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Making Your Career Center Work for You

Read on to find out about some of the basic programs most career centers' offer. And then head to your on-campus office to speak with a counselor and find out how they can best help you.

By Jennifer Bobrow Burns

Do you know where your career center is? Many students go through all four years of college without ever setting foot in their school's career services office. Yet, outside of the academic realm, job seekers will pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for the very same services that are included free with the cost of your tuition.

The mission of career services is to teach skills and provide services that will facilitate the entire career development and job search process, ranging from assessing your abilities to negotiating employment offers. To ignore this opportunity could mean passing up the job of a lifetime.

So don't spend four years out of the loop. Here are some tips to make sure you are getting all you can from your career center.

Ask Questions

If you're applying to graduate school, you may think that the career center has nothing to offer you. Or maybe you think the center only offers recruiting programs for students interested in finance. Think again.

In fact career centers on every campus have different specialty areas and offerings. Don't make the mistake of writing off your center without knowing exactly what services they provide. Log onto their Web site and read about all of the center's programs. And then take it one step further: go into the office and speak with a career counselor. Try to schedule an appointment where you can actually sit down with a counselor or advisor, explain your situation, and see what resources they recommend. Make sure you are on time for your appointments, and call to cancel if a conflict arises.

Develop Relationships

You can't expect career center staff to go out of their way for someone they don't know. Hundreds of students walk in and out of their office each week, particularly at large campuses. Find a counselor you like and get to know them. If your campus allows unlimited appointments, schedule regular meetings and go over your career plan regularly. Appointments are a great way to stay motivated and to accomplish career-related tasks. You'll be less likely to put off responsibilities like updating your resume when you know there is someone who will be waiting to see it at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

Also, if you get to know a counselor or advisor, you will have an advocate in your corner. A counselor will listen to you and provide objective advice, unlike the hidden agendas that you may receive from your parents or friends. You can bounce ideas off your counselor, which will help you think through your choices. Furthermore, counselors don't play favorites, but when unique opportunities come in, they often alert clients who they know well and think might be a good fit. Remember, the more you share about yourself, they better the staff will be able to assist you.

Manage Your Expectations

The job search process is stressful; you have to balance uncertainty about your future with the rest of your college schedule. And when things don't go your way, it's tempting to find a scapegoat. However, the career center staff shouldn't receive your misplaced frustrations.
Even if you do everything they suggest-from sending out resumes according to their recommendations to networking your heart out-the reality is that you still may have trouble getting a job. Keep in mind that the process is subjective and uncontrollable. Blaming the staff who have worked with you and taught you job search skills that you will have for a lifetime is counterproductive.

Instead you should continue to work with the career center to find out what's been going wrong and develop alternate strategies. Use your counselor as a sounding board to express your concerns, not criticism. Ultimately you will benefit from this ongoing support. And remember, the job search process takes time! In the end all your hard work will pay off, and you will land a great job.

Attend Programs

Most career center staff spends the bulk of their time planning events for students. From mock interview days and networking nights to resume workshops and career fairs, at any given time there are a number of programs going on that can assist you. The biggest mistake you can make is being unaware of what's taking place. Make sure you have access to the event calendar, whether it is online, in paper, or through an email listserv.

As you attend programs, be an active participant. Ask thoughtful questions to make the most of what you are learning. Chat with staff while you are there, and let them know what aspects of the program you enjoyed.

Don't Be a Stranger

Your relationship with the career center doesn't have to end the day you don your cap and gown. Many centers offer services for alumni similar to those for students. If you haven't found a job or even formed a plan by graduation, you still might be able to meet with counselors, use job listings and/or computers and attend programs. Check with your campus to see what is available and what time limits apply to your school's services.

Once you have a job or graduate school acceptance in hand, your relationship with the career center can continue to grow. Remember how programs with alumni helped you when you were job searching? Now that you're employed, it's an opportunity to give back and help those students who are following in your footsteps.

Say Thank You

If the career center staff has helped you, let them know! Success stories are what make their jobs worthwhile. And success doesn't only mean landing a high-profile job. A quick note or email letting staff members know that you appreciated their support or that they helped you make some tough decisions is a success story as well and is just as welcome.

Make Your Appointment Today!

What are you waiting for? Visit your career center today to see how they can help you. And don't think you can make just one appointment and experience everything they have to offer. You can't get your needs met by just stopping by once; you'll need to become a frequent visitor of the center in order to get the most out of it.
Remember that the center was created to help students. If you're barely starting to explore the world outside of college and don't know exactly where to begin or you're on your way to finding your dream job and only need help polishing your resume, the career center has just the help you're looking for.

Jennifer Bobrow Burns is the former associate director of career development at Columbia University. Currently, she is a free-lance career consultant and writer living in Connecticut.

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