is it time to close down college career centers?

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I recently got a letter from a senior in college asking if her cover letters were too focused on herself and not enough on the organizations she was applying to. She showed me a typical letter, which included the following (pieces redacted to protect her privacy):

“As a graduating senior double majoring in __ and __ at __ College, I am interested in pursuing a career focused on __. I believe that my experience researching __, combined with my internship, shows my commitment to social justice and grassroots action to combat __. This drive makes me an ideal candidate for the position of __.

My excellent communication and writing skills combined with my proficiency in analysis, research, and time management enable me to contribute to the goals of ……….. and importantly, afford me a tremendous opportunity to expand my own personal knowledge and skill set…”

I wrote back and told her this:

One problem is that you’re telling, not showing — “shows my commitment to social justice” … “makes me an ideal candidate…” … “enable me to contribute to the goals of”…

Let the employer draw those conclusions through the information you show them. Don’t tell them what it means; they decide that stuff.

Have you reviewed the cover letter section of my archives? That might help.

Here’s her response, which made my blood curdle on behalf of college students everywhere who are being poorly advised by their campus career centers, to the point of malpractice:

Thank you so much for your advice. I haven’t gotten a chance to look at your archives yet but I definitely will. I’m just confused about letting future employers draw conclusions. My career center always told me I have to tell the job how good I am and not let them infer anything since they could negatively infer. Was that an over-generalization?

What?!!

Campus career centers are notorious for giving out bad advice, but this is among the worst I’ve ever heard.

Do not tell the employer how good you are; they are going to decide that for themselves, not simply trust your assessment, and it makes candidates look overly cocky when they attempt to assert this kind of thing (and in the case of recent grads, naive — since most aren’t that good yet, and that’s normal).

Given the incredible amount of terrible advice coming from campus career centers — from telling students to “call to schedule an interview” to telling them to overnight their resume to “get the hiring manager’s attention” to recommending salesy interview answers instead of genuine ones — it really might be time to close down most of these charlatans.* Students would probably be better off if they were forced to find better sources of advice.

Health inspectors have the power to close restaurants that are endangering their customers. Someone should do the same here.

* And yes, I know there are some good ones. But when they’re such the exception to the rule…

{ 153 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Senor Poncho

    Yeah, bad advice abounds. Even when you have a few good staff members, these places tend to be under-funded/resourced too, particularly at non-elite schools.

    And don’t even get me started on law school career centers.

    Reply
    1. that former college career counselor

      For accreditation purposes, most law schools are required to have their own specific career centers, so they tend to be vastly different from a college career center serving non-law students.

      And college career center serving non-law student are definitely understaffed and under-resourced in my experience!

      Reply
  2. Tina

    As a college career counselor, I’d like to think that the scenarios described by the people who write in to you are the exception, not the rule. After all, how many people would bother writing to you if they were raving about their career center?

    Neither I nor my coworkers give the “bad” advice that you listed above (I agree with your examples of “bad” by the way). It does make me wonder what kind of schools they are attending though.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think they’re the exception, unfortunately.

      I’d agree with you if it was just people writing in to complain about it — people generally don’t write in to praise the advice they got, as you point out. But usually when I hear about bad career center advice, it’s not in the context of someone complaining about it — it’s more along the lines of “I’m doing X like my career center told me…” They don’t realize yet there’s a problem with it. And I hear this kind of thing constantly.

      Reply
      1. Another English Major

        Yes, I had a career center counselor insist that I ADD and objective to my resume because I didn’t have one. This was in 2008.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          Yeah, objectives are no longer the done thing, and there can be bad/outdated info out there. However, I’ve been a college career counselor for a number of years, and I’ve worked at quite a few places. As a rule, my colleagues in the career services world are smart, thoughtful and reasonably informed generalists. Based on quite a bit of observed student behavior, I think it’s entirely possible that many students have misinterpreted career advice, over-generalized suggestions, or have gone about “standing out” in a particularly ham-handed way in resumes/cover letters or interviews (some of the most egregious stuff comes when they don’t leave enough time for us to review their documents or offer interview prep before they apply).

          That’s not necessarily just students who don’t read/listen/follow instructions either. I recall a job I posted a couple of years ago where a 30% of the applicants completely mis-read the job title/description and demonstrated this in their cover letters. These were people who worked in HR.

          Also in complete agreement about career services offices being under-staffed and under-resourced.

          Reply
          1. Ornery PR

            It seems that if such a large percentage of people are misunderstanding, there is something wrong with the message.

            Reply
          2. Ornery PR

            It seems that if such a large percentage of people are misunderstanding, there may be something wrong with the message.

            Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The letter in question contained these phrases:
      “shows my commitment to social justice” … “makes me an ideal candidate…” … “enable me to contribute to the goals of”…

      The “evidence” that she felt showed these things are what the letter should focus on … not interpreting that evidence for the employer. That’s the problem. The employer doesn’t need to be told what these things mean — they just want the evidence so they can draw their own conclusions.

      Announcing that you’re X or Y or Z isn’t credible. You need to show what you’ve done with those things, and even recent grads should be able to do that.

      Reply
      1. The Snarky B

        I still think the question above applies. I think many recent grads are saying “The fact that I care about X means I’d care about/be good at Y.” When there’s no evidence of either. Like… I know the things I care about but there’s no evidence in my work experience that I do. (Mostly bc of lack of opportunities.) What do you recommend for people who have little to no evidence? Everyone has to start somewhere..

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Ah, but it’s okay to say, “I care passionately about X because of my experience with Y, and in fact have volunteered to do Z because of it.” It’s just not useful to say, “The fact that I care about X means that I’d be good at Y.” It’s up to the employer to determine if you’d be good at Y, and saying it isn’t persuasive.

          Or consider the difference between these:

          “I am organized so I’d be good at admin work.”

          “I live to organize things. My friends tease me because I color-code my closet and organize my spices alphabetically.”

          Reply
  3. Mike C.

    Regulations pairing after-college employment rates (both raw employment rates and ability to afford accumulated educational loans) with eligibility for government backed loan programs would go a long way towards improved career centers.

    Reply
      1. Mike C.

        In terms of repeat customers through the family tree? Or something else entirely? This is the first time I’ve ever heard of legacy being used this way.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I was thinking of an unintended consequence to your plan–we have to make sure our students are employed? Then we’ll accept a greater percentage of people who can be set up by their wealthy and influential families.

          Reply
          1. FormerManager

            Another unattended consequence: would this system track the quality of post-college jobs? There’s a for-profit college near me that, from what I understand, requires seniors to procure employment before graduation. Of course, they include retail and other low wage jobs as employment. This way they advertise that their graduates are 100% employed.

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              That’s the whole point of ensuring the jobs actually allow students to pay off their loans in a reasonable manner. You can also look at longer term trends such as employment 5 and 10 years out.

              Reply
          2. Mike C.

            There’s so few of those, and they’re already being accepted for school anyway. If it becomes really obvious that some school is trying to fudge their numbers, then the regulations can be tweaked.

            The vast majority of students don’t have parents who are partners at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe with a job waiting for a new graduate anyway. ;)

            Reply
            1. that former college career counselor

              These types of regulations are now in place for for profit schools, known as the “gainful employment” rule. (Check out http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/education/judge-strikes-a-for-profit-college-regulation.html)

              However, regulation is not that answer. As a former college career counselor (whose supervisor introduced me to AAM by the way!), I highly doubt that attaching a high stakes, placement model to college career counseling rather than advising/counseling based approach that makes the student responsible for their own future would improve the quality of advising…

              You want to improve college career centers, pay counselors a reasonable wage that reflects their training, weed out the bad counselors, and do all the other stuff AAM talks about to retain great employees. Regulation is never going to achieve that, IMHO…

              Reply
    1. Rana

      They exist – but only for vocational schools.

      I worked with both the Registrar and the Job Placement departments for one, and well over half of my responsibilities entailed tracking student employment after graduation and reporting on it; if we didn’t manage at least 75% placement within a year of graduation, we faced the very real possibility of losing accreditation. And that placement had to be in-field; a graphic designer getting work as a clerical admin didn’t count. (On the flip side, a part-time, poorly paid freelance gig did, so there were definitely limits to the good done here.)

      Reply
  4. LK

    Please don’t close them down because then I’ll be out of a job :) Seriously though, it’s like this blog – for every Ask A Manager-caliber blog, there are 1,000 crappy ones out there.

    Reply
    1. Valery

      Agree! Every Career Counselor has a different level of caliber and I would hate for quality ones to be treated the same as those stuck in the wrong times.

      Reply
    2. Victoria Nonprofit

      I’m curious – how did you get this job? I’m wondering about how people are hired and selected for these gigs; what kinds of experience did you have before getting there?

      Reply
  5. LuckyTemp

    I got the same advice from my college career center. I was told to not let employers infer anything and to instead state things for them plainly. I also was told upon a resume review that I should leave off my accomplishment of graduating a year early from college; the reasoning she gave was, “It makes it seem like you took an easy course load.” (Mind you, I graduated with a double major.) I was furious and never went back – instead I turned to the internet (and AAM!) for advice. :)

    Reply
    1. that former college career counselor

      depending on the student, I could argue both leaving it or getting rid of it. In some cases, graduating early, in itself, is not an accomplishment that hiring managers care about. How and why you graduated early might be more relevant to employers, for example, you balanced a large course load with an internship might matter but taking AP classes in high school would not.

