Every campus has one: a collection of counselors and advisers standing by to help you with your resume, networking skills and 10-year-plan. But the sad truth is that many students don’t walk into their campus career center until their senior year, says Amanda Baker, an assistant director of the Johns Hopkins University Career Center. Most career centers offer a myriad of different services: everything from mock interviews to resume workshops to alumni networking opportunities. We talked to Baker and collegiettes about how to take advantage of what your career center offers
1. Peer and alumni mentors
Especially if you’re a freshman or sophomore, pairing up with an upperclassman to talk about your future career can be amazingly helpful. Many schools have a peer mentoring service you can sign up for (or some schools automatically enroll first-year students in such a program) that will pair you with someone who can answer questions you have about prepping for life post-graduation. This was a great resource for Alyssa, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. “I signed up for this program my first semester,” she says. “I was paired with a senior who helped me develop study skills and motivated me as I took some difficult classes.”
Additionally, many schools would be happy to connect you with an alumnus or alumna to talk about his or her career. “People want to mentor students,” Baker says. “A lot of alumni want to help out students in a nonfinancial way. It’s a great way to get help.”
After you are paired up with a peer or alumni mentor, you’re often encouraged to email or see them regularly. “Build a relationship,” Baker says. Ask them questions about classes to take or why they chose their particular career. Alumni may even be able to help you later when you’re applying for jobs! Check out your career center’s website to see if your school offers a similar program.
2. Career aptitude tests
Have absolutely no idea what you want to do after college? Taking a career aptitude test can be a great way to explore your options if you’re undecided. Baker says that many schools offer tests like Myers-Briggs, a personality test that can shed light onto possible career choices that would suit your skill set. “They’re almost always free,” Baker says.
Be sure to check your campus’s website to check out the offerings. These tests will ask you questions about how you approach life, how detail-oriented you are, how extroverted or introverted you are and many more. Baker says you can take these tests online once your career center gives you a school-specific code (so you can take it for free!), and after you take it, many schools will set you up with a counselor to go over your results together.
“I took the Myers-Briggs during a career center workshop class I took over winter break,” says Vanessa, a senior at Johns Hopkins University. “It was cool to see what careers the test thought I would be good at, [like] engineering, my major. The test also confirmed that I should never work in anything revolving around customer service!”
3. Resume critique
Does your high school resume need some polishing? Most schools offer resume workshops where you can bring in a draft or a finished resume and have a professional career adviser look it over before you send it to potential employers.
This was extremely helpful for Kayla, a senior at the University of South Carolina. “My resume needed a total overhaul, and the career center professionals showed me what needed to be replaced or eliminated altogether,” she says.
Angelina, a student at Ramapo College of New Jersey, credits her resume critique with getting her internship. “[My career center] would look over your resume depending on your major and what kind of internship you're looking for,” she says. “I wish more of my friends took advantage of this, because this workshop helped me land my internship at Good Housekeeping that spring!”
4. Business cards and photos
Your career center may even offer to make you business cards for free! This was an amazing perk for Megan, a student at Illinois State University. “The cards had all of my information on it, plus the Illinois State University logo,” she says. “So many of the employers I talked to were very impressed by them and couldn't believe my career center did it, especially for free.”
While your school might not offer this service, many do offer lots of other free perks! Alyssa was able to get a freeLinkedIn photo taken at the UT Austin career center. “A good picture on LinkedIn presents you in a good light… so it's incredibly important not to post a grainy selfie,” she says. Alyssa loved how it turned out because she likely would not have been able to get as professional a picture had she taken it herself!
5. Field trips
Some career centers take interested students on field trips to major cities to look at how certain industries operate. Asiana, a collegiette at Le Moyne College, went on a field trip with her career center to look at possible jobs in communications in New York City.
“We went to Eric Mower + Associates [an integrated marketing and communications company], where we got to see what the company was all about, what they look for when hiring and what a day in the life was for the professionals that work there,” she says. Often these programs aren’t free, though—generally if they are overnight trips, like the ones offered at Johns Hopkins, they will be a couple hundred dollars, but shorter trips may be cheaper or free. Check with your career center!
6. Mock interviews
Interviews can be scary, but with the proper preparation, they can be totally manageable.
Asiana really liked the mock interviews her career center facilitated because they gave her a chance to practice before the real thing. “The mock interviews are so similar to what you will see in the real world,” she says. “Their feedback is so positive and what is not positive is just constructive.”
7. Career staff speakers
Many campus career counselors can even be invited to speak to organizations on campus. Baker says that she often gets requests to speak from sororities, certain classes and professional societies. “We’re happy to partner with classes and groups,” Baker says. “Asking questions in a larger group can be more comfortable for some people.”
Usually one or two career center counselors will come to speak to the group. This is an especially great program for shyer students. “If [students] are feeling nervous, they can learn information without having to directly ask for help,” Baker says. “Through these talks they can meet me [or a colleague] and they’ll see I’m not going to criticize them in a one-on-one meeting!” Baker says that once students interact with the counselors in an indirect way, they may be more likely to seek out the center’s services alone.
If you’re interested in having a career counselor speak to your club or class, be sure to let your career center know at least a few weeks in advance! Career counselors can talk about specific topics, like LinkedIn networking and resumes, but they can also provide a general introduction to what your career center offers. Talk to someone on the staff to see how they can personalize the talk for your group.
8. Summer hours
School might not be formally in session during the summertime, but your career center staff is standing by and ready to help! “Most [career centers] are open year-round, and it’s underutilized,” Baker says. The staff will likely be less busy than during the school year, so you’ll get more individualized attention and support. And if you’re not around campus to make a face-to-face appointment, many career centers can arrange phone or Skype counseling sessions for free.
9. Etiquette dinners
Business events and dinners can be nerve-wracking; it goes without saying that attending one in the future will require a little more preparation than your dining hall dinners. “[My] career center does etiquette dinners every year where they teach you the proper way to dress and act at a business cocktail hour or a formal business dinner,” says Rachel, a student at the University of Hartford. “It's pretty cool, it's free and the food is fantastic; I've been to a couple.”
Remember: this list is certainly not all-encompassing! Each career center will offer different services, and the only way to find out what your campus offers is to check out the website, stop by the office or call for information. Many career centers have very in-depth websites with plenty of online resources, but don’t wait until your senior year to step foot into your school’s career center! Make an appointment and see how they can help you.