“Isn’t It Personal?” Strategies for Feedback and Grading in Career Development Coursework

By Susan Krug Friedman and Kristen Tompkins

Talent Management and Organizational Fit is part of the course requirements for the major in Human and Organizational Development (HOD) at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. The class is a bridge to the capstone in the major, a full-semester academically connected internship, and supports students in their transition to the working world. The course involves personal and organizational perspectives, such as resume-writing and informational interviews. The foundation consists of theory on organizational hiring strategies and engagement of human talent. Subsequently, students undertake steps that enable organizational fit: learning about themselves through assessments, exploring the nature and needs of different industries, and then honing their marketing tools and a development plan for the future based on their findings and analysis.

A number of the projects are based on students’ interests. These assignments provide multifaceted opportunities—and special evaluation considerations—and are highlighted in the following sections. Descriptions, approaches, and challenges are listed for three assignments on individual interviews, group presentations, and marketing materials. Our observations are based on our experience with the class, building on the work of our predecessors, the director of internships, and departmental and other colleagues. The reflections address unique grading aspects of career development coursework.

Individual Interviews with Professionals
After learning about a range of industries as well as their own personal attributes, students are asked to select a field of special interest and to find professionals to interview. Students learn about networking and informational interviewing and about available resources through assigned readings and in-class discussions, and must then take the initiative to secure the interviews.

Approach: Students are given a multi-page description of the project, including tips. They are also given a list of potential questions to ask during the interview, a number of which are required. In order not to impose excessively on the time of the interviewees, students are advised to request a 20-30 minute session.

Challenges: There are two special challenges in evaluating this assignment:
1. Given the time constraints, some students will not gather as much information as others.
2. While most professionals who provide interviews will be very insightful, others may be less so.
Consequently, a list of essay questions is also part of the assignment, based on connecting the interview findings to required readings. Some questions are very concrete, asking students to link their experience to an informational interviewing article by Olivia Crosby (updated by Tamara Dillon, 2010). Other questions require connections to broader ideas, such as in Peter Drucker’s article, “Managing Knowledge Means Managing Oneself” (2000).


Group Presentations on Industries
Students also participate in a group presentation, with the goal of telling the “true story” of an industry, versus the stereotype. Students’ interests vary widely, as the HOD major has five possible “tracks” or concentrations, and a class section (about 24-28 students) typically has eight-ten groups focusing on different industries.

Approach: Students are given a description of the requirements for the presentation, including the content to be covered (such as the education needed in the field and current trends) and the required format and length. This guidance serves as the basis for the grading rubric. When possible, we have had additional evaluators during these group presentations, including support from our university's Center for Student Professional Development (career center).

Challenges: As with any group project, there is not a precise relationship between individual accomplishment and reward (i.e., grade or feedback). We ask for peer reviews by students in every group that consists of more than two people; these are collected from each member of the group. The goal is to get feedback on problems that may have occurred while working in a group, but also to encourage full participation from all members from the outset.


Marketing Materials
Marketing materials, such as the resume and cover letter, are other course components. In addition, mock interviews are provided to the students.

Approach: Students are given written guidelines for their marketing materials, as well as sample formats. We have in-class workshops for discussion and student critique of one another’s work. The university’s Center for Student Professional Development has also provided resume critiques. For the mock interviews, class discussions and readings give the background. The mock interviewers provide students with feedback on a brief standardized form and students complete a self-evaluation form.

Challenges: Since resumes are based on the individual's professional history, students may be concerned about the way in which these are graded. Unlike the situation in the actual selection process, evaluations need to focus on the clarity and professional qualities of the marketing material, rather than on how extensive a student’s work or volunteer experiences might be. Consequently, the guidance for the preparation of the resume includes tips on style and layout. Similarly, guidance for the letters includes sample formats and pointers on what to include. So that the evaluation of the marketing materials is further broadened beyond personal elements, students are also asked to provide answers to discussion questions relating to their marketing approach and to assigned articles. For the mock interviews, the individual interviewers provide written comments, rather than a grade, which gives instructors (as well as students) information about the preparation and professionalism exhibited and whether further development is needed.


It Is Personal—and Academic
Integrating career development work into an academic course introduces grading challenges. However, we believe that the evaluation strategies presented in this article are important to motivation and learning, and, ultimately, to an understanding of talent development.  By providing feedback in this way, on both individual and more thematic dimensions, we hope to help students see their own development in a broader context of knowledge. Through applying these grading approaches, we believe the assignments can effectively be both personal and academic.



Crosby, O., updated by Dillon, T. (2010, Summer). Informational interviewing: Get the inside scoop on careers. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, pp. 22-29.

Drucker, P. F. (2000, Spring). Managing knowledge means managing oneself. Leader to Leader, pp. 8-10.



Susan Krug Friedman, MA, MBA, teaches at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a lecturer and internship coordinator in the Department of Human and Organizational Development. She has an M.A. in economics and an M.B.A. and has been a member of the HOD faculty since 2000. She can be contacted at susan.k.friedman@vanderbilt.edu.
Kristen Tompkins, MEd, teaches at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a lecturer and the director of the HOD Internship Program in the Department of Human and Organizational Development. She has an M.Ed. in Human Developmental Counseling and has been a member of the HOD faculty since 2002. She can be contacted at kristen.tompkins@vanderbilt.edu.


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