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Career Services

How Campus Career Centers Work & Why Most Use a Standard Resume Format

This is Part II of my response to Penelope Trunk's post on “How to Manage an Education.”  In my last post, I talked about why you shouldn't count campus career centers out.   

Today, I want to address Penelope's assertion that career centers cater to companies not candidates, and that one of the primary examples of this is found in the entry-level resume since most colleges endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format. I'm going to tackle these opinions one at time.  

On the Statement that "career centers cater to companies not candidates"

On most campuses, Penelope's right: employer needs frequently set the schedule for career center programming. The academic calendar for on-campus career fairs, presentations, and interviews for summer and full-time jobs is often set first by employer priorities--and schedules at peer institutions. (Many employers have a short list of target schools that they visit for on-campus recruiting. Naturally, if your school makes the list--they generally want to stay on the list as this translates into potential opportunites for you!)

Just as there are many different types of colleges and universities--from liberal arts to applied science and engineering, from large public universities to small schools with student populations of under 500--there are many different types of career offices. Frequently, you can assess a career center's mission by its title:

  • Career Services: Office offers comprehensive services to students and employers
  • Career Development: Focus of office may rest more with education than on employer outreach
  • Career Placement: Focus of office often more heavily skewed towards providing employer services and connecting students with advertised opportunity.

The question of whether career centers are catered towards students and employers is a tricky one, and one which varies from campus to campus. Frankly, inside the Ivory Tower, this is often a chicken-and-egg issue: Frequently the budget for career services operations is at least partially dependent on fees raised by employer activity such as interviewing, job postings, and career fair participation. Many of these offices use money raised by employers to pay staff, run programs, and keep the lights on. (This can be a major stressor on Career Services leadership, especially in a lean economy.)

There's also a big misunderstanding in the marketplace on how employers post jobs and how they work with career offices. The companies that do come on campus to interview students typically have more than one thing in common:

  1. They are well-established and large enough to be able to anticipate need for entry-level or junior hires at least nine months in advance (traditionally most full-time recruiting takes place during fall term)
  2. They have specific, pre-defined roles they are looking for.
  3. They recruit at more than one campus.

Most college career centers do arrange their services to  meet the needs of these employers. Again, often their budgets depend on it--and students generally want to be able to interview for jobs.

A vast majority of college career centers in the U.S. follow guidelines for career services and employers established by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. These guidelines are designed to ensure that all students have a fair shot at jobs--and that college career center staff and faculty can't play favorites in recommending one student over another. To me, these guidelines make sense...

But throw in the guidelines, career center staff budgetary restrictions, and employers who recruit at multiple schools and you get the dilemma that Penelope talks about--

Most colleges endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format.

Penelope's right on here: most schools have a standard resume template that pretty much specifies how you should write up your experiences for employer review. If you're at a progressive school, you might be presented with three or four examples of how you can develop your resume. But most places set guidelines for how you need to write up your education and degree information.

These standard formats help schools live up to NACE principals of fairness and they help employers do a quick scan of your skills and experience in comparison with you peers. But, again, Penelope's assessment is on the mark: Standard formats don't help all students, and especially not those who have non-traditional experience that doesn't align well with a rote format.

Outside of the campus career center employer match game, employers and recruiters evaluate candidate resumes in aggregate. Often, a first pass at these resumes is made by scanners looking for keywords relevant to the position. These keywords need to be at the top of your resume, and you need to learn how to play that game, too...because once you graduate--you may lose out on being called for an interview because you don't look relevant enough--even if you actually have the skills! A big reason for this? Most schools don't tell you that your Education section needs to be moved out of first place on your resume after college...In fact, I don't believe I've ever seen a Career Services resume writing guide for alums that includes this information--a major omission--if you ask me. Not creating your resume to align with these systems can lead to this:


Need to update your resume so that it's scannable and passes the relevance test? Check out my e-book, Has Your Resume Graduated from College?

And be kind to your college career center...if you feel something's missing in their coverage of how to find a job--suggest a solution and offer to help them. (Many offices love to hire current students and alums as volunteers, and colleges frequently hire students to help out as student workers. You can make a difference!)

On "Useless" B.A. Degrees & "Incompetent" Career Centers

This is my first response to Penelope Trunk’s commentary on “How to Manage an Education.”  I’m going to write several pieces about Ms. Trunk’s opinions because I think she ignites a very important debate here—and one that is worth examining in the sunlight with the opinions of many others. Question

If you haven’t heard of Penelope Trunk before, you should get to know her as she's an active voice. She heads up the Brazen Careerist, a social network and community of bloggers designed for millennials, and has a blog which generates traffic that most bloggers—including me--envy. She has a wealth of life experience—she has worked for and founded start-ups, declared bankruptcy, worked as a professional player and has been a columnist on career issues for the Boston Globe. She is raising two children, has written a book and talks frankly about working and living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Penelope Trunk is also fearless in talking about taboo topics—from the status personal relationships to health. In the fall of 2009, she created a frenzy of a debate when she tweeted that she was in a Board meeting while having a miscarriage—and her feelings of relief that she was having a miscarriage because Wisconsin’s abortion laws were restrictive. She went on CNN and used the controversy as a moment of public education: In her opinion, you can't  manage your work life if you can't talk about it. She talked about how people think miscarriages happen on a specific day, but how in reality it’s less of a moment and more of a process that takes time. She talked about how employees should be able to be transparent about the things that are affecting them at their work, because she feels you can work more productively when you can have frank discussions about what’s affecting you. 

