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When Plans Change Senior YearSydnei Kaplan
Higher education is full of opportunities, one of the biggest being the competitive advantage a college degree grants when a graduate enters the job market.
With the goal of graduation so distant, it can be easy for new college students to assume professional preparation doesn't start until senior year. In reality, university career services are there to support students with their career aspirations as soon as they set foot on campus.
Did you know the career center can help your student explore job options and secure positions or internships even if they're only in their first or second year? I was unaware of this myself until senior year when I finally discovered the benefits of my university’s career education center.
Around the time I began my senior year, I was also looking for job opportunities. I was excited to launch a career and couldn’t wait to contribute as a full-fledged member of the working world.
But scrolling through job listings, I came across more and more positions that called for years of professional experience, preferred majors other than my own, or that advertised roles that didn't line up with my skill set.
As I continued to send out resumes and cover letters left and right without success, my eagerness turned to anxiety.
To me, entering the job market was like taking a daunting step from the safety of my identity as a college student to the more unstable ground of adulthood and the professional world. Looking back, I think I was reluctant to turn to the career education center earlier in part because seeking help felt like admitting I couldn't handle the transition on my own.
Another part of my resistance stemmed from a misconception. I thought using campus career services would be time-consuming and impersonal. What I actually found was an abundance of resources for all styles of job searching, from in-depth and time-intensive to quick and efficient. I could pick and choose strategies that fit my schedule but were also wholly relevant to my interests. I returned to my job search better equipped and more confident.
I wish I'd been able to see that networking and using connections (whether made through my university or acquired on my own) was an essential part of job searching.
Here's what I discovered at my university's career center. Your student's school is sure to have similar resources.
Getting a boost from the career center doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. The career office at your college is likely to have a newsletter to keep students up to date on things like networking tips, prompts for career goal reflection, and events to be aware of virtually or on campus.
My university's newsletter has a section devoted to internship listings, which are sorted by field to make it easier to identify positions that would be good matches based on majors and interests. Take a look at the career center website and scope out the content they release — just a couple of clicks can be a great way to stay in the loop career-wise, even as you juggle classes and exams.
There are numerous websites for networking and learning more about particular companies or positions — LinkedIn, Glassdoor and ZipRecruiter just to name a few. While these are great tools in a job search, your career center can help you find similar platforms that specifically accommodate undergraduates.
One example is Handshake, which is almost like LinkedIn but for college students. Creating a profile through your school is a great way to make yourself more visible to campus recruiters. I actually landed a great summer internship after a recruiter messaged me about the opportunity on my Handshake profile. It can’t hurt to sign up and put yourself out there.
Once you’ve either been contacted or have identified an information session that excites you, you may wonder what comes next. How should you act at these functions? Considering what to wear, who to talk to, and getting practice with handing out resumes and giving elevator pitches can be intimidating.
Luckily, you can depend on your career office for answers to these questions. Browse their website — odds are there will be a compilation of advice and tips from the counselors who have tackled hundreds of events and are experts in what qualities are attractive to employers.
It calmed my nerves to look over these materials and think about how I was going to present myself. Taking the time to go through frequently asked questions and common scenarios made me more confident that I could handle these events.
If you score an interview, congratulations! That’s a huge step and great news for your search, but it doesn’t mean your career center is no longer of use to you.
Most college career offices will have even more ways to get you ready to ace an interview. Some have websites where you can film sample video interviews and review your performance afterward to see where you could improve. Others have counselors ready to coach you one-on-one. Nearly all will have some kind of written materials to help give you a sense of the nature of the questions you may be asked in your interview.
Don’t be afraid to make use of whichever resource will help you gain confidence and knowledge. Preparation is the best medicine for interview anxiety, and your career center is there to help.
Even if you just started college and have a while before you begin thinking about potential careers, the career center is still a great resource to help you learn about yourself and your eventual professional path.
Many career offices will have career or personality assessments (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, and Clifton Strengths Assessment) that you can use to get in touch with your skills and interests. This can even be a way to consider what majors would be right for you. Getting started is as simple as making an appointment!
One thing all college career centers have in common is a team of knowledgeable staff eager to help students. Whether you’re looking for a service your center doesn’t currently offer, or if you simply don’t know where to start your career journey, don’t hesitate to schedule a time to talk with a career counselor. It’s their job to help you, and it can be reassuring to speak with someone well-versed in job-seeking and professional development.
Beyond their own wisdom, counselors are also frequently able to put you in touch with alumni from your university who are excited to give new students advice about breaking into their industries. If your counselor doesn’t have a direct contact, you can be confident that they’ll point you to a resource that will get you connected.
Taking the plunge into the working world can be scary, but your student doesn't need to go it alone. Although I was once a skeptic, after making use of my campus career center, I am a huge proponent of career education.
There’s no one-size-fits all path to a comfortable job search or exciting career trajectory, but there are tons of tools your student can use and people they can consult that will make their journey easier and more enlightening.
I hope students who are wary about going to their career office can learn from my experience. Many university career centers are available to alumni, too, but it’s really a resource we only have convenient access to for four years.
I wish I had utilized my career office sooner. Encourage your student to drop in or make an appointment today.