Find out what your campus careers office is actually good for

April 22, 2009

Sheila Curran[ Ed. note: This belongs to our series of posts featuring tips for recent grads from LinkedIn users. Sheila Curran is a career strategy expert, who runs Curran Career Consulting. She is a Senior Practitioner in Human Resources and for over a decade directed career services at Brown University and Duke University. She is also the co-author of Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career]

This is the time of year when a million young people are looking for jobs, so you might assume that the lines of anxious students waiting to see a careers adviser would be as long as the ones outside the local unemployment office. Not so.

The fact is, many students associate their campus careers office with on-campus recruiting, and now that the formal recruiting cycle is over, they assume their careers office can no longer help. Nothing could be further from the truth. You may be tempted to stick your head in the sand while you enjoy your last few weeks of undergraduate bliss, but there are powerful reasons to squeeze the last few drops out of your tuition-funded career services.

Reason #1: They know who’s hiring

When the economy is in trouble, employers get nervous--particularly when they have had to eliminate positions. They can’t predict in advance how many college grads they will need to hire, so instead of coming to career fairs, they postpone recruiting until they have an immediate need. Employers will spread the word about vacancies locally, but if they want recent grads, they will also contact college careers offices—no matter what time of year the vacancy occurs. Job listings are often accessible through college web-based recruiting systems like e-Recruiting or NACELink, but you can also find careers staff who know who’s hiring, and which employers are experiencing significant growth. In many universities, you can sign up to be sent job vacancy notices by the careers office.  Let your careers office know you’re actively looking for work, and ask what steps you can take to keep in the employment loop.

Reason #2: They understand how employers think

Your first job will not be your last. Within your first five years of graduation, you’re likely to have 2-3 jobs and even change your mind about your chosen career field.  So it makes sense to learn how employers think and how you can best present your knowledge, skills and abilities (what employers call your KSA), both in written documents and in an interview.  It will save you hours of time in the future.  If you’ve been avoiding writing a resume and cover letter, now is the time to make an appointment with a career advisor to get template documents critiqued. You’ll need to customize them for every position, but make sure you know the basics. Parents and peers may be happy to give you advice, but this is an area where a professional opinion can pay off, big time.

Reason #3: You may not have access to resources after you graduate

Many colleges will provide alumni career services, but they often cut off your access to some of the most useful databases, like Career Search or Career Beam, within a couple of months of graduation—just when you have the time to make the most of them. The careers office isn’t doing this to spite you; contracts are typically based on your status as a student or a graduate. Explore these resources now and find out when your access ends. If you’re about to be cut off, do your career research now, and map out a plan of action for your career search later.

Reason #4: Careers professionals know people and can facilitate your access to information and opportunity

The old “Placement Office” is dead. Careers offices in 2009 will rarely find you a job. But that’s not bad news.  To paraphrase the old Woody Allen quote, “You wouldn’t want a job that the Careers office would want you to have”.  What the Careers office should be able to do is to identify employers, alumni or other resources, like LinkedIn, through which you can investigate career fields, fine-tune your career direction, and identify employment opportunities. Careers staff can help you figure out which resources or people would be most helpful, given your specific needs, and train you in how to make the most of these opportunities.

It’s a rare graduate who knows in her freshman year what she wants to do when she graduates, and is still in the same position in the same organization thirty years later. Most current graduates can look forward to years of navigating the careers landscape before settling on a particular direction. If you make the most of your Careers office while you’re still in school, you will learn the skills that will serve you well for a lifetime of job change and career success.