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Dear Penelope Trunk: You’re Wrong

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.

Author:

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.

Related posts:

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  2. Maximize your career center experience
  3. Independent Job Search – A Thing of the Past

13 Responses to “Dear Penelope Trunk: You’re Wrong”

  1. Dan, I appreciate your passion towards your work and love to see a post that contrasts and inspects a “sensational” post like Ms. Trunk’s. Unfortunately, my undergraduate experience with career centers is close to zero. As the university faced increasing budget shortfalls over the past few years, career center was a department that repeatedly suffered. In addition, there was little to no effort from career service to reach out to my area of study, engineering.

    Granted, I could have taken the extra step to immerse myself and get involved with the career center department; however, after reflection, I realize I made a decision to spend the small amount of available time for job hunting/networking doing the work for myself. I researched and found an internship opportunity, began building a professional network, and eventually earned a full time position, due in major part to the professional network I established.

    In a similar but different line of thinking, Seth Godin argues that career fairs are simply an outlet for companies to bottom fish and fill average jobs: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/01/career-fairs.html

    IMHO, I believe career centers will have to adapt and evolve to the ever changing “career” marketplace.

    Thanks,
    Kevin

    • avatar Dan Klamm says:

      Hi Kevin,
      First off, I’m sorry that you did not have a positive experience with your career center.

      I think you bring up an important point about your career center not reaching out to students in your area of study. I have heard this complaint before, from students at other schools. I’m curious to hear from other career services personnel as to whether there is someone on your staff who is solely in charge of student engagement, marketing, and outreach? That’s my role at Syracuse, and I think it has really helped to build awareness of our office and make students more comfortable coming in. In instances where I’ve heard complaints about career offices at other schools, they usually relate to the office failing to effectively communicate or engage their students.

      Thanks for your comment.
      Dan

  2. Dan – great response. I think you’re comments reflect much of the comments via Penelope’s blog from other CSOs. I found the post hit a nerve for many because it attempted to stereotype all CSOs as being nothing more than cost centers rather than providing value to students in search of career advice and direction. What I think was positive about the post was the consequences. I was impressed with the solidarity stemming from many CSO offices — many of which I’m sure were folks that don’t normally comment on sites. Twitter and LinkedIn comments also flooded the internet in support of CSO efforts, skills, and value they provide students. Thanks for the post.

  3. What a well-written post, Dan. I think you are right about all aspects. I also believe that each person’s experience with any department within any institution will vary. It will vary based on what you put into it, what you are looking to get out of it and how you understand the relationship between what the department can do for you and what it cannot do for you.

    During my undergrad years I took advantage of many workshops offered by Career Services. I had my resume critiqued, I was mock interviewed and I was able to learn more about myself and employers. I approached Career Services for this help; attendance at any of these events was not mandatory. I knew what I wanted to get out of the experience working with career services and I was very aware as to the different services provided.

    I think a general statement about anything (generations, instituions, regions, etc) is wrong. Career services offices are here to help, not to hinder, and blanketing them with a false statement truly does do students a disservice. Attendance to most colleges career services is much lower than where it should be based on the lack of preparedness we see in the workplace for many job seekers. It’s great to hear from someone ‘in the trenches’ as opposed to someone that is removed from the ultimate topic of their post.

    • avatar Dan Klamm says:

      Tracy,
      I appreciate your thoughts on this. I agree that generalizations are usually not accurate. I would have felt more comfortable with Penelope’s post if she had said “Some offices are underequipped and not very helpful; others are stellar.” By blanketing all career offices with a negative statement, it only serves to discourage students from visiting their potentially helpful career offices. How is that beneficial to them?

      Dan

  4. Wow. Is Ms. Trunk serious? I thought I had misread her blog title. I agree completely with you Dan that she got it wrong. I am very fortunate to not only work for a career services center, but to be a student who uses the services available as well. At Oklahoma State University Career Services I can see where Ms. Trunk may feel we “cater” to our recruiters by providing the utmost customer service, but that is to benefit the students. We bring the recruiters to campus so the students wont have to leave campus to find job opportunities.
    We are also proudly one of the top 50 career centers using twitter, and we use it well. Our office communicates to students about information sessions, workshops, and recruiters coming to campus through social media tools like facebook and Twitter. .And you know what? It works!
    Last week we held our once-a-semester Resume Dr. Workshop. We advertised through facebook, Twitter, emails, and through flyers about our “resume checkups.”. The response was almost overwhelming. We had nearly all of our staff involved critiquing student’s resumes. We haven’t counted our numbers yet, but I would say it was the highest attendance since I became a graduate student at Ok State.
    Now, I’m not saying we have 100% satisfaction from students, but if students didn’t think we were useful, then why do they attend our workshops, information sessions, and career fairs? I’m happy to say that not only will I be working our career fair this February, but I will be a student attending as well.
    Great post Dan.

