How to Use Your University’s Career Center to Find a Job
Do you remember the first time you laid eyes on the university where you will spend four years – give or take – acquiring knowledge that you will later on use when you venture out into the world and try to make it on your own? Do you still remember the thoughts that ran through your mind at that moment?
If that time was too early for you to have a clear recollection of what your impressions were, then maybe you’d have better luck trying to recall the first day that you formally entered a class in that university. What did you think then?
At that time, a million thoughts must have raced around in your head. (I know they did in mine!) There’s dread and uncertainty, particularly on what the next several years have in store for you within the portals of the university. There may also be some excitement mixed in there, because you are actually looking forward to the experiences that you will have as you move along.
But I bet you couldn’t help but be more forward-looking. No matter how you may claim to be the type to live “in the moment”, and not really one to stress out over what will happen long into the future, I’m pretty sure that a part of you will still be wondering what will happen when your years at the university are up and you finally graduate. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to say goodbye to the university and start being an adult.
“Adulting”, in this day and age, has become quite a very popular term, especially among millennials who are using the Internet. It basically means doing grown-up things; American Speech defined it as the act of behaving in an adult manner. You’re said to be adulating if you engage in activities that are clearly associated with adulthood or being a grown up.
What are those things? It could be living independently or being on your own. Going away to college, for some, is considered as one of the first steps in adulting. But it could be something “more adult”, which often involves getting your first real job, earning your own money, taking care of your own finances, and basically being responsible for yourself.
For college students, especially those who are about to graduate from university, the first real sign that they are adulting is when they get a job.
This is where things get a bit tough. We all know that jobs don’t grow on trees; if they did, we’d all be gainfully employed. But there are still those who seem to be on a perpetual job hunt. Once they leave the university, they have to buck up and bravely press forward.
But hold up! Does it mean that, once you graduate, you should completely cut ties with your university, apart from potential alumni activities in the future?
You probably could, and a good number of people do… but you shouldn’t. In fact, you mustn’t. We’re here to talk about why that is so.
And we can sum it up in two words: career centers.
EXPLORING THE UNIVERSITY CAREER CENTER
I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of university students and graduates are not even aware that they have a university career center.
Or, even if they do, they have no clear idea what the university career center is for and what it can do for them. It’s time to shed light on that, don’t you think?
What is a Career Center?
It goes by several names, some of which you may be familiar with more than just a “career center”. It may be called a “career services office” or even a “career placement office”. Some institutions are more straightforward, dubbing it simply as a “career office”.
Universities and colleges have a dedicated department, division or office, whose function is to provide a variety of services to help the university’s students – both current and alumni – to meet their career goals.
What does a Career Center do?
You’re probably familiar with a guidance counselor and what he does. Back in high school, you’ve probably had a few run-ins with your school’s guidance counselor. It is this impression that sticks to many people’s minds when they hear about career centers and the career counselors that work in them.
Well, there are similarities, yes, but throw away any thoughts of a self-righteous and stern counselor. The career counselor is there to provide guidance specifically on your career prospects.
The main areas of concern of career centers can be categorized broadly into the following:
When you were just a toddler and you first laid eyes on a fireman, you may have decided right there and then that you’ll also be one when you grow up. Don’t they look so cool, wearing their uniforms, riding on those impressive fire trucks like a boss, and looking all strong and heroic when they, say, save a cat trapped inside a sewer or carry a little child from a burning building?
And then a couple of years later, when you met your doctor, you probably thought he was the coolest guy ever, and that white coat made him look so smart and powerful. You decided it would be a better idea to become a doctor instead of a fireman.
What I’m getting at is this: no matter how you grew up thinking you want to be this, or even deciding that you will become like that in the future, there is no telling how the winds will change. Your decisions, which were probably made mostly based on a child’s whimsy, are bound to change. Most importantly, as you grew older, you realized that there are numerous career options other than being a fireman or a doctor.
The problem is that, with so many possibilities, which one is right for you? Which direction should you even look into? You want to map out a plan for your future, but where do you even start?
That requires some exploration on your part, and you are fully aware that you cannot do it alone. You’d probably enlist the help of your family members and relatives, and even discuss it with your closest friends. Another source of assistance would be your university career center.
Career centers will provide you with the resources that you can use to explore the possibly occupations that are worth considering. One of the key features of career centers (aside from having career counselors, that is) is a library or, for those that are more digitally-equipped, databases containing information related to various careers and occupations.
Your career exploration will involve discovering the possible jobs or occupations and the industries where they can be found, their respective job descriptions and the corresponding qualifications and other requirements that must be met, and the average earnings you can expect to get should you choose that path.
