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Sunday, November 7, 2010

why do so many college career centers suck?

Preemptive apologies to any college career center that doesn't fit this description -- but every time I hear about a campus career center, it's about the bad advice they gave someone: insisting you need to have an objective on your resume, recommending salesy interview answers instead of genuine ones, giving our commenter Rob bad advice about how to email his resume, and so forth.

What's up with this? I suspect it's because they haven't done a lot of hiring themselves and are relying on outdated advice from job-hunting guides from the last century. But if colleges are supposed to be preparing students for the workforce, maybe it's time for a new type of career center, especially when their grads are going to be facing a crappy job market like this one.

Has anyone had a good experience with your college career center that you want to share?

28 comments:

montglanechess said...

My college career center has been an excellent source so far in my job search! I finally went to them to tighten up my resume just that last little bit, and they totally came through with pointing out what could come off without compromising the message!

And despite the super-quick factory-line sort of vibe, they're always professional and have so far offered good advice about interviewing and cover letters (stuff I've seen verified here, even).

I also like that they offer taped mock interviews and a lot of good online options. I'm not sure if I'd use their resume builder, but I tried working with the cover letter function and it was nice for editing purposes at least.

I can honestly say that I feel like I'm now pretty much the best that I can be on paper thanks to their efforts.

Anonymous said...

I feel like an objective line is useful for career fairs where you may get dozens (or if you're a Lockheed or IBM or Microsoft at a MIT or Stanford, hundreds) of resumes for several different kinds of positions. For example I can look at someone's resume -- say BS in electrical engineering. But that doesn't really tell me 2 hours after the fair in my hotel lobby what kind of position they want. Chip design? Programming? Sales?

Erin said...

My career center had two cars that students could drive to internships. They charged mileage fees, but there was a credit card for gas that you could use. It was a life-saver.

Dorie said...

If my college had a good career center, I wouldn't have worked at Starbucks for two years following graduation...

Chuck said...

I am a corporate recruiter and my experience dealing with college career centers isn't any better.

My email address is exposed to the world b/c they don't know how to use BCC. I reply to another career center and my email is rejected b/c their mailbox is full.

One college career center told me that career centers are that bad b/c colleges put their money and efforts into recruiting and getting students enrolled (i.e., tuition dollars) and they don't really care about placement after graduation.

After all, non-graduating seniors often return to college as grad students.

Anonymous said...

My college center fits right into the category. I had overheard that the director never got a career in their own field so they went into the field of telling students/alumni how to get jobs in their chosen majors. Go figure that one out! I haven't been able to rely on them.

AAM - it might not be your cup of tea, but you might help others if you worked in a career center or did something to improve those that are sub-par.

Class factotum said...

Nope. Although I did get all three of my corporate jobs through the placement center at the University of Texas (where I went to grad school) - but that's just because they hosted the company. Nobody at the placement center gave me any good advice and I sure could have used some because I am an awful interviewer. Great worker, bad interviewer.

The placement center at my college was not good at all. I was an English major at an engineering school. The woman at the placement office asked me how fast I could type. I am not making this up.

Anonymous said...

I work as an employment counsellor and also go to school. My experience as a professional is often that youth doesn't want any advice on how to improve their interviewing skills or, say, what they need to do to prove themselves to the employer - that is gain the experience in the field, industry, etc. Often that means taking a so called survival job. Instead, they want a quick fix, some magic bullet to get them ahead of the crowd of other hopeful graduates. I'm sorry, but there's no magic bullets and if you didn't do much to improve your chances or build some foundation while studying, it's not going to change when you're finally "ready".

Anonymous said...

i don't have a good experience, but the other problem with career centers, at least mine, is that they only know how to handle students with particular degrees. At my school, if you're in business, engineering, computer anything they can find you a job. Anything else? Or *gasp* A GRAD STUDENT?! They have no idea what to do with you. They give you a blank stare. As a grad student in anthropology, they have been totally worthless.

Anonymous said...

My college career center offered free mock interviews that were videotaped. This was extremely helpful because I was able to watch how I came across on video and correct some of the nonverbals that may have gotten in the way of being hired.

Anonymous said...

The undergrad at my school was a total waste of time. The grad school had a separate career center. All students were required to take a career class. We had to create a resume targeted towards our "dream" job. The career counselor created CDs that only contained relevant resumes targeted specifically to each alumni partner that expressed interest in MBA grads. I ended up getting interviews with two firms from this process without ever applying for a job. They had a formal mentorship program and hosted several round table events. They were a phenomenal resource.

Christine said...

I have to agree with the writer. My college career center was not beneficial at all. I got most of my internships through my major department and my own research. As a science major, they were not helpful at all in bringing recruiters in organizations that were of interest to me.

Kimberlee Stiens said...

You should start a sidearm to your consulting business to help colleges set up GOOD career centers!