      Reply
  6. Christine

    I don’t think career centers should close because I see them as the bridge from college to real-world employer. I *do* think they need to use better strategies. One thing that my university’s career center does that I like is putting on occupation-specific panels. For example, “careers in criminal justice” or “careers in the nonprofit sector”; they’ll bring in reps from actual agencies to discuss the various careers and, in some cases, what they are looking for in job candidates (I attended a social work panel that had actual hiring managers).

    I honestly do think my university’s career center is one of the better ones. But I admit that I do laugh sometimes at the advice of one particular counselor that I keep in touch with. She is a lovely woman; but when she suggested I include in my summary that I had “finely honed” x, y, and z skills, I rolled my eyes at first. lol.

    Reply
    1. T

      I agree; one of the most vital things the career center did at my college was host career fairs. About 60% of my friends got their post-grad jobs through a company they met at one of those career fairs

      Reply
  7. Bonnie

    Years ago I was asked by a university we recruited from to come up to campus and work with students on resumes for a class required by the college of business. They used a standard template that I disliked.

    Which each student, I would start by asking do you want to know what you can do within this format or do you want to know what I would do with your resume if you didn’t use this format? Many students only wanted to know what they could within their format (in their defense this was a class and they were going to be required to use that format). But some of the smarter one’s would ask what else I would do.

    Once I caught one of the staff standing and watching me rewrite their format. After I was done I noted that they probably didn’t want me changing their format. His answer was, “Actually it was nice to see what an actual employer would think.”

    Reply
  8. KayDay

    I think I was actually told the same thing by my career center =\

    Overall, however, I would rather keep my college’s career center than get rid of it. The advice I got was a mixed bag, some was very good, some mediocre, and some just wrong (“be sure to call to follow up after a week!” and “call to get a name to address the cover letter to!”).

    But, especially since I hadn’t yet heard of this blog, my career center also helped me out a lot. Yes, they would have suggested some very bland, boring, blah, cover letter–but it following their basic template was certainly better than what I could have conjure up all by my-inexperienced-self, and it was also better than 70% of the crap on the internet. And I still got a job with said mediocre cover letter.

    Also, my career center’s strength was with field-specific information. They also really helped my resume (by emphasizing accomplishments over responsibilities, for example) and their cover letter and resume review service was pretty good. They also conducted mock interviews that really helped me think about what I needed to say and how to say it. Sometimes, simply having a person you could sit down with one-on-one to talk about career choices, one’s accomplishments, etc. was really helpful in and of itself when I was a scared college junior beginning to realize that college would end at some point.

    The stuff they were terrible with was that the staff seemed to have some of the most commonly repeated terrible advice drilled into them, like it was a law that you had to call to follow up, or say specifically that you were the best candidate for the job, etc.

    Reply
  9. Heather

    What about how alot of recent college graduates have resumes that are 2 pages plus! My employer hires recent college grads as paid INTERNS because they are too cheap. Anyways, I’ve helped 3 of them recently with their resumes just to be nice. Two of the resumes were 2 pagers. One was 3 pages!!!! These kids with college degrees are listing jobs going back to high school, listing high school clubs, each and every part-time job they’ve ever held while over-inflating job titles and responsibilities, and internships (normal to have atleast 2 internships these days), plus every long last “club” they were in in college.

    **I was a one-pager back in 2001 when I graduated college with an internship, part-time job, and study abroad.** What ever happened to that?

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      THIS, THIS, THIS.

      When I see a recent grad with a two-page resume, I groan out loud and wonder, “who told this kid to do that?!”

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor

        Not necessarily anybody told them that, but they’re so used to getting _credit_ for every thing, that they list it. That’s what they were told to do to get into college, after all. So, if it was good enough to get into college, it must be worthy of keeping on the resume.

        I’ve had students fight me to include things (the first year with a 5 page resume comes to mind) because they didn’t want to lose “credit”. I finally got that student to understand that I wasn’t devaluing work/accomplishments, but that a “less is more” strategy was the appropriate thing to do. I also wind up treading very carefully around lots of parental resume directives. In general, 19 year olds with a Summary of Professional Qualities section look silly to internship employers. If I encounter resistance/reluctance, I usually get some traction by asking how many entry level employees/interns the parent usually hires. That’s when the light goes on for the student…

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yes, exactly, on the “credit” thing. This is what I was trying to say downthread. It’s like they think it’s bidding on a job and that leaving stuff off is lowering their bid.

