Too many students sleep on their school’s career center. From refining resumes to finding internships, a career center can be a major help. Here’s how to make the most of yours.
So, what exactly does a career center do?
Let’s dive into what a career center is. Career centers are on-campus hubs dedicated to helping students kick-start their career development. They’re typically staffed by full-time professionals and peer advisors. These “career coaches” do way more than just help you land a job. They’ve got you from day one, helping you discover your interests and turn your passions into a meaningful profession.
If you want to take it a step further, take a career development course or workshop—most career centers have them. Think of it as a bootcamp for your career. During my second semester of college, I enrolled in a six-week seminar designed to help students master the career basics. I learned how to build a standout resume, craft my elevator pitch, and even did an informational interview. Most importantly, I identified what skills I bring to the table. Without that seminar, I wouldn’t be nearly as confident planning for post-grad life. If your school has a program like this (hint: they probably do), sign up!
Unfortunately, too many students miss out on resources like these because they never bother to visit the career center. In a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), only about 25% of students tapped the career center for internship help. Likewise, just 21% took part in mock interviews. But their efforts sure paid off—they got more job offers on average than those who skipped the career center.footnote 1
You didn’t do the college application process alone, right? So why should you do your job search alone? Your career center is there to help you, so go visit! Use these tips you guide you along.
1. Jump in there early
Let’s say you want to major in art history, but you’re not sure what jobs are out there once you graduate. Before you do anything else, head to your career center. You don’t have to be an upperclassman to visit—first-years and sophomores are encouraged to stop by. You might be thinking, I just started college; now you want me to think about my career? That’s how I felt, too. But the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be. I can attest that college does in fact fly by (especially with a pandemic thrown in).
If you have no idea what you want to do after college, don’t worry! You have time to figure it out, and you’re definitely not the only one. Luckily, your career center can point you in the right direction. Career services offer self-assessments designed to match you with a role you’ll thrive in. These tests connect the dots between what you’re learning in the classroom and what you’ll bring to the “real world.”
Even if you’re dead-set on a certain job, swing by the career center to get familiar with all that they offer. That way, you’ll know where to go when you need help. You can also put a face to the name of your career counselor. Some colleges even assign you a “career coach” based on your major. This will be a vital relationship during college, so it helps to break the ice early on.
2. Touch base regularly with your career counselor
Speaking of your counselor, it’s a good idea to set up regular meetings with them so you can stay on track. Regular check-ins act as a safeguard so you’re not scrambling to find a summer gig at the end of the school year.
For example, last summer I met with my specialized career counselor and was able to secure my summer internship back in November. This gave me space to enjoy my spring semester abroad without having to worry about job searching. If you are a first-generation student, thinking about next steps in your career may feel extra intimidating. Getting regular support can help make this whole career thing more manageable.
3. Mark your calendar for career fairs
Most college career centers host at least one large career fair per semester. At a typical fair, dozens of company representatives show up and set up shop in a conference room. Students make their rounds and network with tons of employers. The goal is to establish meaningful connections that can serve as launching points for future opportunities. (If you only go to one event from your career center, let it be this one.)
As easy as it is to stay in your room and click “quick apply” on job sites, you’re missing out on the chance to stand out from other applicants. Even if you’re not job hunting, career fairs are a great way to practice presenting your professional side, something you’ll have to get used to when you start working.
Now, before you walk into any career fair, there’s a little prep work. Once you find out which companies will be there, choose a handful to focus on. Brainstorm some questions to ask recruiters and polish your elevator pitch. Don’t forget to set aside your professional attire and have some copies of your resume handy—you never know who you might run into.
4. Test-run big interviews
Let’s face it: Interviews can be scary. Especially if it’s for a job that you really want. That’s where mock interviews come in. A mock interview is exactly what it sounds like: a trial run that simulates a real job interview. It allows you to test yourself in a low-stakes environment. Whether it’s answering the infamous “Tell me about yourself” or nailing those behavioral questions, doing a mock interview will help ease your nerves before the real deal.
Usually all you need to do is ask a career counselor or peer advisor to set up some time for a practice interview. Make sure to give them some details beforehand. Along with career services, some professional student organizations offer mock interviews from student mentors. Just make sure to choose someone you trust who will be real with you about what you need to work on.
5. Tap into online resources
Most career centers also offer online tools to help students get a leg up in the professional world. For example, the business school I attend has an online hub called CareerEdge. It’s filled to the brim with useful tools, including interview tips, resume advice, industry guides, and more.
One key resource I always come back to is the Major to Career Guide, which shows career outcome data by major with information like sample roles and workplaces. This has been super useful in guiding me down a specific career path. On top of CareerEdge, I also use resources like Handshake and VMock, a resume review tool, when it comes time to crack down on job searching. Ask your career counselor if they offer something like this—it can save you lots of time and energy in the job search process.
Along with tools offered by your school, there are also online career resources out there for everyone, like The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. This guide compiles key data from hundreds of jobs to help you make the most informed decisions.
The bottom line
Although I meet with my career counselor periodically, I’ll admit that I don’t visit my own career center as much as I should. If you’re like me and hesitate to reach out for help, remember that it’s literally their job to help you. I’ve found that career counselors and peer advisors are genuinely happy to assist. If you’re lucky enough to have career services tailored to your major like I do, take advantage of it! Getting career support isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a smart move, and your future self will thank you.