The Five Things Campus Career Offices Should Offer Students
As schools are held more and more accountable for preparing their graduates for success in the world of work, campus career offices need to step up and play a larger role in the lives of students. These offices provide unique opportunities for students to identity possible career paths, acquire skills to navigate the job market, forge relationships with mentors, and land coveted internships and jobs both before and after graduation.
Yet the majority of students aren’t experiencing these benefits; according to one source, “only 4 in 10 U.S. college students feel very or extremely prepared for their future careers.” And despite this high percentage of students who don’t feel very prepared, an article from The Atlantic details that “fewer than 20 percent of undergraduate students reach out to their school’s career centers for advice on finding jobs or finding and applying to graduate programs.”
There are several reasons why this is the case. Students may not know about all of the services career offices offer. Some career offices might not be equipped to meet students’ varied needs. Or students might feel intimidated speaking with career counselors.
With this in mind, below are five things that career offices should be doing to prepare students for professional success.
Help Students Explore Their Interests and Passions
Many students arrive on campus with no idea of what they want to do when they graduate. And while their coursework and conversations with faculty and peers can help them discover their career interests and passions, a career office can provide personality and aptitude tests, strengths assessments, and exploratory conversations to familiarize them with career options in a much more intentional and guided manner.
In addition to providing assessment and professional evaluation tools, it’s important that career counselors help students put these findings into action. It isn’t enough for a student to take a test and know whether they like engineering or finance. That’s a good start, but they then need to take concrete steps to test these supposed interests and passions. This is where a career office comes in handy.
Effective guidance might come in the form of one-on-one conversations or small group discussions that address how a student’s unique constellation of interests, aptitudes, and passions can be translated into a meaningful and fulfilling career. This kind of exploration can then lead to a conversation with a professional mentor, a week of shadowing an employee, or even an internship.
It isn’t the job of the career center to determine exactly which job a given student should or should not pursue, but rather to provide them with the tools to help them identify, clarify, and explore their career interests and passions in concrete ways.
Serve Students with Robust Internships and Job Opportunities
While every career office should have robust job and internship listings, it’s not enough simply to point students to an online job board. It’s important to highlight the importance of seeking out these opportunities as soon as possible, encouraging underclassmen to look into internships even with a few years to go until graduation. An office can do this by holding on-campus job/internships fairs, speaking for a few minutes in general ed courses, or promoting internship and job opportunities on social media, email, and posters around campus.
This also requires that career centers build strong relationships with local companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. Can your office have employees from these organizations come in to speak to classes or at events about how a given internship will provide valuable skills for students? How about connecting students to several different types of companies and organizations (not just a small group) with whom you have created strong and diverse relationships?
It’s important to do the leg work in forging relationships with as many organizations and companies as possible in order to serve your students’ full range of interests. And the more your office can highlight concrete examples of how strong these relationships are, the more your students will be convinced to take advantage of its resources.
Train Students to Navigate the Job Market
If students don’t know how to craft professional résumés, follow etiquette at networking events, or impress hiring managers during interviews, their stellar GPA, club involvements, and academic skills won’t matter. They have good reason to expect that their career office is up to date and able to prepare them for the latest expectations of the professional world.
How can a graphic designer best develop a portfolio to grab the attention of creative directors? How should one’s online website and LinkedIn profile best meet the expectations of hiring managers in the tech industry? There are nuanced differences between job navigation in specific industries, so your office might need to rely on faculty across disciplines to help them provide students with valuable and customized information for their individual career needs.
Aside from offering some of the more technical aspects of looking for a job—crafting a résumé, building an online presence, writing a cover letter, etc.—it’s important to help students acquire the interpersonal skills needed to network and interview successfully. This can’t be done easily via a handout or article, but students nevertheless need opportunities for practice.
Can your office offer simulated interview opportunities or weekly networking events with industry professionals to help students practice? The more in-person opportunities for students to practice, the better.
Offer Professional Mentorships
This might be one of the most important things your office can do: connect students with alumni and professional mentors. Whether that be through an official mentorship program or on a case-by-case basis, your career center should enable students to meet with professional mentors in their interested career areas. These connections require your office to foster relationships with alumni and other professionals in different industries, so it might be helpful to team up with your school’s alumni association.
Students often don’t know the intrinsic value of meeting with a professional mentor, which is actually a habit that one should be practicing throughout their entire career. Is there a way to feature testimonials from students that share how their mentoring relationship helped them discover their passions or land an internship or job? Can your office invite alumni and professional mentors to speak to certain classes at the start of each semester and encourage students to sign up for the program?
This is also a great way to grow your alumni’s involvement with your school. Many alumni would love to be able to give back but don’t always know how to do so in ways beyond giving.
Continue to Remind Students Career Offices Exists
Again, many students unfortunately aren’t aware of the important and varied services that a career office provides. Even if they vaguely know such an office exists, they may assume it’s only something worth looking into a month before graduation.
That’s why your office should make its services known as soon as students start their college career, being heavily involved at student orientation, getting faculty to refer students to your office often, and hosting regular events. Put posters up around campus. Be active on social media. Set up a regular booth somewhere on campus that gets a lot of foot traffic.
Not every student is going to take advantage of your office, but many will appreciate such a resource on campus if they know about it. The more your office can communicate its offerings and get students to realize your office is not just an “online job board,” the more it can help prepare students to successfully navigate the world of work both before and after they graduate.