Last week, Penelope Trunk wrote a blog post debating the value of college and questioning whether a liberal arts education prepares students for the working world. Within this post, she targeted career centers, labeling them “useless” and “incompetent.” She even developed a list of reasons “why career centers are terrible.”
I think Penelope Trunk is an exceptional writer, and I understand that part of her appeal is sensationalism. In this case, though, encouraging people to be wary of career centers is doing them a huge disservice. Many students and recent grads are in the midst of very challenging job searches. They must take advantage of every resource available to them. To do so, they need to have an informed understanding of every resource available to them, and that includes the services of their career center.
Let me address Penelope’s three main points. Included you will find concrete suggestions for ways that you, the student or recent grad, can benefit from using your school’s career center.
“Career centers cater to companies, not candidates.”
The entire premise behind bringing companies to campus is so that students can ultimately secure internships and jobs with these companies. Any perceived “catering to companies” is done to provide more opportunities for students.Furthermore, this is only one component of what career centers actually do.
Most career centers have full-time career counselors who do not work on employer recruitment at all, but focus their energies on meeting with students one-on-one. Career counselors can help you explore career options, leverage your unique experiences, interests, and skills, and develop application materials that target the jobs you want. Career counselors can be immensely helpful as you determine what you’d like to do and enact plans to pursue specific opportunities.
Career centers also have alumni networking and mentoring programs. Connecting with your school’s alumni for advice in your career development can be helpful, and may sometimes result in more connections or even job leads. Tapping into your alumni network can be a great way to make inroads with an organization that may not otherwise recruit from your campus.
Look into other opportunities to connect with your career center. For instance, at Syracuse University we frequently present customized workshops to student groups during the evening hours. Contrary to Penelope Trunk’s post, I think most career centers are definitely student-focused.
“Career centers don’t understand social media.”
Take a look at the Career Services Professionals group on LinkedIn (which features more than 2,000 members), Susan Joyce’s list of Top 50 Career Centers Using Twitter , and Willy Franzen’s list of the Top 10 Career Center Blogs. You can even check out my article in The Post Standard about using social media in your job search. Though not every career center has a staff full of “social media gurus” (a term I hate), most have embraced the idea that social media can be powerful tools for your career.
By blogging, you can display your career interests and expertise. With Twitter, you can make far-reaching contacts and converse with key players in your industry. LinkedIn provides an opportunity to build connections, do company research, and find jobs. Many schools are starting to offer formal workshops on leveraging social media for your career. If you’re a student, go to these workshops.
In my experience, there are usually two or three people in each career center who really “get” social media. So seek them out. Ask them how you can benefit from social media, and let them show you the ropes. On an individual basis, they may be able to provide more customized advice than they would in a workshop setting.
“Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance.”
While I can’t objectively comment on whether I’m an underperformer, I can say that career centers are becoming more and more of a focal point at universities across the country. As the economy struggles, unemployed alumni are looking to career centers for help getting back on their feet, and prospective students are inquiring as to the likelihood they’ll be employed upon graduation. The natural result, if anything, is that career center hiring is being looked at more critically.
Furthermore, universities are doing more career-focused programming than in the past. At Syracuse University, we host several regional networking events across the country each summer. I’ve heard of schools providing “virtual career fairs” too, in an effort to create even more opportunities for their students to connect with employers.
The characterization of career centers as neglected and career center staff as underperforming is an unfair one, and it creates a message that students should not bother seeking help from their career centers. This is the exact opposite of the message they need to be hearing right now.
From college students, I’d like to hear the experiences – both positive and negative – that you have had with your career centers. I look forward to a discussion about this.
Dan Klamm is the Outreach & Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. In his position, he is responsible for student engagement with Career Services. This includes managing the marketing campaigns for events and programs, leading social media initiatives, and fostering relationships with people across campus to build awareness of the office. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and LinkedIn.