In short, Penelope Trunk provides thought-provoking material, and her post “How to Manage an Education” is no exception. She begins by saying “the idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point where paying $30K a year to get them is insane.” She then goes on to say that college “career centers are useless because most colleges presume you still need college to teach you to think critically. So they can get away with incompetent career centers.”  In her opinion, here are three reasons why career centers are “terrible”:

1. Career centers cater to companies not candidates. (One of her top criticisms: most schools endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format. In her opinion, this format doesn’t help students whose experience doesn’t line up with a traditional resume.)

2. Career centers don’t understand social media. (She says that career centers want to have credit for what students do. So she says they want everything students do–from blogs to domain names to be tied to the career center. And that this is limiting in the social media world.)

3. Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance. (Her perspective: “Colleges, especially, the really expensive ones, think of vocational schools as pedestrian”…so career centers are not “exactly the hot button in budget meetings” nor the “landing ground for visionaries” because “what visionary wants to go to a part of an institution that no one cares about?)

There’s a lot to talk about here, and I’m looking forward to addressing each of these three points in posts here in the future. But first, I’m going to ask for comments from my friends in University Career Centers, because their perspectives are equally important.

I must admit I have a biased opinion about career center staff:  I am a veteran. Before starting my private practice, I worked in college career centers for ten years—eight of which were spent at Ivies. My work has brought me in contact with many visionaries in the area of career services—and very few “underperforming staff.”  I’ve worked with my peers to develop, analyze, and publish the results of salary surveys for graduates. I’ve partnered with colleagues to teach students how to customize their resumes and strategies for leveraging social media in the job search. (Yesterday, I finished a workshop series on social media at Dartmouth College.) And I’ve helped students set up web pages and blogs using outside hosts. I don’t think I’m unique.

I do agree that universities frequently undervalue the importance of career education from a funding perspective, but I don’t think that many career services visionaries let that stop them from finding innovative ways to assist students or create programming that has a lasting impact. Want a broader perspective? Follow Lindsey Pollak’s list of University Career Centers on Twitter. Many career offices are tweeting and developing LinkedIn groups for students and alums.

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of students and observed my own peer network. And the ones who frequently landed the most interesting jobs were the ones who worked closely with the college career center staff.  I’ve watched students score internships and jobs with employers that don’t participate in on-campus recruiting by creating innovative websites, blogs, and portfolios of their work. On CNN, I watch one of my fellow classmates from American University’s Washington Semester Program cover politics.  I remember the day our internship advisor introduced him to the syndicated columnist who set him on his course.

And don’t even get me started on the power and impact that university alumni can have in helping students launch their careers.  Alumni can be invaluable—from serving on panels and posting jobs to mentoring students and recent grads. I’ve met very few people who don’t want to help grads of their own school—even if they have their own quibbles with university administration. Yes, it’s true that the “wider world” of social networking can help students expand their range of opportunities—but starting within your own community is a more comfortable launch pad for many.  Who hosts these networks? More often than not—it’s the career center in conjunction with a school’s office of alumni relations.

I like Penelope Trunk because she sparks debate, and she makes me think.  Many of her posts are invaluable such as her advice on how to talk to a friend who has been laid off. But we have different perspectives on professionalism: In many work environments, I think “less is more” is an appropriate strategy when it comes to sharing personal information with your boss and colleagues about your life outside of work. As more than one-third of recruiters report that they have discounted candidates based on what they’ve found online, it is as important to know what to say as it is to know what not to say. See my post on Kodak’s Social Media Policies and call me the “Frugal Careerist.”

As I see it, social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and The Brazen Careerist can play an invaluable role in your career. These networks have the user demographics and the community buy-in to be game changers in terms of how job seekers connect with new opportunities. They provide an environment to share personal and career interests, exchange information, and to expand your connections. These sites—as well as new job search platforms--are changing the rules: In the course of doing research for our upcoming book, The Twitter Job Search Guide, my co-authors and I feature the stories of over a dozen job seekers who have found jobs through Twitter alone.

As powerful as social networks can be, they can also be overwhelming to learn how to use. Active participants on LinkedIn and bloggers forget how intimidating the technology can feel to the uninitiated. You need a guide and a filter to get started. 

For many people—from students to alumni who graduated 40 years ago—your college career office can be a great place to start. Many career center staff have been formally trained in how to use these sites (LinkedIn did an extensive training program several months ago) and have developed resources and guidelines on how to get started with social networking. (Here’s a piece I developed with my former colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to do just that.)

