You might not realize it, but your college career services center offers many more services than just job postings. However, students often don’t check it out until senior year, if they visit at all. According to a 2017 Strada-Gallup survey, 39% of students have never visited their career center, including more than one-third of seniors.
More revealing, the survey uncovered a “crisis of confidence” among more than 32,000 college students where just one-third of students “believed they’d graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market and workplace.” And only 53% believed their major would result in a good job.
It’s intimidating and overwhelming to make the transition from academics to employment—everyone feels this way—but the career services center will facilitate your leap. You’ll get the best results if you check it out much earlier than spring of senior year. Here are nine reasons to pop in early and often.
The career center is set up just for you, with resources and staff to help you jump-start a career. Plus, your campus fees pay for this service. Why wouldn’t you use it?
“This is probably the only time in your life you’re going to have that kind of ready access to people who can help you—with deciding on your career, the direction you want to go, and then helping you with resources to launch you,” says Mimi Collins, Director of Content Strategy at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
For starters, find out where your career center is and stop in. Introduce yourself to the staff and learn about the services offered, including resources for ongoing support and direction during college and after graduation.
Related: 5 Tips for Finding Your First Job
Assessment tools for career guidance
Career assessment tools help you clarify strengths, interests, personality, and values. The staff can coach you on different career fields and types of jobs within those fields. They can also help you figure out types of jobs for a less-defined liberal arts degree.
“Exploration is a big part of career development, and students benefit by coming into the career center early—freshman and sophomore year,” Collins says. Even if you’re a Mechanical Engineering major on solid footing, the career center can help you determine what kind of firm you want to work for, and which field to apply your training to—say, health care, environmental, or automotive.
Internships and job shadowing
These days, both paid and unpaid internships are the norm, but it takes work to find one. They can be competitive, and Collins says it’s important to lay the groundwork early. Many students only obtain internships after a couple years of coursework under their belts, but many positions are open to both upper- and underclassmen.
It’s also important to start your search early in the year you’re aiming for one. Sometimes students have them locked up by winter break. Ask your career center about norms for your campus. And if you’re unclear on career direction, a one or two-day job shadow experience might be the ticket to exploring different fields. Ask about these.
One hurdle for students is the unpaid internship. Most families can’t afford for their students to work for no pay. Some institutions offer stipends to help because they recognize the difficulty. Check with your college’s career center or academic advisor; sometimes an individual professor might also know about funding in your department.
Related: Internship Do’s and Don’ts
Résumé, cover letter, and interview workshops
If you’ve never written a professional résumé or cover letter or developed a LinkedIn profile, the career center should be your first stop. Don’t wait until your senior year—these skills will benefit you for summer jobs and internships throughout college.
You can also set up an appointment to practice your interview skills one-on-one with staff. “They throw questions at you and help you think through your answers, such as what your strengths are, where you see yourself in five years, and how you’ve solved a problem,” Collins says. According to NACE’s surveys, interview practice is not a widely used service, but students who do use it rate it as highly helpful. Get on the career center email list and watch for campus announcements about career workshops. Many colleges offer workshops specifically for first-year and sophomore students.
Help with selling soft skills
Wondering how your Intro to Political Science class translates to a job skill? The less-defined skills you learn in college—critical thinking, interpersonal skills, communication skills, the ability to work on a team—are called “soft skills.” But these days, they’re often called “career readiness competencies,” according to Collins.
“These tend to be the skills that cross all jobs, and students not only need help identifying how they’ve gained these experiences but also showcasing them,” she says. “Students also usually need help understanding how what they’ve studied translates to the workplace.” It’s not easy to view your abilities objectively, and articulating them in a cover letter is even harder. That’s where a career services professional can help.
Employer connections and job postings
These two are biggies. Employers work directly with campus career centers because they’re looking for new talent to hire—which might be you! They participate in career fairs, offer information sessions to explain what their companies offer, and provide networking opportunities. They might even be hiring for part-time positions while you’re still in college—a great way to test-drive a job.
Some colleges host networking dinners where you can meet employers in a less formal environment. These might include etiquette dinners, during which you learn how to dress for success and dine properly in a business setting. Take advantage of these opportunities to meet employers before graduation.
Campus career centers also host online portals of job and internship postings that you can likely access from anywhere. These job postings for entry-level positions are just right for college grads. Find out if your campus requires an in-person appointment with an advisor before granting you access to the online portal.
Alumni connections and support
You might be able to job shadow alumni or connect with them for some mentoring in your field. Career centers also often provide ongoing support and mentoring to you beyond college.
Extra boosts for first-generation students
If you’re first-generation (defined as neither parent having earned a bachelor’s degree), the career center’s benefits offer a greater impact. First-gen students more often lack a family network of employer connections than “continuing generation” students, and the career center provides an important bridge to the professional world.
First-gen students typically use online career resources, but report that in-person resources are more helpful, like practicing interview skills and receiving career coaching.
Even if your family is well connected, you’ll benefit from the career center. “Families aren’t career experts, and they’re not necessarily able to be objective about you,” Collins says. Career services staff are up-to-date on the latest work trends and how to help you articulate your skills.
One key thing to understand: you need to be prepared to do the work. The career center won’t find a job for you. But if you’re ready, you’ve got a group of professionals right on campus in your corner. What could be more confidence-boosting than that?
Looking for more advice on your career search? Check out our Internships and Careers section.