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:
- 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)
- They have specific, pre-defined roles they are looking for.
- 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!)