Often, they will also provide an outlook of the occupations, and this is particularly helpful, especially if you are still in your freshman year, and you are wondering whether the job you are eyeing will still be in demand when you graduate several years later.
So you’ve fully explored your options, and you are psyched that there are actually a lot of occupations that interest you, and seem to be a good fit for your personality. You are even confident that you are able to meet the requirements of these occupations.
But here’s the rub: there are simply too many of them, and now you are confused as to which one you should go for. You are smart enough to realize that, after spending quite some time exploring your options, choosing one at random completely defeats the purpose of being careful about choosing your career path.
Making decisions is no walk in the park. One wrong choice could change the course of your life forever, so you have to make sure you think long and hard about it. The good news is that you won’t have to do the long and hard thinking all by your lonesome, since you can also seek the aid of a career center.
Career centers usually have self-assessment tools and career assessment methodologies that will test or evaluate the students in terms of their personalities, interests, values, and other factors that will come into play when it comes to deciding on an occupation or job.
You may remember taking an exam back in high school, with the results telling you the possible academic majors that would be ideal for you when you go to college. You will also find those exams, and other similar career-related tests and surveys, being served in university career centers.
Take note, however, that the career center will not make the decision for you. It will only provide you with the tools you will need to come up with an informed decision. You can choose to heed what the career counselor recommends, or you can opt to pursue what you originally set out to do before you approached the career center.
At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide which career path to take.
Recruitment or Placement
This is one of the more known services provided by career centers, most likely because this is what most graduates and students are concerned about: how to find a job.
These days, you will now find university career centers that actively provide opportunities to connect undergrads and graduates with employers and recruiters, whether through career fairs and networking events or direct job ads.
The University of California Berkeley Career Center, for example, features “Handshake”, which it describes as its “fast and powerful recruiting platform for UC Berkeley students and alumni”. It even maintains a Job Search facility in its website, as well as a dedicated page where employers interested to hire UC Berkeley graduates (and undergrads for internships) may do so.
This service also covers the stages of the job recruitment process, where they will equip you with tools and tips that will hone your job search skills. In addition, you may also learn how to better present yourself when going to a job interview so you can impress the recruiters or the employers themselves. The career center can even help you write a winning resume and cover letter!
We will be discussing these in greater detail as we move along.
CAREER CENTER SERVICES TO HELP YOU FIND A JOB
More than just a provider of information, career centers in universities, colleges and other educational institutions have a lot more to offer to undergraduates, post-graduate students, and alumni.
I encourage you to do a quick online search and check out the career centers of various universities, so you can get a rough idea on what these offerings are. Special mentions go to the website of UC Berkeley, Colorado State University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Michigan.
Career centers everywhere share the same objective: to help students achieve their goals in their careers, and that has a lot to do with finding a job that will let them establish and nurture a successful career. Sure, they can put it in different words and phrase it differently, but the underlying objective remains the same.
This is why you should not declare yourself to be completely done with the university once you have graduated. In fact, even when you’re still in school, earning your degree, it’d be a great idea to start tapping into the offerings of your university’s career center. It’s one of the perks of being part of that educational institution, so you’d definitely be wise to take advantage of it.
Now we will look at the services offered by these career centers, and gain an understanding of how they can help pave your way towards the career that you want for yourself in the future.
Self-Assessment and Evaluation
Everything begins within you, so when you start exploring your options, you should first know yourself. If it’s your first time going to your career center, and your purpose is to find out which career is most suitable for you, you may find yourself bombarded with a lot of tests and survey forms to fill out.
Don’t shirk them, because your answers may just be the thing that will tell you which career path is the most ideal for you.
You may also find yourself having a casual conversation with a career center staff; technically, that conversation is already a counseling session AND an interview where he will start gathering information about you, such as your interests, preferences, personality, and even your dreams and aspirations.
Going in, you may already have a rough idea in your head what you want to be, and how you’d go about it. With the help of a career center, however, that rough idea may become clearer, slowly taking coherent shape, until such time that you are actually looking at a feasible plan for your future, particularly when it comes to your potential career.
This covers the steps usually taken by anyone who is going to apply for a job. You’re lucky if your curriculum had courses exclusively dedicated to recruitment processes, preparing you for when you go out there to get a job.
These days, most things are done by “looking it up online”. So if you try to search for “how to write your resume” or “how to write a cover letter”, you’re bound to come up with a lot of sources that will teach you how to go about it. Some are good, others are… not so much.