    -Derrison Steer
    Oklahoma State Career Services Graduate Assistant

    • avatar Dan Klamm says:

      Derrison,
      Good to hear that you find value in your career center as both a student and grad assistant! I really like the examples you cited of using social media to engage your populations. At Syracuse, we’ve also been successful in connecting with students, alumni, and employers through Twitter and LinkedIn.

      Dan

  5. avatar Kelly Cuene says:

    Dan, thank you for writing this post. I agree with your points. I wish I could have commented sooner but yesterday was busy for me: had several student appointments during which I catered to students’ needs, helped a student org get in touch with a social media speaker, attended a meeting to discuss our business school blog, etc. You know, doing all those things that make me and other campus career services professionals totally “useless” and irrelevant, according to Ms. Trunk.

    I respect Penelope as a writer as well, but you are right in that her post did an incredible disservice to students by lumping all career centers together and calling them all “terrible”.

    I recognize there are people who did not have a positive experience wtih their campus career services office. There are some colleges and universities that don’t put the money and effort into career services like they should. Those offices are neglected and those staff probably don’t have all the training or tools they need to do their jobs effectively. But most career services professionals I know work as hard as they can despite those circumstances because they care about students. They lobby administration to get more resources, support and training but can only do so much. We should be holding colleges accountable for this, but it’s too easy to look to the career services staff and say they aren’t doing enough.

    • avatar Dan Klamm says:

      Kelly,
      As usual, I appreciate your thoughts.

      Like you, I recognize that some people do not have positive experiences with their campus career centers. What I am hoping to do is spark a discussion and get real feedback from students, so that individual career centers can reflect on where they may be falling short. I think this is more constructive than labeling career centers “terrible.”

      Dan

      • avatar Kelly Cuene says:

        Hi Dan,

        I agree with you – students’ opinions are what really matters and career services should be initiating the kind of discussions you’ve started here.

        Sorry if the sarcasm with which I typed part of earlier comment didn’t carry through! It may have come off as angry, but really, I find this conversation to be an important one and enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

        As usual, excellent post!

        Kelly

  6. Dan, this is truly an excellent piece, and I have many thoughts I’d like to share — some of my own sentiments while touching on each of your three points.

    First, I agree with you that career centers do in fact cater to candidates by providing career counseling, access to recruiters, alumni databases, and opportunities to discover career opportunities that match an individual’s major. These centers offer a wealth of knowledge that young professionals should take advantage of to create new opportunites.

    Second, let’s discuss the social media issue. Many career centers are delving into emerging technologies and creating alumni databases, Twitter accounts and savvy Web sites. Some are offering subscription services and career libraries. For example, I explain in my Examiner.com column, “Top reasons to visit your career center today,” how Georgetown University uses the comprehensive Career Beam application, which gives its graduate students access to company data and valuable contacts. Some universities have access to interviewing technology that allows you to practice interviews using Web-enabled technology.

    Lastly, I don’t agree that career center staff is self-selecting underperformance. In fact, many career centers offer immense information, resources and advice to help guide one’s budding career. It’s also up to the individual to seize these opportunites because the services are personalized to match the individual and FREE. Free career coaching! Career center staff listen to their students and alumni and try to match their needs. Think of career center staff as pro bono career coaches that are working to guide young professionals.

    For more on my thoughts on career centers, please visit my Examiner.com column: http://http//www.examiner.com/x-828-Entry-Level-Careers-Examiner~y2009m1d2-Top-reasons-to-visit-your-campus-career-center-today.

    Again, great rebuttal!

  7. avatar Andrea says:

    Penelope Trunk’s posts often express really strong, controversial views. Our Gotta Mentor website attracts a lot of college students and career counselors as readers and contributors. I think part of the challenge students face is figuring out how to make the best use of Career Service resources. Some resources students could really benefit from are under-utilized or under-developed, particularly if you’re looking at a non-traditional career path. I’d also say, however, that I think counselors are getting much better at taking advantage of the Internet and social media to share great advice from them or other resources, and reach students in ways that work for students. There’s no way that any career office will have all of the insight every student needs. I find that CSOs are increasingly willing to tap into alums with specialized expertise or other non-school resources, which is making career service offices more valuable to their students.

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