          Reply
    2. Kou

      Is two pages really such a massive sin? If you have even just one thing to least from each year that’s already hitting one page. If you had several things to list per year then you’re not gonna cram that down into one page.

      Reply
      1. Bonnie

        Two pages is not necessarily a sin. If you have worked very hard to only have jobs and achievements in your chosen field or directly related to your chosen field, go for it. But sometimes people don’t know what to keep and what to remove. If you are applying for a job in engineering and your resume is two pages because you have included a stockboy position at your local grocery store as a freshman in high school and each year that your flag football intermural team was campus champs (with a separate line for each year, then you may only need one page.

        Reply
      2. fposte

        There’s a difference between “doesn’t quite fit on one page” and “fills up two pages completely.” I trim down twenty-year veteran resumes to two pages for grants, and it covers them just fine; a twenty-one year old should be able to squeeze it too.

        Reply
      3. fposte

        Hang on, I’m thinking more about this and you’re puzzling me with this “several things to list per year.” I’m puzzled on two fronts: one, it suggests that somebody’s subdividing their resume by years as the top category rather than by job, which doesn’t really help me as I read it; two, it suggests that somebody’s doing several things each year, none of which last beyond a year, that are all being reported on years later.

        That’s clutter, and it doesn’t sell you very well. Include the experience that defines a trajectory toward the position you’re applying to, pick significant other items that speak to skills that are impressive or particularly useful in the direction you’re going, and list them as “other experience.” But it’s a resume, not a list of every experience you’ve had. Weed it, shape it, and make a deeper story.

        If I’m

        Reply
        1. L

          Participating in semester/summer internships is one way to have multiple jobs within one year without looking flakey. It allows you to work on various projects and see what sort of work you enjoy. I cannot speak for other majors, but as a science grad this was common.

          That being said, despite working on four research projects in undergrad+a full-time industry job post-grad, I was able to get my resume onto one page :-)

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I’m not saying you couldn’t *do* them; I’m saying you don’t put all twelve of them individually on your resume, not because it makes you look flakey but because it’s conceptual clutter that impairs your message. It’s a resume, not a list. Don’t put everything you achieved in college on there. Either these internships are so wildly different that some of them don’t help your candidacy and should be omitted, or you can subsume some of them into a single category and just quickly run names and dates.

            I haven’t done lab hiring, so maybe it operates differently. But this is a thread about general career counseling, and putting down twelve short-term internships isn’t a good plan for general job hunting.

            Just because you did it doesn’t mean it belongs on your resume.

            Reply
        2. Kou

          No no, I mean if you do a few things worth listing every year, that’s a lot of things to list even though they were short. So where a professional might only have a handful of lines worth noting in four years because they had one or two jobs, a student might have a summer job, a semester internship, a year long research project, etc. for several or even all years. And leaving out any one might actually be a big hole in accounting for their experience and accomplishments. It’s a hell of a lot easier for me to trim down the decades of achievements of the faculty I work with than it was for me to cram down my resume as a college student because the nature of them is so very different.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            It’s highly unlikely that somebody has done three different things worth listing separately with description for every job they apply for every year they’re in college. I read recent grad resumes all the time, and I don’t want to see one that indiscriminate.

            You can say it’s not realistic, but the recent grads I’ve hired shape their resume just like everybody else does, so it looks realistic to me–and, more importantly, advantageous.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              To be clear, I’m not insisting that people squish stuff onto one page. But a year by year listing of a pile of varied short-term experiences is not going to tell me what I need to know without more work than I’m willing to do.

              Reply
            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              I agree — and since they’re by their nature shorter-term jobs, there are going to be fewer truly significant achievements to list anyway.

              The best senior candidates I see have 2-page resumes. So there’s no reason why a recent grad needs more than a page. It comes across as a bit self-important and/or unable to edit well.

              Reply
        3. Kou

          You are right, though, most people do not fall into the category I’m describing so generally I wouldn’t tell everyone 2 pages is normal. But I also don’t think it’s realistic to tell a student who’s managed to scrounge up a handful of short but useful projects that they have to weed some of them out because brevity is more important than what they’ve actually done– and at this level, a few highlight accomplishments doesn’t speak the same way it would if you were further in your career.

          Reply
    3. Xay

      I have been surprised to see how many new master’s degree graduates list their coursework. I worked on hiring for my company last fall and it shocked me how many people devoted a full page of their resume to coursework and two bullets for their internships or fellowships.

