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Like a broken record, your parents keep nagging: “Have you gone over to Career Services yet?” Automatically, you don’t want to go there. It’s like a sugary Pollyanna suggesting you skip down to the public library to find a book when it’s so much easier to download that book to your Kindle.

It sounds even more lame when the guys in your fraternity tell you it’s worthless, even though they themselves have never gone over there (they just listened to their frat bro’s who have never gone either).

The reasoning goes something like this: “University career center counselors are most likely bureaucratic paper pushers who probably couldn’t get a better gig themselves. So how can they help me anyway?” How good the career counselors are ultimately depends on your college’s local job market. But that’s not why you go there. Here are the proverbial three reasons to visit your university’s career center, early and often:

1. Infrastructure. The college career center is a ready-made venue that hosts career and job fairs; where companies that are specifically interested in your college’s students make informative presentations; and where you can register to interview for  jobs. If your college is in a remote rural location, or even if it is in a urban  area, but not in one of the USA’s professional meccas, how do you think you are going to be able to interview during your busy semester if you don’t do it on campus? That would be expensive, time consuming, stressful… most likely, it won’t happen.

So we are talking major convenience and efficiency here. Conversely, if you fill out an online application, and then, by some miracle, your credentials are so superior to those of thousands of applicants that you land an interview, then you have to travel to the company’s headquarters for the next step in the process.

2. Job Hunt 101. To participate in this convenient infrastructure, you have to register, take a few fun career tests, sit through a workshop, do a mock interview, and develop resumes and cover letters that fit its system. It is like taking another distribution requirement, and more useful than, say, astronomy as a lab course.

Although it all seems pretty intuitive, why re-invent the wheel? Job search techniques are life skills that your college career center is offering you for free (or at least as part of your $50K per year college price). It’s a fair trade for use of instant infrastructure!

3. Broadening Your Horizons. Isn’t that why you are in college, anyway? If you already knew everything about, say, anthropology, why bother to take the course? It’s the same with careers, industries and companies. At the career center, you are presented with a landscape of what is out there, already organized into a syllabus. Firms interested in hiring undergraduates have sought out your campus, to present information to you and then interview you. You don’t have to be particularly savvy to identify industries and companies that might be good bets for jobs. It is all done for you at the career center.  All you have to do is show up.

Relevant reading: What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit, and  From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher.

Related posts: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er, InternshipWhy Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance, What Is Informational Interviewing? and College Internship and Entry Level Resumes.

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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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You’re a college junior, composing a paper on your laptop, FaceBooking and IM’ing at the same time. You have a text from Mom asking you to check  email because she sent you vital travel info but you never check. What other communcation tools do you need?

LinkedIn? What’s that? Oh, that boring site for business contacts. Put up a profile? Oh, puhlease…

But you’d like to get a summer internship, and a job when you graduate, in a tough economy. The career placement office made you put together a resume, and it might be good to have a public, professional presence online. Employers may be looking, and you’d have a high Google rank with an instant profile. Ok, so there are some benefits for college students on LinkedIn.

Some of your friends have websites or blogs. The artist with the online portfolio, the biotech major with his posted research, the journalism major with her active blog. LinkedIn can instantly link to those collections of a student’s work!

That guy that graduated last year, he’s working for the company you’re interested in, and maybe he could pass your name along to somebody. But how to find him? Oh, he’s probably on LinkedIn. He could forward your profile or recommend your work, because you were on that team project together.

Come to think of it, LinkedIn might be a good way to keep in touch. They have all these Groups: High school and college alumni, the company you worked for last summer, professional associations for your field, people from your hometown, or summer camp. All those people grow up, find jobs, become important—just like you. It might not be a bad idea to keep up with them, or be there so they could find you.

Ok, ok, you’ll join. LinkedIn has a 2009 Grad Guide to help get started (has not been updated but it still works).

Relevant reading: I’m on LinkedIn: Now What? by Jason Alba, What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit, Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: College Internship and Entry Level Resumes, Your College’s Career Center,So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance, What Is Informational Interviewing?

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