Pam said...

My career center sucked. Mostly because their resume and cover letter advice were based on these standard handouts they would give you.

Even though my U has one of the largest engineering schools in a public state university, the career center consistently failed in recognizing that an engineering resume needs to look and read differently than say, an Ad/PR resume. They were clueless about what things could really be awesome on a just-out-of-college engineer's resume, like a great class project or better yet, a team competition from a professional society. It is very rare other clubs have things like that (debate clubs come to mind..?) but are stellar for engineers.

All of my knowledge came from engineering societies I participated in. We often had recruiters from local engineering companies come in and tell us what they were looking for in a resume.

Ask a Manager said...

Kimberlee, I seriously want to! I don't know how to solve the problem though, because I think it's so systemic: I suspect they're hiring the wrong people, people who are just parroting back fairly generic job-search advice they read on those awful handouts, rather than people who have actually done hiring and thus have a nuanced understanding of how candidates can maximize their chances. So they need to hire different people, for one.

Or, alternately, they need to see themselves not as the advice-givers, but as the conduit to advice-givers -- pointing students toward good blogs (ahem), bringing in good speakers, etc.

Actually, that might be the solution, to see themselves as conduits/facilitators.

Anonymous said...

My undergrad career center was fairly useless for me, but I also didn't spend much time there because I was heading to grad school anyway. I found them fairly useless for helping me find summer jobs, but I also may not have been going about it in a very useful way. (I ended up getting my summer jobs by either networking/family connections or through temp agencies.)

My M.Ed grad school (middle school and high school teacher preparation program) had an excellent career program. Since they knew that everyone in our program was there to get a license to teach middle and high school and probably wanted to teach in the area, it was easy for them to offer targeted advice. They even set up a one-day "career fair" in which we could have mock interviews with local principals and hear from the local school districts about what they were looking for in new hires/resume formatting/letters of recommendation/etc. Since these were the same schools they placed students in for their practicums and student teaching, the relationships were in place to get the representatives to come and speak, and since the districts knew they were talking to a big chunk of their prospective applicant pool, they saw it as worth their time to make sure we understood how to apply effectively. Of course, this wouldn't work in a less vocationally-focused program.

I don't really know how to translate that experience into something for, say, English majors, where their B.A. doesn't lead to one obvious job with an equally obvious set of local employers.

Rebecca said...

My college career center's chief purpose was to organize on-campus job recruiting. They also maintain an alumni job board; for better or worse, my first two jobs out of undergrad and the majority of my past job interviews came from this board.

For these two things, they were pretty awesome. Otherwise, all you got was interview workshops (of highly variable quality and generally geared toward business jobs) and a "career library" full of outdated books (almost all geared toward business jobs). The resume advice was mixed ("don't just restate your resume in your cover letter," but also "no one will look at your resume if you don't have an objective").

I think one reason they might be lousy is that turnover in career centers is pretty regular for good employees, at least according to a friends of mine whose first job out of school was at a neighboring college's career center. Directors rarely stay more than 3 years and lower-level employees never stay more than 2... unless they can't get a job anywhere else.

Rebecca said...

* a friend. No, really, I did go to college!

JulieM said...

I work in a college career center and am a former corporate and campus recruiter.

I think the variety in advice comes from differing opinions on a totally subjective topic. Each and every recruiter and hiring manager prefers a different type of resume, candidate, and interview experience.

For example, I think if you're passing your resume off to a family friend, or someone who plans to refer you, it is imperative you have an objective. I can't tell you how many resumes from referrals came across my desk without any information about what the student wanted to do (no objective) and I was supposed to determine from a mix of experience -- two internships, a restaurant job, and treasurer of their fraternity -- what this person wanted to do and how they could benefit my company.

I got into this line of work because my college career center helped me get off to a great start. Plenty of students who complain about their career center most likely didn't use it effectively (i.e. came to one networking event and only talked to their friends, waiting for employers to seek them out).

Jennifer said...

Our college career center is pretty good, by all accounts. They have good connections in their region and are very willing to go above and beyond to help students get an internship or a job. They do mock interviews, help students write resumes and cover letters, and invite employers in different fields to have lunch with students and give advice. However, I feel that they need a whole different center when it comes to applying in creative fields. Even though your basic objective is the same - communicate what skills qualify you for the job in question - writing a resume to be a lighting designer or an actor is much different than writing a resume to work in a bank. Not that one is better than the other - it's just different.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, my undergrad career center had been co-opted by large consulting and finance companies.

If you were applying to McKinsey they would do everything in their power to help you.

If you were 98% of this SLAC's students who were completely uninterested in this, they would hand you a tip-sheet of resume hints.

I was in the 2%, but it was sad to see how co-opted they had become. In addition to cultivating students, these "prestigious" companies had cultivated the career centers and they had forgotten who their customers were.

Stephanie said...