      Reply
        1. jesicka309

          Huh. I have some of my coursework on my resume…I’m doing a business degree, which is pretty general, so I wanted to highlight electives and unusual areas (accounting, statistics, pr, sports media) so that I covered the full criteria of job applications. I went for a job that required pr and accounting knowledge, so I made sure my resume showed I’d studied it at uni.
          Should I leave my coursework off my CV and address it in my cover letter instead? I don’t want to them to think I have no accounting knowledge based on my business marketing degree, when I actually do!

          Reply
        2. that former college career counselor

          this might also be the misunderstanding between the CV in academia vs. the real-world resume for jobs. Listing relevant (not all!) coursework on an academic CV would be appropriate in academia, but many recent graduates don’t understand that this doesn’t fly in the working world. A good college career center would certainly clear up this difference :-)

          Reply
          1. Mark

            As another college career counselor, I have to agree with this sentiment. I also see it within my own field a fair amount – Student Affairs professionals definitely take their queues from academia despite not truly being academics. I remember when I was in graduate school and on search committees I regularly saw (and still see) graduate students with two to three page resumes. I also have heard colleagues/practitioners say that is all right because they are in graduate school.

            Most of those students are twenty two years old, straight through undergraduate, and I see no reason why a year or less of graduate study means that you can add an extra page to your resume. At all. Especially since, looking at their resumes, there is very little substance to speak of to their work history despite taking so much space. If you’re out of undergrad, your high school endeavors have no business on your resume. Honestly, if you’re a college student who isn’t a freshman I see no reason for them to be there.

            I guess that’s all well and good, since those students were seeking to stay within academia which clearly was more tolerant of lengthy resumes. I transitioned from corporate america and I cringed (and still do) to see this – I don’t think it’s effective use of space, that it steals precious time away from colleagues in search committees. And it just. Looks. Dumb. To me, at least. I think what is lost on many university hiring officials – aside from the reality that many are not effective hiring managers – is that conventions in the business world have real, pragmatic reasoning behind them. I don’t find that to be the case in academia, which seems to blindly follow tradition without asking why.

            Reply
            1. Rana

              There is some degree of “because we’ve always done it this way” in academia, but I would argue that it’s not limited to it. A number of those requirements that look strange in other contexts – such as long c.v.s, letters of reference, sample work, and so on – are actually functional.

              Are they appropriate for all academic jobs, or even all academic faculty jobs? No – adjunct positions, for example, could get away with a lot less. But for tenure-track positions, where you’re looking to hire someone who will be a productive and congenial colleague in a close setting for 30+ years, there’s an argument for getting as much information as you can.

              Reply
            2. Katie in Ed

              I think what is lost on many university hiring officials – aside from the reality that many are not effective hiring managers – is that conventions in the business world have real, pragmatic reasoning behind them. I don’t find that to be the case in academia, which seems to blindly follow tradition without asking why.

              I came here pretty much just to post “This…OMG thisssssssssssssss,” but I also believe Rana is right to add more nuance. The moments where the academy appears to lack pragmatism may be attributable to the unique working environment the academy provides. But this is also surely a major cause of the misinformation provided for college career centers. For better or for worse, college counselors take their queues from a professional world that’s kind of wonky and unlike many others.

              Saying that the academy is divorced from business isn’t breaking news, but it’s too bad that this major milestone for success in the business world involves so much misinformation. It’s so much harder to provide professional success without a college degree, yet it fails to teach the norms and rules that make one successful. Which is almost silly, as there are so many bright and capable people in the academy who are simply ignorant of the differences.

              But yeah – looking back, so many university hiring folks are terrible managers. Ugh – don’t get me started.

              Reply
    4. Lulula

      I’m wondering whether the over-detailed resumes just reflect the general confusion out there about how to get a job now, particularly since things are so competitive. You don’t know what’s going to be the differentiating element, what an employer might find significant… For instance, I took a language class for 1 1/2 years just because I was interested. I’m not remotely fluent, and have probably lost a lot of it by this point, but it’s hard to resist looking for a way to include it somehow as something distinctive that might demonstrate some skill that I don’t even know they’re looking for. (Don’t worry, it’s not on there… yet.) These kids may feel like they’re at such a disadvantage due to their perceived lack of experience that they need to play up whatever experience they DO have, and include as many potential key words as possible, just to avoid a career in fast food.

      And I don’t know how much I trust employers to infer – if they use Lotus Notes and I only mention knowing Outlook, will they infer that I’m able to use an email program and probably able to pick up LN fairly easily, or just determine I don’t have what they want… next.

