It’s that time of year again when college seniors across the country get that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs, weighted by the question: “What the hell am I going to do next year?” It is an uncomfortable time when you’re entire class starts scrambling to find a “path,” and unless you received a job offer from your junior summer internship or are applying to grad school, you feel tense and nervous all of the time.
Your College Career Center, bless their souls, unwittingly exacerbates the senior year job scramble. They try…they really do. But, they lack the resources and the time and a sophisticated, nuanced understanding of the awesome individual you truly are.
As you begin to attend all of those useless Career Center sessions where they basically throw a bunch of colored pieces of paper at you, bear in mind these 5 things your college career center gets wrong and take what they say with a grain of salt.
1. General Job Process/When You Should Apply
Your local College Career Center will leave you with the impression that most companies recruit college graduates in the fall. To flesh out the impression, the Career Center puts a lot of effort into its fall career fair and all of the info sessions they give.
This is a lie. Most of the jobs that are available in the fall represent a very small portion of the jobs that are available to graduating seniors. Don’t forget that not all companies can make it to your career fair nor do they all have a direct connection with your school, particularly if they’re located on the other side of the country.
In the real world, most companies will hire anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months in advance. A more realistic timeline would be to start applying to jobs in April, especially as firms seek to replace “recent graduates” who might be heading off to Grad School.
2. The Cover Letter
Writing individual Cover Letters tailored to different sectors is perhaps the most painful and tediously boring exercise in writing. Also, unless you’re a complete narcissist, most of us were raised to be humble about our accomplishments, and it’s really difficult to strike a balance between “highly qualified individual” and “arrogant prick” when you’re trying to sing your praises to Human Resources.
But guess what? The Cover Letter is completely unnecessary in most instances. Unless the company specifically requests a cover letter in their job posting, you can get away with a quick email expressing your interest in any entry-level positions, attach your resume as a PDF, and then close by asking for any advice or information. Boom.
In my own experience on hiring committees and based on what others have told me, generally employers go to your resume first before they read the cover letter. This whole notion that your cover letter sets up your resume is false. Most people don’t have time to pore through one page of prose when they can see your accomplishments bulleted on the next page.
Also, the Cover Letter is not a real “writing sample.” Presumably if you’ve gone through 4 years of college, you know how to write. Employers will specifically ask you for a writing sample if there are any doubts about it.
3. The One-Page Resume
Sometimes the Career Center isn’t completely wrong about this one. Definitely in the private sector, you should generally keep your resume to a page. However, since a lot of companies just view your resume online, you can get away with having a little on the next page.
The trick with the One-Page Resume is figuring out what to actually put on it and how to order it. I’ve found from personal experience that the section that raises the most interest is “Other Skills/Interests.” On my resume, I have yoga, tennis, basketball, zumba, and baking listed among other things, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked about those interests.
You’re Career Center probably provides a “Resume Review Service,” which I highly advise you not to participate in. For one, the person reviewing your resume is probably a fellow student (read: competition) or a grad student (read: has yet to be in the workforce). Your Career Counselor doesn’t have the time to get to know the dazzling person that you are, and so they’re probably not a good judge of what things you should add or delete from your resume.
The best people to ask to review your resume are former employers, neighbors from back home who work, a headhunter service, or even a parent. Although if you’re mom and dad are anything like mine, they’ll want you to put all of your National Latin Exam gold medal wins from high school in the Honors section of your resume.
4. Level of Preparedness for the Interview
The Career Center does not lie to you, so much as lie by omission regarding the interview process. What they say about preparation holds true. Do not ever walk into an interview cold because it will be the most painful 30-minute social interaction you’ll ever have.
But, you also should not over prepare for the interview and know every single thing about the company. One, it’s a waste of time because you’re probably applying to a lot of places, and so you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Two, you want to be able to formulate some questions.
Three, and this is the most important, you want to be in the moment when you’re at your interview. Trying to remember all of the facts and figures about the company is going to keep you from paying attention to what your interviewer is saying and asking. Also, you will come off as an extremely unnatural, affected human being. An interview is not really much different from a conversation you would have with an acquaintance at a coffee shop. You probably won’t swear, and you will be extremely nice and courteous.
Another way to view it is that you’re going on a first date and you’re trying to close for a second one. You might be nervous, but you still have to make a good impression that will leave the other person begging for more.
5. The Job Board
At some point as you peruse your Career Center’s Job Board, you will realize that a healthy majority of the postings are related to the financial industry or consulting. Four years after entering the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and Career Centers still don’t get that maybe not everyone in the graduating class should become I-bankers.
It’s not entirely your Career Center’s fault. They are a business also, or at least part of the greater business that is your school, and so they need to court these heavy players for their own financial interests as an institution.
That being said, you know things are looking funny when you get Theater and Archaeology majors applying to McKinsey or Bain.
Stop. Your future is not listed on your Job Board. It is a very small minority of students who find their job through their college Career Center, and I guarantee all of those “% graduating with a job” numbers your college likes to flaunt were not because of anything the Career Center did for you.
But, there is hope: Cold Calling. Unless a company specifically says not to call them, the first thing you should do is call the HR department and ask if there are any entry-level positions are available. If they say no, suck it up and move on. If they say yes, you’re already in the door because they know to be expecting your resume. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever apply through an online portal. Any schmoe can do it, and most companies get thousands of resumes through their websites. You’re so much better off making direct contact with a human being and getting their email address rather than sending your resume off into the unknown depths of the interwebs.