There is nothing wrong with taking that route. In fact, there are a lot of reliable sources online for those kinds of things. But there is still a lot of comfort and assurance to be had if you are getting guidance on these things from an expert or trusted authority, on a face-to-face basis.
So what type of assistance can you get from a career services office when it comes to undergoing the often long and tedious process of applying for a job?
Resume and Cover Letter Writing
Wait, you might be asking, “isn’t this too basic to be seeking help from a career counselor?” News flash: when it comes to something as important as employment or a career, nothing is too basic or too simple.
There should be no room for doing things by half measures; you though you knew everything about writing a cover letter and creating an outstanding resume? Well, you might still learn a thing or two from a career counselor.
Maybe you have the technical side of things down pat. What you can get from the career counselors are more tips on how to make your resume more attractive, especially if you do not really have a lot of outstanding credentials. (And if that is the case, believe me when I say that you’d really need all the help you can get!)
Job Interview Preparation
Short of spending quite a large amount of money and going to a personality development school so you can improve your speaking and interviewing skills, you can actually save that money and go to a career center instead. See if your university’s career center conducts workshops and sessions where you can hone your communication skills, in preparation for going to a job interview.
In some cases, career counselors even conduct one-on-one mock job interviews just to give you a taste of what the real thing might be. They may also give you tips on how to answer specific types of questions, what to do, what not to do, even on what to wear and what to avoid taking with you during your interview.
When you visited the university career web pages I cited earlier, you must have noticed that they had job listings on the site, whether they are permanent or temporary, or whether they are full-time or part-time. That is because career centers also conduct on-campus recruiting.
On-campus recruitment is the recruitment method where employers will seek potential hires (employees) or interns right within the campus or university premises, targeting the university students.
This is a practice mostly conducted by large companies. An excellent example is Google, which has a wide diversity of hiring programs. On average, a campus recruiting season results in more than 20% of new hires into the Google. They also actively seek and invite tech students into their offices for a “real-life experience at a tech company”.
How do career centers support campus recruitment? Here are some of the more commonly used techniques:
A career fair is one of the many events that are organized and conducted by career centers. These events bring students and employers together in one place where they can freely interact and connect.
Usually, the setting is quite informal and relaxed. The employers will be presenting the job and internship opportunities in their companies or organizations. If you look at the Spring Semester schedule for 2017 of UC Berkeley, you will find several career and job fairs already scheduled, including a Spring Career Fair for Engineering, Business, Public Service and Tech majors, and an Internship and Summer Job Fair for all majors.
These career fairs are not limited to undergraduate students only, since career centers may also conduct graduate and professional school fairs, geared towards alumni of the university.
Career fairs are perfect venues to find the job you’ve been looking for. But it can be quite confusing, especially when we’re talking about dozens of employers lined up with what look like a flood of job opportunities that might just drown you in confusion. To get the most out of these career fairs, here are some quick tips:
- Bring multiple copies of your resume. You will be meeting dozens and dozens of potential employers during the Fair, so it doesn’t make sense to bring only one or two copies, does it? Reproduce your resume so you can submit it to as many as you possible.
- Prepare to be hired. Go there with the mindset that, at the end of the day, you will leave the fair with a job. Or, at least, the potential of getting one. Therefore, you have to come to the Career Fair prepared and ready.
- Find out beforehand the employers who will be participating in the career fair. The career center will have a list of these employers, as well as some background information on them. But don’t stop there. If you have more time, it won’t hurt to do a little bit more research.
- Budget your time. You may not have all day to spend at the Career Fair, especially if you have classes in between. Therefore, you have to identify the employers that you are most interested in, so you can prioritize accordingly. You may have to cross some of them out of the list, especially if you are pressed for time and you know you won’t be able to go through all of them within the limited amount of time that you have.
- Look presentable. Yes, you are still a student, but that is not an excuse to be sloppy and too casual about how you look or dress. It may not be a formal job interview, but it is still going to be an interview about getting a job, so you still have to look business-like, if not presentable. Dress appropriately and comfortably. Try to look neat and put together. Check your personal hygiene.
- Always put your best foot forward. Be courteous and polite. Speak clearly when making your career pitch. Be friendly but not overly familiar. At the end of the interview, a firm handshake and a thank you will go a long way. You should also ask for his or her card, so you can send a thank you note later on (and also establish contact with the representative and, in turn, the company).
- Pay attention. You don’t know what you’ll miss if you’re too easily distracted. Take notes, especially when the employer or recruiter is saying something important; it may come in handy later on. Ask questions if there is something you are curious about. This curiosity, when shown properly and at the right time, is bound to make the employers remember you.