      Reply
  10. Valery

    Ack! Whenever I see these stories, I cringe. I think I’m fortunate that my office really echoes the advice/insights/recommendations that are found on this blog but I know that’s not always the case. But I hope that somewhere along the way, students are critically analyzing the advice they receive so if they don’t have a good career office, they find a route that leads them to this blog. Fingers crossed at least…

    Reply
  11. Anon

    I supervisor seniors completing a 500+ hour practicum experience. Part of what I do includes reviewing their resume/cover letter. The career center rejects their resume if it doesn’t have an objective and then I come along and say “no objective, no objective”. They get confused but since I’m a hiring manager they tend to listen. I tell them to submit whatever the career center asks for for internal stuff/graded portfolio and then apply with what I review.

    What makes it worse is that it’s my alma mater. Cringe.

    Reply
      1. Anon

        I do this already. They get a series of emails about job searching, resume/cover letter, grad school, references. all sorts of things.

        Reply
        1. V

          I think Mike C. means that you should write a letter to the school – explaining that you as a hiring manager feel that their job search tips are hurting their students as candidates.

          Reply
    1. EM

      Have you mentioned to the career center that most hiring managers dislike objectives? They might actually listen to you. :)

      Reply
    2. Nikki

      Yes! Reach out to them. You’re an alum and everything, gives you an ‘in’. And like EM said, they may actually listen.

      Reply
  12. AMG

    There needs to be a push for some standardization in academia. Perhaps an offer to participate in a project doing just this? Alison’s advice stands on its own IMO, but if there were a database of survey feedback from HR/hiring execs and leaders that the Universities could reference, perhaps it would get their attention and help them to better prepare their students. The disparity is sad, and I feel for the college grads trying to navigate this.

    Having said that, people who want help will find it. I had already had a great résumé in college, and did some heavy eye rolling at my college career center and business courses that mandated mission statements AND objectives. I created separate docs for class and for real-life applications. My point is that when the advice seems to not match reality, those individuals will hopefully find their way to sites like AAM. There’s hope. :)

    Reply
  13. PEBCAK

    The thing I hate most is entry-level resumes that list classes taken. Seirously, if I am on campus interviewing CS majors, I know what classes you have taken. Now, if you have some that were your particular favorites, and those align closely with an open position, you can mention that in your cover letter, but list of classes = cringe!

    Reply
    1. Bonnie

      We interview accountants but get can occasionally have the same problem. Yes, we know you took intermediate accounting and an auditing class; so did all your classmates and all of the accounting majors at all of the other schools. We will also get software used, which is fine if you want to tell us which tax software you learned during your internship with another accounting firm but useless if you just want to tell us you know how to use Excel and Word.

      Reply
        1. Lulula

          As usual, agreeing with you on this – between keyword paranoia and the seeming importance placed on this knowledge, it feels safer to have a Computer Skills section that includes every piece of software I can ever remember using. I’d hate for my resume to get kicked out because the hire order lists MS Word competency as a key requirement but I didn’t mention it.

          Reply
    2. Neeta

      A few months ago a friend asked me to look over her CV which she intended to send to an internship application. About half of it was taken up by her grades in various subject (not all of them relevant to the type of job she’d be doing).

      I’m all for mentioning school projects you worked on, when you don’t have any other experience. But grades in unrelated subjects?

      The worst part was, that her CV had to be approved by her career counselor who wouldn’t do it without her having listed the grades.

      Reply
  14. Anonymous

    I semi-recently had my major’s person at our career center tell me that I should have an objective and that I should take the months off of the only 2 jobs I have which happen to be summer jobs. I was able to see recently why that would be problematic (even though I didn’t do it) because in an interview the HR asked me why I have such large gaps with an angry face! (she must have totally skipped over my graduation date).

    She also told me to to make everything an action and pick out extra words which I tried and it pulled all of the personality out of my resume. It also would have been nice to see any advice on how to look like you accomplished anything as an intern in 2-3 months…

    In addition, I can remember this career center lady visiting my Career Skills class (which was also a bit of a joke, but gave us time to put together our design portfolios) and giving us advice that I heard and said “hmm, that doesn’t seem right..”

    And I attended an expensive and fairly reputable school that prides itself on its students getting jobs. If the advice were better then maybe I wouldn’t be one of the ones who have fallen through the cracks and been unable to get a job for a year and a half post college! I have undying gratitude for AAM because without this blog I probably still wouldn’t be landing any interviews!

    Reply
    1. FormerManager

      If it doesn’t seem right don’t do it. I took a resume course through our career center and the instructor, a rather bombastic older gentleman with an outdated career outlook, told us (in 2005) to print our resumes on expensive resume paper and overnight them to the hiring manager. And always find out the name of the person by calling around the company. That would show your diligence (in stalking?).

      He then told one student, who held a leadership position in her sorority and had coordinated some large volunteer projects, to remove it from the Volunteer section of her resume because “some hiring managers might be biased against sorority girls.” He told another student to use initials instead of his name (which was Chinese) because a hiring manager might be racist.

