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An Open Letter to College Students (and your Parents!)

All across the country, colleges and universities are deep in preparation for the start of a new academic year.

Returning students have long since realized that summer is over.  New freshmen are nervous, wondering how life as a college student will differ from their life in high school.

Seniors are beginning to contemplate life after college. Parents of seniors are wondering what their blossoming adults are going to do when they graduate, whether or not they are going to be able to get a job, and when they are going to start paying their own bills.

Surely, with all the money they have invested in their education, these soon-to-be graduates should be able to get jobs, right?  That’s the next logical step, isn’t it?  The university is providing the education; it should also provide a direct path to that first job out of college, right?  And that job had better pay enough (regardless of the field) so that they can afford their current lifestyle!  That’s the way it should work, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, unless you pursuing a degree that directly tracks into a talent-starved field (engineering, accounting, and many of the other Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) related majors) that’s not usually the way it will work for most students.

Finding a job – particularly a job you will like and that will match your skills and interests – is a process.  Like any process (for example, trying to lose weight), it requires planning, personal accountability, discipline and focus.

It takes a lot more than “want to” to get a job after college.  It takes planning and action.

It’s easy to say “I want a good job when I graduate.”  It’s hard to define what that means to you. And it takes planning and action to get that job.

Your career services office can’t get you a job, but they can help you get a job.

As the new academic year approaches, I want to take an opportunity to share with new and returning college students (and your parents) the following quick summary of what your college career services office can do, can’t do, will do and won’t do to assist students in making the transition from the college to career.

What Career Services Can and Cannot Do For You

Career Services staff can market their services to students and encourage them to take advantage of the career services available, but they cannot force students to use career services.

You’ve heard the old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Well, most college career services offices provide a broad range of career services, but they cannot force students to use these services.  They offer services that are relevant to students at all stages of their education, so career services is relevant to all students.  Your college career advisers are ready to help you. All you have to do is ask!

Career Services staff can help students explore and evaluate their employment options, but they cannot place students into specific jobs.

It sure would be nice (and would certainly be easy) if students could walk into their college’s career services office just before graduation and choose a job from a variety of opportunities prepared exclusively for them.  Unfortunately, getting a job is not like ordering dinner or shopping for groceries.

By law, career services staff cannot select candidates or make hiring decisions on behalf of employers; employers have to make these hiring decisions themselves, and that means students have to be prepared to apply for jobs and present their qualifications in interviews.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want someone else choosing a job for me; I would want to be a part of that process.

Career Services staff can  build recruiting relationships with employers, but they cannot force employers to come to their campuses or recruit for the types of jobs students want.

Employers recruit on college campuses only when they need to. If an employer can generate a sufficient number of qualified candidates for their job opportunities without physically coming to campus, they usually won’t come to campus. And, employers that do recruit on college campuses do not typically go to all college campuses, recruit to fill all types of positions, or recruit across all majors.

“Bulk employers”  – big national and multinational companies that need large volumes of candidates to fill large volumes of target vacancies – are the bread and butter of on-campus recruiting.

Lastly, on-campus interviewing is not the only tool employers use to recruit entry-level talent from colleges and universities.  As a job seeker, your job is to understand the hiring dynamics of the industries you wish to enter and adjust your job search strategies to those dynamics. Your career advisor can help you do this!

Career Services staff can help students identify and pursue jobs that match their skills and interests, but they cannot help students pursue jobs that match their skills and interests if students can’t (or won’t) identify their skills and interests.

This is the toughest part!  In order to find a job you will like and that will match your skills, experience and other qualifications, you have to spend some time identifying and articulating your likes and dislikes and your skills and interests.

If you can’t describe your likes and dislikes or identify your skills and interests, how will you be able to know when you find a job that is compatible with them?  By the way – this usually isn’t an easy process, and it does take time, so don’t wait until the end of your last semester to get started.

What Career Services Will and Won’t Do

Career Services staff will  advise and assist students in planning and crafting effective resumes and critique drafts of resumes, but will not write resumes for students.

Sorry, they can’t do this work for you.  Most career service offices have resume writing resources, resume samples  and advising services available, but you really should prepare your resume yourself.  All resume formats are not created equal, so don’t just download and use the first resume template you can find. What might make sense for an engineering student probably doesn’t make sense for an advertising student.  There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. Your resume is a marketing document. Treat it like one!

BTW- Regarding that “$39.99 Resume Writing Service” you found online . . .  you get what you pay for! Don’t waste your money.  You can find good resume writing assistance online, but it won’t come cheap.

Career Services staff will help students understand and evaluate the pros and cons of different job opportunities, but they will not tell students which job offers to accept or reject.

Want help understanding the various advantages and disadvantages of different job opportunities? Want to know what questions to ask?  Want an unbiased perspective of your options?  Ask your career adviser.  Your career adviser doesn’t have a vested interest in which option you select. She just want you to make sound and informed career decisions; good decisions for you!

Career Services staff will contact employers on behalf of all students, but we will not contact employers on behalf of individual students exclusively.

Sorry, your career adviser is not your personal job search agent.  Career advisers won’t contact employers with your resume trying to convince them that you are a great candidate worthy of consideration.  They work on behalf of all students at your institution. They do a lot of employer relationship building in order to make employers aware of the recruiting services they offer and the talents and qualifications their students possess.  They reach out to a lot of employers, and a lot of employers use their recruiting services, but you have to apply for jobs, and you have to close the deal.

Career Services staff will help students evaluate whether or not graduate school makes sense as a next career step, but will not tell students whether or not they should go to graduate school.

“The job market still stinks, I think I’ll go to grad school to wait out the economy” is a lousy reason for going to graduate school, particularly if it is your only reason.

The grad school decision is an important one, and one you should not take lightly.  What do you want to study and why?  Where are the best programs of study in that field?  How will the graduate degree make you more marketable to employers?  What types of employers will find you more valuable with a graduate degree?   These are all really important questions.  Your career adviser can help you answer them.

A graduate degree, in and of itself, is not going to make you more desirable to employers.  It will not necessarily mean that you will earn more than someone with just a bachelor’s degree.

The decision to go to graduate school is a big one; career advisers can help you make a good decision because, again, they don’t have a vested interest in whether or not you go to graduate school.  They just want you to make good decisions; informed and sound decisions that makes sense for you.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff.

The start of a new school year is full of excitement, energy, uncertainty and hope!  There is no place on earth as vibrant as a college campus at the start of the fall semester – everything feels possible; almost everything is possible.

Turning those possibilities into reality takes a lot of work, perseverance and intent.  It doesn’t just happen.  (Okay, sometimes it does, but people sometimes win the lottery, too!)

When it comes to exploring and pursuing your career options, connect with your College Career Services office.

Good Luck!

Matt Berndt
The Campus Career Coach

One Final Note:  If your college doesn’t have a career services office that does the things outlined in this blog, share it with your school’s president and ask why?

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Schappert says:

    Matt:
    Very well stated! Thanks for helping to orient our students to college career services and the realities of personal career management!
    Mark S.

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