The resources available are invaluable, and endless. Read on to learn more.
By Anne Vaccaro Brady
Students and parents are often introduced to Career Services during orientation, even at open houses or accepted students’ events. Colleges want the office to be an integral part of your child’s campus experience for all four years. “It’s not the employment market of five or six years ago,” explains Ryan Smolko, experiential education coordinator of the Career Development Center at Susquehanna University. “I always say a student should have visited the office at least once by the end of their freshman year.”
Some colleges have a career development office and a career services office. Starting early helps a student find the one they need at the right time.
What to expect Depending upon the college, students can receive assistance picking a major, exploring career options within a selected major, writing a resume and cover letter, finding internships, completing a career assessment, conducting mock interviews, searching for jobs, planning for grad school, and/or understanding marketable and transferable skills.
“I think we also need to teach students to be adaptable, to really adjust to this new global economy,” says Ana C. Berrios-Allison, Ph.D., LPC, assistant director of Career Connection Services at Ohio State University. “I want them to see us as someone who can partner with them to make them successful throughout their four-year plan.”
Learning about transferable and marketable skills “Part of my job is being able to look at what a student has and … packaging it in such a way to be helpful to them,” explains Wendy S. Smiseck, director of Career Services at Wittenberg University. “I understand that the major is not necessarily the most important part about what you have. That often times it’s the extra curricular, co-curricular and experiential pieces that make the difference.” Remember, the Career Services staff regularly talks to employers to learn what they’re looking for in new hires.
“I think we are doing a better job trying to show students that their involvement is another way to acquire skills that are transferable and that the employer values,” explains Berrios-Allison. “I’m talking from cross-cultural skills to decision-making, time management, teamwork approach, problem-solving, initiative, you name it.” She points out that athletes develop transferable skills through their team experience. Students involved in leadership positions in any campus activity need to emphasize that in interviews and on their resumes.
Internships play a vital role in a student’s marketability. Though internships aren’t usually available to freshmen, a visit to Career Services can direct a student to where they can apply the following year, discuss how an internship will help meet their career objectives and how to prepare now to be qualified for one later on.
Understanding options in terms of a major If your student has selected a major, they should still visit Career Services to explore their career paths in this field and discuss how it aligns with their goals.
The student who’s still undecided can take advantage of the variety of assessment tools available through Career Services. “With these assessments, we’ll evaluate their interests, sometimes their skills, their values and their personality, which are the four components to career exploration,” explains Suzanne L. Dagger, director for Career Services at Hofstra University.
Sometimes, especially for undecided students, the answer isn’t one particular major. Students today frequently combine a major with a minor, choose to double major, and pursue internships in areas not directly related to their major, all in an effort to make themselves more competitive.
Most Career Services offices have a good working relationship with the academic advisors on their campus and often work together to assist students.
Drafting a resume early “We always work with freshmen on starting to draft and/or revise a resume,” says Dagger. “Many times freshmen have a tendency to undersell their skills that they’ve gained even in their high school jobs.” Starting a resume now makes it easier for the student to add to it with each succeeding year.
That first resume can also be a chance for a student to see their accomplishments. “I’ll have them do what I call a ‘master’ resume, which is a running resume that you put everything into and have multiple bullet points to describe everything that you’ve done, actual actions of what you did at each opportunity, whether it’s volunteer, paid, student job, leadership activity, student activity, whatever it is,” explains Smiseck. “When you have an opportunity that comes up, then you create your targeted resume … and just cut and paste stuff that you need and put it in an organized way so that the most important things are going to show up towards the top.”
As parents, we often think we can draft the perfect resume for our child, and that’s rarely the case. The experts are in that Career Services office.
Attending a job fair “I always say a student should attend a career fair before they’re going to do it for the opportunity,” explains Smolko. “Learning how to wait in line, deal with the nerves, going up to an employer and delivering an elevator pitch … [try it] before you have to do it for real.”
The role of the parent in career development All four of the Career Services experts I spoke with strongly emphasized that students need their parents’ support and encouragement as they explore their career options. “Remain open-minded and flexible and listen to your child,” adds Dagger. “Your student’s probably going to change majors a few times.”
“I think a lot of parents push their children into certain majors because we as adults know they can be quite lucrative, but then what happens, a year out, after graduation, they’re miserable,” she adds. “And then it’s starting all over again and they end up blaming the parents for forcing them into that type of job.”
“Understand that the jobs of today may not be the jobs of tomorrow, and it’s not so much the major anymore, it’s really about the skill set you’re learning within that major, how that can apply to a variety of different fields,” advises Smolko. This is especially true for students in the liberal and fine arts.
Parents can act as advocates for Career Services. Feel free to check out the website or call the office and speak to a counselor about their services. Remember, these services are all included in the price of tuition. Use the information from the counselor to nudge your child to make a visit to the office. “Research also shows the number one influence in a career is parents,” points out Berrios-Allison. Don’t take that influence lightly.
Everyone in the office knows parents expect a return on their investment. “I think when you’re dedicating yourself to at least a four-year experience and there’s a bill associated with that, at the end of it is the expectation that you need to have a plan and be employable and that falls on me to help you with that,” explains Smiseck.
Though everyone I spoke with was quick to point out that they can’t guarantee your college student employment after graduation, they can help your son or daughter be employable.
So do your best to encourage your freshmen or sophomore to make that first visit soon.