      The sad thing was the instructor ran his own company. I wisely concluded I wouldn’t want to work for him. And I got a job by emailing my resume and cover letter to the HR person listed in the ad. No calling around the company for the name of the hiring manager. No elevator pitch messages either, and I still got the job.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Our Career Skills class was largely based around person branding and having everything match while being printed fancily on nice cardstock and paper. On one hand, it was a design major and a lot of these hiring people know their paper/design, on the other… we were in interactive design and development. I just feel like it was a big misleading experience coming from a bunch of outdated, and sometimes non-field-specific, advice.

        Reply
      2. Chinook

        The irony about the type of advice he gave these 2 individuals about hiding their identities is that this was good advice a few years ago (not that it was right that they could be discriminated against, just the heads up that it could happen). It is not as out-of-date as some other advice noted above. Some version of it still applies – I would never say I was part of a Catholic woman’s group even though I am on the executive but in a spiritual way (I organize, not preach) because I know it could colour someone’s opinion of me before they met me. At most I would say I was part of a volunteer group.

        Basically, he wants them to hilight their abilities and not have someone focus on something that has nothing to do with work.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          Relevant research: look up “Why do some employers prefer to
          interview Matthew, but not Samir?” – resumes with “English-sounding” names statistically get better results.

          Reply
      3. PEBCAK

        The sorority is a tough call, as in some areas of the country, people do have a lot of negative stereotypes about Greeks. I actually never put mine on my resume (despite holding some pretty large leadership positions), but would talk about it in interviews. Now, when I see it on a resume that is NOT entry-level, I think it is weird.

        Reply
      4. Anonymous

        I have a very foreign last name (my family came to the U.S. over 100 years ago!) and was once told that I should include a phoentic pronunciation because some employers would be afraid to contact me if they couldn’t pronounce my last name. I decided I didn’t want to work for someone like that, so dismissed the advice.

        Reply
  15. Chloe

    Alison, I am genuinely confused by this. Lets say I work in a knitting factory and I’m the best knitter there. They don’t have any particular method of measuring who is best (eg awards, ratings, senior positions), but I am known to be the best.

    Are you saying I shouldn’t put on my resume that I’m the best knitter, or that I’m very good at knitting? How would I demonstrate that I’m good at knitting in that scenario? Maybe I would say “junor knitters ask me for advice”, or “I take the lead in technical knitting discussions”.

    Thats fine, but I don’t get why it is so egregiously terrible to say “I’m good at knitting”? Seems like a sensible thing to say, to me.

    (And now the word “knitting” has lost all meaning because I’ve typed it so many times.)

    Reply
    1. Lauren

      I struggle with this ALL the time. I’m a mental health counselor so my isn’t particularly given to metrics aside from “only 1 of my clients was hospitalized this year”

      Reply
      1. KellyK

        I think you can give specific and detailed accomplishments without having to have numbers attached to them, though. Can you talk about establishing a rapport with clients and helping them accomplish X or cope with Y using Z methodology? Do you have colleagues who attest to your awesomeness (like psychiatrists who always send people to you for X and Y issue because they know you’re good)?

        Reply
      2. Anon

        Word. “I negotiated really good plea offers for really unsympathetic criminal defendants.” “I successfully convinced a judge to let this woman out once when the DA was asking for 10k in bail.” I see too many clients for any one case to be an impressive accomplishment, but we don’t really go in for metrics either (for obvious reasons).

        Reply
    2. EM

      If I were an employer reading a resume that said, “best knitter”, I’d wonder what makes you the best knitter. Can you knit more linear feet in a particular length of time than any other knitter? Are your stitches perfect and never need to be redone? Do you balance high output with quality? I would be more impressed with a statement like, “knits an average of 2 billion linear feet per week with no revisions” instead of, “I’m the best knitter”.

      Reply
      1. Chloe

        I get that “best knitter” is too woolly (ha! get it?), but Alison specifically said: “Do not tell the employer how good you are”. I don’t really understand this. Do you mean, don’t ever just state “I’m really good at knitting”, but always give a specific measurement of how good you are? Eg, like EM said, I make no mistakes, or whatever. Can you say “I’m good at knitting, as demonstrated by XYZ”? It just seems quite surprising to me that I can never say I’m good at something. I mean, isn’t that the point of a resume?

        Reply
          1. Henning Makholm

            That sounds like it’s a simple matter of phrasing, then?

            “I’m good at knitting, as demonstrated by my knitting 240 teapots in two weeks” is good, but “I knitted 240 teapots in two weeks; this shows that I’m good at knitting” is bad?

