In the 2014–15 academic year, almost 3 million students will graduate from U.S. colleges and universities with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and nearly 1 million students will complete a graduate degree. That’s a population the size of Los Angeles (and one that has increased by more than 30 percent in the past 15 years) hoping to land career opportunities, and likely leaning on the career centers of these colleges and universities. But exactly what are these career centers able to do to help you—and, more importantly, how can you get the most from them?
1. Set the right expectations. Career centers are not like Walmart— you don’t pick up a job off the shelf—nor are they matchmakers like e-Harmony. They are more like fitness facilities: They have equipment and offer training, but they can’t lift the weights for you if you want to get stronger.
2. Get to know yourself. Career centers can offer assessments and analyses about what makes you tick. Why is this important? Because you have to know what you like, what you are good at, and what motivates you in order to know what you bring to the table as a job candidate. Learning more about your personality preferences, interests, motivators, skills, reaction impulses, and inspirations will better inform what industries, companies and jobs you target. Skip this step and you will spend a long time spinning your wheels, chasing after different ideas.
3. Get to know your target. In order to connect effectively with an employer, you need to know what’s important to them, what they value, what motivates them, and what skills they need. Some students do well with self-assessment and know exactly what they are good at—this is necessary, but only half the equation. The other half is knowing about the potential employer. Researching different industries—and the companies within those industries—helps you understand what organizations fit your interests, skills, motivators, and values.
4. Market yourself. Once you’ve found the intersection of your interests/goals/energy-giving activities and an organization’s needs, it’s time to tell them. Another sweet spot for career centers is helping students prepare their portfolios of marketing materials, ranging from standard items like résumés and cover letters to minutiae such as helping with introductory or networking emails, thank-you notes, and other forms of correspondence. They are also great resources for interview training. Career centers can help you make sure that your marketing materials accurately represent your previous experience and convey what is most relevant to the prospective employer. Your marketing materials should be tailored to the industry, and even to the specific organization, you are targeting.
5. Have a consigliere. Career centers have seen lots of students and have been through all kinds of market conditions. Although they can’t predict a specific outcome for you, the collective experience of a good career center staff can help inform your strategy and tactics, provide valuable feedback about how you can improve, and help you weigh the pros and cons of a particular approach or opportunity. Like any good consigliere, career centers can help you make a highly informed decision. The work of getting into the career center, finding the right person to help you, developing and refining a plan, and executing that plan, is up to you. If you work with a career center in a proactive, positive manner, there are potentially long-term benefits.
Getting hired and moving forward down your career path means taking advantage of as many resources as possible. If it’s there, use it! Now that you know what your career center has to offer, go forth and utilize them to the best of your ability. And for more career advice, don’t forget to check out my book Nail the Interview, Land The Job!