Last time I checked, U.S. college graduates could expect to earn an average of a million dollars more over the course of their career than people who didn’t go to college or complete their studies. That’s a lot of money. Tuition may be expensive, but spending $120K over four years to make over a million dollars—still seems to me like a decent return.

What do you think?

How to Get A Billionaire's Education

Forbes just published a report on "where the billionnaires studied," and it's somewhat similar to PayScale's recent report on which schools produce the highest earners in mid-careers: there's no shortage of Ivy League and highly selective school names on the short list of either list.Dartmouth

While Dartmouth College tops the list of mid-career salaries for the working public, Harvard, Penn, and Columbia, and Yale all occupy Top 5 spots on the Forbes' billionnaire's list.

I am not an Ivy League graduate myself, but I have worked in career offices at Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia...My experience in what is frequently labeled as the "Ivory Tower" provided me with a first-hand glimpse of the wealth of connections, resources, and experiences that an "Ivy" education can provide.

It was a great experience to work in the Ivy League. I learned a tremendous amount and met many wonderful people. The commonly held assertion that an "Ivy League school opens doors" is true, but other schools and places do, too.

I remain firmly convinced that you don't have to go the short list of top ranked schools to get a top rate education or to make a great salary mid-career or to become a millionnaire. In fact, some of the smartest, most successful people I have encountered started their education at community colleges. Others, are "walking sponges"--furthering their education with all they see, read, and encounter along the way.

You can provide yourself with many of the same resources that would be available to you at an Ivy League school with minimal elbow grease. Here are three tips on how to get started:

1. Connect with others in your area of interest. From professional associations to groups and alumni clubs for your alma mater, there are countless opportunities to make friends and widen your circle.

Not sure how to start? Read Keith Ferrazzi's books, "Who Knows You Back?" and "Never Eat Alone." 

2. Take advantage of public access to career advice and resources. My colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Career Services provide best-in-class resources on their website--and they invite the public to browse the site--for free! The site includes lists of recommended career resources and program summaries from industry specific panels. While in-person services and employer programs are restricted to students and alumni, you can receive a wealth of information simply by visiting the Penn Career Services website--and others like it.

3. Learn from others. You can't audit or attend lectures at MIT, but did you know that they share course syllabi and resource lists through their Open Courseware project? Don't have time for a course? Hop on over to TED and watch a few ground-breaking videos. You can also read transcripts of speeches and watch videos of lectures from college and universities websites and search for them on YouTube.

It's not what you have, it's what you make of it...You can open doors from anywhere.

To your success,

Tips for the Pre-Grad Job Search: Start at Your Home School

If you're reading this blog and you are currently in college or grad school, you may not like this post. I'm suggesting a job search strategy that you call completely "old school." Grad_school

I recommend you make a visit to your Career Services office--by phone or in person. I know it's easy to say "they have no jobs." I can hear your potential objections ringing in my ear. "The jobs are only for business majors. They don't have time to provide me with the individual time I need."

But I am going to disagree.
Prior to starting my own private practice, I worked in Career Services offices for 10 years. I worked at small colleges and large Ivy League Universities.

Here are three fundamental truths I learned about Career Services during my work "on the inside."

  • A vast majority of career professionals are passionate about what they do, and want to help you. Despite what you may think, they spend hours behind closed doors creating strategies to dispel the myth that there are opportunities beyond banking and consulting...especially this year! 

  • Spring is one of the best times to make appointments at your career office. You are likely to find yourself with a choice of appointment times.

    There's a common assumption that appointments are filled just before graduation with a rush of seniors looking for work, but it's simply not true. (This is funny, because in reality many students who postpone their job search have also postponed their term papers--and are often nowhere to be found.)

  • Career services staff are really popular targets. It's sexy to make fun of them, and to look for external sources of information. It drives blog traffic, and it even sells books.

    (One former student was exceedingly happy with the career assistance she received as an undergraduate and even wrote a column about it in the school paper. After graduating, she wrote a fictional book about her post college job search, and her editor told her to write in a bad career services office. In real life, she worked as an intern at a coveted magazine. In print, the career staff was unhelpful and the first job offer she received was to work on a phone sex line. Sensationalism sells better.)

Given the economic downturn, it may be tempting for you to "tune out" the staff on campus, but don't. Take advantage of the free services, make a friend or two in the career office, and give a call if you need advice with an awkward question or two--they'll have your back. Trust me on this.

There may be large communities of career advice throughout the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and outside the "Ivory tower."
There are mountains of books and blogs to read, new ideas, and resume writers and career coaches who can help you in your transition. (I know this well, especially as I work in my own practice.) But the people who work at your "launchpad" can help you make connections with alums and leads in real time. They are familiar with your coursework, and the choices of others who have gone before you. Don't count them out, they can help. They can be your best advocates. Let them.

To Your Success,