Starting early to explore career opportunities on campus

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This past spring, I observed with admiration as the oldest children of two close friends graduated from college and transitioned smoothly to exciting entry-level jobs. I heard juicy details about first apartments and professional attire. How did all this come about? My own son, who’s majoring in physics, is still vague about what kind of career he might aim for (though he’s positive he won’t follow dear old dad — also a physics major once upon a time — into planetary science). Fortunately, whether they major in economics or English, there is practical advice and encouragement we can share with our students. Expert Vicki Nelson has tips for getting that ball rolling. –  Diane Schwemm

By Vicki Nelson

Most students (and their parents!) agree that career preparation is a top priority during the college years. Unfortunately, too many students wait until junior or even senior year to begin exploring career opportunities.

You can encourage your student to make use of campus career resources early on. Freshman year is not too soon to start!

The Career Office

Career offices go by many names: Career Services, Career Development Office, Career Placement Office, Career Center. Whatever the name, most offer a variety of services, and this is a wonderful place for students to begin their exploration. The earlier students start working with their Career Office the more likely they are to establish a relationship with the staff and counselors, and the better positioned they will be to take advantage of all that is offered.

Here are a few of the types of activities that a Career Office might provide:

  • Surveys, inventories, and assessments — students uncover their personal strengths, abilities, and interests, and see lists of careers that match most closely with those qualities.
  • Individual career counseling to assist in matching a major with potential careers.
  • Information on career trends and potential new industry developments.
  • Information about community service opportunities (a great way to get a taste of a potential career).
  • Connections with alumni who can provide guidance, informational interviews, and career opportunities.
  • Assistance with resume writing, cover letters, interview techniques, and building LinkedIn and social media profiles.
  • Workshops in networking skills, business etiquette, dressing for success, and workplace expectations.
  • Information about graduate school, testing, and applications.
  • Career fairs which bring potential employers to campus.
  • Job boards and online listings of campus jobs, summer and full-time positions, and internships both on and off campus.
  • A database of potential employers including annual reports, brochures, and other company information.

More and more schools now recognize that a key component of higher education is helping undergrads transition from the role of student to that of employee. Many offer programs specifically designed to help first- and second-year students build career decision-making skills. Don’t let your student overlook this rich campus resource.

College faculty

The faculty members in your student’s major department or area are a bountiful source of career information just waiting to be tapped. Encourage your student to seek out faculty members and talk to them about what drew them to their field and where they see the field going in the future. Professors are usually eager to share their passion for their subject, and as active scholars and researchers often see trends well in advance. Making early connections with faculty members will enrich your student’s overall college experience and may lead to beneficial mentoring relationships.

Informational interviews

Before your student goes on interviews as a job candidate, he can put on the other hat and conduct some interviews himself. On his own, or with the aid of faculty members or the Career Office, your student should identify people working in a field in which he is interested. He can then contact them and ask whether they are able to spare some time for a conversation about what they do. Most people who enjoy their profession are happy and willing to talk about their jobs.

Through these informational interviews, your student can learn what drew someone to a particular job, what skills are most important, what a typical work day looks like, what courses are essential preparation, and what strengths he should cultivate. Ending each interview with a request for the name of anyone else he might contact will help your student find others to interview.

Many students find that informational interviews early in their college career, can make an important difference in guiding them toward — or away from — a career.

The open mind

Whatever form your student’s career exploration takes, the earlier he begins, and the more open he is to the information he gathers, the more confidence he will have that he is on a path toward a career that he will find fulfilling and for which he will be well prepared. What more could we, as parents, want?