Employer Information Sessions
Often conducted in conjunction with career fairs, these information sessions are basically forums where the employers conduct a presentation of job opportunities and other relevant information to university students.
What makes it slightly different from a career fair is the level of formality. While career fairs are largely informal, these info sessions often require attendees to be in professional attire of “business casual” dress.
There are no job interviews conducted here, though. It is mostly for information dissemination, where students can also ask questions directly to the employers. If there is a career fair coming up, and you hear that a company you are interested in interviewing for is having an info session, that is the perfect opportunity to do your “research” on that company, so you’ll be more prepared when the day of the career fair comes.
These events can come in the form of tours and mixers.
For example, the CSU Career Center has lined up a series of industry tours, where students who want to work in a specific industry will go on a day tour to various companies or organizations for an opportunity to network and learn more about the industry or field. Examples are tours for the Health and Wellness, Law and Public Service, and Sustainability and Environment Industries.
Mixers, on the other hand, are often organized through the collaboration of the Career Center and a company or organization for university students who will get to mix and mingle with actual managers and employers of the company for networking purposes.
These networking events could also be between students and alumni, who will then provide valuable tips and insights on career-building. Who knows? You may learn about a wonderful job opportunity from an alumnus during one of these mixers!
Did you know that many career centers also help students manage their credentials? This is especially seen in the case of faculty recommendation letters.
Let’s say, for example, that you need a boost in your application to a specific company, and you know that a letter of recommendation from your former professors is going to provide it, you can request the Career Center to send copies of the letters that they have on your file to that company.
Yes, career centers may also maintain these types of files, so when you don’t have copies, you can run to them for help.
You might be wondering why we’re including internships here when we’re supposed to be talking about actual, paying jobs. Well, internships are also seen these days as major stepping stones towards a career. In fact, you’ll have greater chances of being hired in a company if you did an internship with them before.
Internships are excellent for building your resume while doing a test drive, so to speak. You’re basically going to get a feel of an actual working environment at the same time that you are gaining professional experience. This is also a great way for you to assess whether that is the career path that you really want to continue on.
Building a successful career is often a long and difficult process. And it’s not an uphill climb the whole way, either. It is gratifying to know, however, that there are many aids and tools that are in our disposal to let us continue the climb, if only we know where to look.
So the next time you’re browsing your university website, or you’re walking on campus and you passed by the Career Services Office, don’t ignore it, especially if you are looking for a job. You won’t know what you’re missing if you do.
BEFORE WE GO… OTHER OPTIONS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER
Your university’s career center is not the only “aid” that you can get assistance from when it comes to finding a job and getting a jumpstart on your career. There are other options you should utilize, if you want to increase your chances of landing a good job.
If you belong to a certain profession, there are sure to be professional organizations that you can join. Find out what they are and choose which ones are the best to be affiliated with.
Being a member of these professional organizations is a good networking move. For one, you are letting everyone know that you do belong in that profession, and you’ve met the requirements and possess the credentials that qualified you for membership.
Another thing: professional organizations also make it a point to help their own, so they also have their own job listings and other similar opportunities available, and the first to get wind of these opportunities are the members. Now, will you let that chance slip?
You already know that, if you want to widen your network, you should connect with alumni, or former students of the university. Not only will they give you valuable advice and tips, but they may also connect you with various companies and other job opportunities. Therefore, make the university’s alumni database work for you.
Another way for you to do that is to be included in the alumni database and make sure to keep your data updated. You see, many employers also look into these databases for potential hires, and if you keep your records up to date, you have greater chances of being noticed.
What if Google spots you on the database, likes what it sees, calls you up using the number appearing on your file, and end up with the notification that your number is no longer in use because it’s the one you were using two years ago and you’ve changed your number since? That’ll be a crying shame, won’t it?
Official introductions to companies
If there is an opportunity to get an official introduction to a company, then take it. Even if it is not an info session or a mixer, even if it is not coursed through the Career Center, if you see an event where you can be up close and personal with a potential employer, go for it.
But wait, you should still be professional about it. And that means, do not gatecrash. Attend only if it is open to anyone interested, or if you could get an invite (using non-nefarious means, if I may add). It may be because you know someone who knows someone in the company, or you could be really brave and directly ask to be invited.
If and when you do get the chance, make sure to be on your best and most professional behavior, so you can make a good impression and increase your chances of gaining their favor when you get the opportunity to apply for a job with the company.
Ask your folks how it worked back then, when they were right out of college and were looking for a …