If you want to land the job of your dreams after graduation, don't wait until you leave campus to begin the hunt. College and career advisors suggest that students start considering life after college long before graduation. Your on-campus career center is a trove of helpful information that's free for students, and your professors and classmates may be the connections you need to score an interview. Take advantage of these resources to search for openings, network, prepare for interviews with career counselors, and learn about marketing your skills.
Find your career resource center
Jim Dickinson, assistant vice president of career services at Loyola University Maryland, believes a college student's job hunt should begin, as you might expect, at your school's career resource center. "I always encourage our students to get engaged with their campus career center for support in the job search," says Dickinson.
Here are just a few of the events, activities and resources you can find at student job centers around the country:
- Resume-writing workshops
- Speakers and special guests from local businesses and industries
- Job fairs
- College career counselors
- Networking opportunities
Unfortunately, most college students never explore all these resources, much less take advantage of them in the months and years leading up to graduation. According to a Gallup report, "While a third of graduates say they received career advice from faculty or staff often or very often, 22 percent say the same about the career services office."
We talked to a Jennifer Holbert, director of Carlow University's Office of Career Development. Here are three essential services her career center offers. Check to see if your school offers these services or similar ones.
- Resume writing. Holbert agrees that one of the most crucial on-campus resources available to students is help with resume writing — and that they should start early. "Resume writing beginning freshmen year helps students to conceptualize the marketable skills that they already possess, as well as any glaring gaps that they need to address during their studies," Holbert says. You can explore LiveCareer's library of Resume Samples to get started with writing yours, or use their free Resume Builder.
- Mock interviews. Holbert also suggests that students should participate in mock interviews. "They're the best way to receive feedback and improve," she says. "I always tell students that the purpose of a mock interview is to make mistakes with me so that you don't make them with the employer."
- Job databases. Holbert agrees that you can improve your chances of landing your dream job by focusing not just on open positions, but on how you develop your job landing skills and experience before you hit the job market. See if your school offers an online database of internships and volunteer work in fields that you're interested in and consider finding a job while in college. This will help bulk up your resume and get work experience that will make your job search more successful. "It's so important to learn about what kinds of skills and experience, in addition to the education, that employers are seeking," Holbert says.
"Beyond the career center," Dickinson adds, "there are some other great resources on most campuses that shouldn't get overlooked." For example, if your school has a campus writing center, consider having them review your resume and cover letters too.
Treat the campus as your network
The Gallup report also noted that students who engage with faculty and staff about their careers and future plans tend to be more confident about landing a good job. "Recent research demonstrates the importance of faculty and staff members' involvement in career-related conversations with students," states the survey. Students who are proactive about talking to faculty about their future employment graduate with more confidence.
"Don't underestimate faculty members' networks, especially if they have applied experience in your chosen field," Dickinson says. "Ask around among your professors and see if you can find someone willing to make some direct, personal connections to their contacts." Dickinson also suggests contacting your office of alumni relations.
With networking in mind, faculty and staff at Massachusetts' Clark University set up an online network to connect students with alumni, parents and other university supporters who want to help students find jobs. Former grads assist students by mentoring; reviewing resumes; setting up job shadowing and internships; and providing a listening ear and advice on grad school and career choices.
Donna Curry is Clark University's executive director of alumni and student engagement. She runs a program called ClarkConnect that creates connections between students and alumni, aimed at helping students find permanent, full-time positions. "For our students, I always encourage them, no matter where they are in their career development or exploration, to make connecting with alumni an integral component of their overall education." Ask your career center what resources they provide to help connect job seekers and an alumni network.
If you're graduating soon and planning to hit the job market, you still have time to visit your job center to sharpen networking skills that will help you now and in the future. Landing your dream job may just start by making a connection with the person who's already got it.