Some people ignore them completely. Others want them to die. And almost everyone thinks they’re not living up to their part of the bargain. Yeah, it’s a tough time for career services offices. Of course part of the problem is the rising cost of tuition and high rates of unemployment or underemployment among college grads.
But perhaps the biggest issue of all comes down to image. Students think the career services office is there to simply get them a job; that it’s as simple as walking into your scheduled session, plopping down in a chair, and getting hooked up with gainful (and meaningful) employment.
It turns out that there are several reasons why career services can’t just “get you a job”—and that’s a good thing. We caught up with Kayla Krupnick Walsh, Dean of Students at Golden Gate University to discuss the ideal relationship between students and their career services office, and what you can start doing NOW to get a head start on your job search.
What is a Dean of Students? What do you do?
In my current role as Dean of Students, I do a little bit of everything, which is what makes my job so exciting and challenging. Primarily, I oversee the different offices within Student Affairs: Disability Services, Wellness Resources, Career Planning, and Student Life.
Additionally, it is my responsibility to make sure students follow the code of conduct. In that role, I often act as a liaison between faculty, staff, and students to ensure that everyone feels like they are a respected member of the community.
I also stay on top of government laws and regulations and make sure our policies are an accurate reflection of our ethical and legal responsibilities. On the fun side, I get to plan events, including our University’s commencement ceremonies.
What were you doing before you started your current role?
I worked in career offices at several universities including Golden Gate University, NYU, and Columbia Teachers College. In those offices I did a lot of different tasks, including organizing and planning huge career fairs, reviewing résumés, performing outreach to employers, and most significantly, working one-on-one with students to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives.
What are some of the most common questions/concerns you hear from students about the job search?
A common concern I hear from students is that they don’t know how to talk to recruiters or employers at networking events. It is hard to know what to say to a stranger, especially when it feels like all the focus is going to be on you.
I suggest that students develop a few sentences about themselves, so they have a place to start and then have some questions for the employer. This personal statement can include current major, club participation, favorite classes, and future job goals. Students can ask recruiters basic questions about company culture, length of time at that employer, and why they like their job. Questions like these are a great way to shift the focus away from the uncomfortable feeling of talking about yourself. This is also a way to begin to build a professional relationship with the recruiter—which is the real purpose of networking!
In your experience, when is the ideal time frame for students to start thinking about the job search? Which types of activities should they be doing senior year? Junior year? Earlier in their academic careers?
It is time to start applying for jobs about six months before you want to start working. But finding the right job should start at the beginning of a student’s junior year.
Employers have the mistaken impression that college age students are not loyal or dedicated. While this is not true of the vast majority of students I have worked with, it is an impression that these students have to overcome. This means that students need to convey their dedication and interest in an employer above many other traits.
Students should start informational interviewing employees at companies and organizations they are interested in working for. Many colleges have alumni networks that students can tap into for potential interviewees or students can simply go to linkedin.com/alumni and find graduates of their institution that are working at companies that interest them.
Students should also be building skills that employers say they highly value: teamwork, critical thinking, and communication skills. These can be built and demonstrated through participation in clubs or volunteer activities: market club events, program the website for your organization, present information to groups.
What are some common misconceptions about career counselors/career services offices?
Students think that their career office is going to place them in a job. That’s a service you can get for free from a recruiter. I encourage any student who is just hoping to be placed in any job to contact a local reputable recruiter.
The counselors at the career offices can provide so much more for students than placement. Career offices are part of an educational institution and they need to uphold the mission of the institution by educating students about themselves, the job search process, and the world of work.
There are all kinds of statistics thrown around about the number of jobs that people will have in their lifetime, somewhere between 11 and 25 by the time a millennial retires. Even if we assume today’s students will only have 11 jobs, that’s a lot of job searches that students need to learn how to do.
If you let someone place you in a job, you don’t learn how to find the right employer for you or the right job for you. Those are important skills to learn if you are going to have to look for a job every couple of years.
What are some of the most beneficial activities students can participate in to facilitate the job search?
That is easy—exploration. Talk to people who do the job you are interested in. Talk to people who are working their way into the job you want. If you don’t know what job you want, talk to everyone.
After interviewing students, employers say that one of the biggest mistakes students make is not knowing anything about the job or the company. Students think they need to have all the right skills, but employers know that they will need to train new college graduates. What they want to know is, ‘Do you really know what you are getting yourself into?’ So do your research! Talking to people in the industry not only helps you learn about the company and the job, but it also helps you build your network.
Homework time! Spend a little time preparing a brief introduction of yourself, and as Kayla suggests, come up with a few questions that you can ask recruiters to get a conversation going. And now that you have a better idea of what they can do, why not schedule an appointment at your career services office?