization.

As a global community, we're also thinking seriously about what it means to navigate different work authorizations from an international student standpoint. If an international student wants to stay in the United States, there's one visa type that most folks are familiar with—but there are other visa opportunities that are specific to organizations or how a student files their areas of expertise as. We’re fortunate to have strong partners with our Office of International Affairs to share information that sets international students up for success in their searches.

Any specific CDO resources you would recommend readers explore?

We are perpetually asked about lists of organizations that hire Harris talent, and that list is ever-changing. Rather than download a long, static list that does not account for real-time job market trends, I would encourage people to spend time exploring the dynamic Where Students Work feature on the Career Outcomes page. It offers public data that demonstrates  how possible almost any policy career is with our toolkit.

For current students, we’ve also refreshed our go-to career guides so people have exactly what they're looking for and can find it quickly.

We know pursuing a Harris degree is a significant investment, and we want students to know they can enhance the return on said investment by planning to negotiate an employment offer. Salary is most strongly associated with negotiations–and there can be headwinds for that variable. For example, many government roles are restricted by salary bands; but there are many other components that go into a final offer (such as professional development and formal promotion structures). Research supports that if you negotiate in any capacity, you signal to the employer they have made the correct decision to invest in you—and that you're going to advocate for the organization the same way you're modeling self-advocacy. To that end, we provide one-on-one negotiation sessions, as well as a Harris-specific resource deck in our digital career library.

One of the best moments in this work is when someone on our career team gets a call or an email from someone starting with: “I got an offer!”  We’re always on call to both celebrate with them and advocate for what negotiation opportunities look like as they accept that employment offer.

What is some of the most frequent advice that you find yourself giving students in their job search process?

Candidate Readiness Cycle

First, policy industries have a huge variance in their search timelines. That's the reality of it. However, as many times as we say and socialize it, the moment a student hears that a peer secured their internship or full-time offer, their brain goes, “I am behind,” but in this field, that’s usually not true. Consequently, our industry/policy area hiring timelines are one of our most viewed and utilized resources.

Second, we want to demystify the challenges of networking. If you're building relationships in a meaningful way, that's all you need to do. It's funny, because we pay close attention to how the Harris community builds relationships. They are bright, caring and some the most thoughtful networkers I've ever seen—and then they freeze the moment the word “networking” is presented! So we aim to normalize this: networking is not this performative thing, just build relationships and be reasonable with how you make an ask. Then, when you turn around after even your first year here at the Harris School, you will realize you have a robust network that will position you for more career wins.

Finally, from a leadership standpoint, it’s great to be an expert in multiple things so you can ask more critical and informed questions and empathize with things you don't know and really frame that in a sustainable way. One of the best leadership prompts I heard from an employer years ago was: Aim to be an expert in two areas. Lean into what you are wired for, compare and contrast those two points of view. Then, build teams based on colleagues with expertise that complements–and differs from–your own. Don’t want saturate your points of view when making decisions. And Harris talent has so much intelligence, so much potential, so we challenge them to step back and say: in this moment, what one thing is calling to me first? Why? As our Interim Dean models, getting to "why” is a powerful model to inform next steps and socialize your decisions for greater impact.

The application for our 2024 admissions cycle is open. To begin your graduate school journey with Harris, start your application here. If you know a great future Harris student, please refer them here.