I'll echo Anon 5:38's comment--my career center at my college had basically been co-opted by finance, oil, and consulting companies. If you had an interest in working in these fields, the career center staff knew exactly how to assist you in getting these jobs. However, if you wanted to do anything outside of that, you would usually just get some handouts. It definitely was a bit disheartening to see that the career center had turned into a placement agency for a few select companies.

That being said, they weren't entirely useless. I got some decent resume writing advice and went through a couple of helpful mock interviews. And I did snag a summer internship through on-campus recruiting.

JC said...

My college career center was so-so. They had a lot of great basic information and packets that could benefit any student (how to write resumes, how to job search, how to collect references). They also did career fairs, interview practice, and resume reviews. So these basic prep tips did help me with some things.

However, they clearly catered to certain majors (nursing, teachers, and business professionals). When I went in asking about my degree, and resources and jobs available, they suggested I go to my academic department for that instead! I got so much more information about how to look for jobs and present myself professionally from my professors and academic department than I ever did from my college's career center. Following my career center's advice of looking for jobs on Monster and HotJobs would have gotten me absolutely nowhere. It was my professors and networks who gave me the right search engines and resources.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends went to a workshop and the workshop instructor told everyone try this lil trick
- At the end of an interview, right when you are about to leave the room, say "oh excuse me", turn around, walk back to the interviewers desk, place your hands on his desk and lean your head forward to meet the interviewers eye, and say in a very firm voice, "is there anything you see that would prevent me from getting this job?"

When my friend told me this 'tip' I thought "yeah, you look psycho and are scaring them"

Another tip my friend got from a career center rep is to ask the interview what they don't like about the company. Is that question really normal? My instict is, why would you ever ask your interviewer to complain about the company you are interviewing for.

Ginger Gibson said...

My college career center was awful. My recommendation to improve career centers, now that I'm a mid-20s working professional who found my own job(s), would be to make it about helping students figure out all the grown up working stuff they didn't teach in school. When I got to my first job and they asked me how I wanted to invest my 401k, they could have been talking klingon and I would have understood as much. When I had to sort through three health insurance options on the first day, I had no idea what any of meant. When they were asking me at 22 if I wanted to change my life insurance plan, or use a health savings plan, I was lost. My undergrad program taught me how to do my job, it would have been nice if the career center offered a one-day class on dealing with all the complications of having a job.

On a funny side note, I didn't learn one very valuable lesson from my college career center. The last month of senior year a digital survey was sent to every student to assess the career center. There was no form to fill out your name, so I let them have it. I wrote that the center never once sent a job posting that was relevant to my major. That unless they thought mass communication/journalism majors were only qualified to work in retail at the mall, maybe they should rethink their job posting e-mails. That we're an industry driven by internships and clips and that no one in their office seemed to be aware of that. That I had hosted resume writing workshops with underclassmen and coordinated professors to be there and never heard a word back from them. That their "career" fair was overrun by oil companies and didn't seem to take into account the humanities. I basically called the office a waste for anyone not getting an engineering degree or hoping for a career in fast food.

Well, it turned out that just because I didn't enter my name in the survey, it was anonymous. And a week later I got a really nasty e-mail from the head of the office. I didn't entirely regret it because someone needed to say what all the humanities majors were thinking. But it was a lesson in filling out online surveys (or comment fields) -- someone will always be able to figure out who is writing it.

Anonymous said...

I am a college career advisor and I absolutely love my job. After a number of years working in the private sector and seeing how the needs of the employer are often mismatched to the skills of the new hires, I really wanted to work with students and help them with their career development. I took a 20% pay cut to do my dream job and it's completely worth when I see how much our students grow in just a few semesters.

I think career centers need to be held accountable for their services by the students. We take an annual student satisfaction survey and we plan how we can do better for the following budget year based on the feedback from the students.

I also think students can do a better job of using the resources provided and having realistic expectations. I can't be more invested in a student's future than he is himself. But if I see that a student is really making an effort, I will work as hard as I can him. The motivated students are in our office at least once a week, sometimes daily, during the peak of job hunting season. I think a career counselor can make the most difference when he or she has the opportunity to meet with the student on an ongoing basis, starting from at least 6 months before job hunting begins. This is how you can see real progress.

Anonymous said...

My university's career center's help for recent grads basically boiled down to "We have an online job and resume posting site that you can access using your school ID and password. Feel free to look for jobs on it and post your resume to it. Ok thanks, bye."

Anonymous said...

I have the very interesting situation of my school having TWO college career centers: one for the university proper and the other for the community college. The general opinion is the community college career center is far better at getting you a job and having used both I have to agree.

The community college actually goes out and surveys local and regional business and adjusts it curriculum to better suit their needs. I think this is where university career centers have problems--they are so distant from potential employers that they just are not aware of what the *current* mindset of potential employers is.