Whether you're a high school senior about to embark on your college career or a college senior who will graduate to the real world, finding your niche in life isn't easy.
Instead of facing this uncertainty alone, students can turn to career planning departments at colleges and universities, which offer guidance on everything from finding a major to landing your first job.
According to Lisa Brockhoff, associate director of career development programs at Creighton University's Career Center, college career centers assist students with choosing a major or career direction through counseling and career assessments.
When to visit
Michelle Perone, director of the Career Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recommends that students visit the career planning department early in their college experience so they can become familiar with the services it provides.
She said students seeking an internship should visit with their academic department during their sophomore year or early in their junior year. This will allow students enough time to get their job correspondence prepared. It also will allow them to meet with the departmental internship coordinator to determine whether a particular internship qualifies for college credit.
Perone tells students who want full-time employment to visit the career planning department at the start of their final year.
“Looking for a job is not a sprint. It's often a marathon,” Perone said. “Taking time and care to prepare your correspondence is key. Oftentimes, the more prepared the student is before they start their job search, the less frustrated they will be during it.”
Jane McClure, associate director of student engagement at Bellevue University's Career Coaching Center, said college career planning departments help students map out a strategy for researching and targeting jobs and employers of interest.
She said career planning centers provide students with information to expand or begin building a professional network that will uncover the richer, hidden job market.
Brockhoff said it's also important to make sure students have a well-written, professional-looking résumé.
“Most students don't know how to look for a job, so it is important to teach them about the process and what to expect. Most students are surprised when we tell them it will take three to nine months to find a job,” she said.
Among other things, Brockhoff educates students about job search methods, and the importance of having a part-time job while looking for a full-time professional position.
Why get assistance?
According to Perone, student services personnel have training that focuses on specific issues related to the success and development of college students.
“Most of us have the ability to provide guidance to students who are in a variety of situations,” Perone said. “Those of us in career services also have specialized training to guide the entry-level job seeker as well as full knowledge of operational aspects of recruiting and human resources. We work with recruiters every day, so we are versed about employment trends and ready to share that knowledge.”
A successful search
Students in a variety of majors use the career development services offered at Midland University in Fremont, Neb. Connie Bottger, director of career development at Midland, said the students who are most successful at finding jobs are “the ones that utilize the entire span of career service resources from the moment they step on campus.”
Jeremy Fisher, associate director of business career programs in the Creighton Career Center, said that while having good grades is important, they aren't the only things employers care about.
“Employers are really most interested in students who have well-rounded experiences, such as internships off campus and other career-related experiences,” he said.
Job shadowing, volunteering and involvement in clubs and programs — particularly activities related to a student's career interests — can provide real-world experience.
Fisher said students can increase the likelihood of landing a job after graduation by tailoring their résumé and cover letter to each job application, and by networking.
“Instead of sending out as many résumés as possible, applicants will enjoy greater success if they focus on understanding the companies to which they are applying and modifying résumés to fit the exact qualifications needed for specific positions,” he said.
Fisher said the best way to get an interview or job is through an internal referral — someone working where you want to work.
Bottger's advice is simple: “Network, network, network!”
For McClure, flexibility is important.
“Education, work experience, personality, willingness to relocate, salary demands and many other factors make up the complete package a person is presenting to an employer. The more parameters an individual places around the job search, the longer it may take to find work,” McClure said.
For Perone, it's all about starting the job search early. “We have students who are graduating in May who finished their job correspondence in late fall and are actively searching even though it's only March. Those are the people who will have offers by graduation,” she said.
Employers are looking for individuals who have solid academic records, internship and/or job experience, community involvement and leadership experience.
Perone adds that employers want people who have developed soft skills, which include a stellar work ethic, exceptional time management, team-oriented mentality and outstanding communication skills.
Jim Bretl, senior director of Creighton's Career Center, said today's graduates can land their first job by using not just one, but all of the available job search methods.
“Being realistic about options, being flexible with location, and most importantly knowing what types of positions they are most qualified for is critical,” Bretl said.
Whether you've been laid off or are just ready for a career change, you can count on your alma mater.
“We often hear from alumni when they have been working in their field for a while and are considering a career change or preparing to take the next step to advance their career,” McClure said.
According to McClure, these job seekers often are looking for ways to structure their résumé that will make themselves more attractive for hiring at the next level. Others might contact their department after a layoff for assistance in developing a job search strategy or to polish interviewing skills.
When asked what advice they wish they had been given in college, or what advice they would give current students, career center officials offered these responses.
“I wish someone had said ‘Be open to possibilities,'” McClure said. “Make use of your general education courses as a way not to just satisfy requirements, but as a means of learning about fields you may never have thought would interest you, and to learn about fascinating careers you may not have been aware of had you not taken the risk to venture into the unknown.”
Said Fisher: “The best advice I could tell students just starting their college academic career is to make sure they get acquainted and familiar with their career center counselors right away.
“Career development is a process that happens over several years and continues through one's life, but the sooner students can get to know a career adviser or counselor, the better we can help them stay on track in their career planning,” Fisher said.
“For upcoming graduates, my advice would be to learn how to conduct a professional job search effectively. It's not just searching for jobs online. Learn how to properly network and search for opportunities in the hidden job market.”