            I agree that the former flows much better than the (rather stilted) latter — but my original reading of your post was that one should rather write something like: “I knitted 240 teapots of my own design for a giveaway in two weeks.” and not have to spell out the conclusion to the reader either before or after the actual evidence.

            Reply
            1. Chloe

              Thank you, thats what I was ineptly trying to say! I struggle with the idea of not in any way saying you’re good at your job. I’m a lawyer so I don’t have any particular way of saying what I’ve achieved. I don’t litigate so I can’t say I’ve won a number of cases, I don’t ask my clients to give me a mark out of 10 for every letter of advice, my deadlines fluctuate so I can’t even really refer to timeliness in a useful way. I work in-house so I can’t refer to billing targets. All I know is that my internal clients love my work and tell me its top quality. I’m still not sure how I’d meet the “don’t say how good you are” rule.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                It’s not that you can’t mention how good you are — it’s that you need to demonstrate it, not just announce it. Otherwise everyone in your field could just announce it, and surely it’s not true for all of them, right? What distinguishes you from others? Why should they be excited about hiring you vs someone else? That’s what you want to demonstrate.

                Reply
                1. Chloe

                  Ok, I’m finally getting it. I am too literal, and took you to mean that I just can’t say I’m good at my job, which was a bit jarring. But I understand now that I need to demonstrate that with concrete measures of my achievements. Luckily I’m not looking for a job right now, otherwise I’d be fretting about this a lot more!

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes, this — what is it that makes you the best? That’s what you want to say. Anyone could say they’re the best, but it’s not credible unless it’s backed up by specifics.

        Reply
    3. Lynn

      I think “good” is too vague. How good? Good compared to what? “Junior knitters ask me for advice”, or “I take the lead in technical knitting discussions”, or “I have mastered the hook-eye-pearl and walrus-tusk stitches” [I don’t knit, so insert actual skills of knitting goodness here] or “I have received the Medal of Knitting Awesomeness for my hand-knit dresses”. Something that gives them an idea of what you are calling “good”.

      Reply
    4. fposte

      Because nobody will say “I’m average at knitting.” How do I know the difference between the people who say “I’m great at knitting” and have made a single long rectangular scarf every year and the people who’ve knitted glam catsuits from musk-ox-wool and dental floss over the lunchbreak?

      By having them tell me which they did.

      Reply
      1. AdAgencyChick

        fposte, you rule.

        I want a glam catsuit made from musk-ox-wool, but with tinsel instead of the dental floss. Whom do I need to hire to make that happen?

        Reply
          1. fposte

            I had a student who’d done a co-op purchase of some with some other knitters and made a beautifully knitted scarf that was the softest thing I’ve ever touched–that’s what was in my mind (that and dental hygiene, apparently).

            Reply
    5. KellyK

      I think being known by your coworkers as the best is a lot more concrete than just saying you’re good. Especially if you have concrete examples—you’ve shown all your coworkers the best ways to pick up dropped stitches, or you’re the only person your company trusts to do steeking.*

      *Building in extra stitches and cutting them later, like at the armhole for a Fair Isle sweater. Generally considered to be an advanced technique, especially because if you screw it up, you can unravel the whole garment.

      Reply
  16. Xay

    I think that college career centers need to be revamped, not shut down.

    One of the things that I really appreciate about my alma mater (one of those non-job preparing liberal arts colleges!) is that the career center actively engages their alumni. They have developed a variety of program designed to bring real world experience and perspective to their students beyond just internships (most of which didn’t exist or were in the pilot stage while I was there) and take advantage of the current technology to improve networking and mentorship between current students and the alumni.

    I recognize that they are the exception rather than the rule, but I wish that more college career centers would follow their lead.

    Reply
    1. Jane Doe

      I think not engaging students is a big problem, and part of this is that at a lot of universities, students aren’t required to see a career counselor on a regular basis – maybe once during senior year, if the requirement exists at all. I know that at my alma mater this meant it was entirely self-directed – the students who needed help the least were the ones who scheduled voluntary appointments, and the students who needed the most help didn’t go at all.

      If university administrations required juniors and seniors to have a meeting at the career center each semester as a prerequisite to registering for classes (more or less the same way academic guidance counselors work), I think there would be a lot more participation on both sides, because students would be encouraged to think up questions to ask their counselor, and the career center would have to improve to the point where they’re not wasting students’ time and causing students to complain about silly advice.

      Reply
      1. Ariel

        Eh, I don’t think forcing students to jump through more hoops would necessarily help the situation. If anything, it would make career centers more overworked and overburdened. Plus, lots of students don’t need traditional career advice – because they’re attending graduate or professional school, or they are joining the Peace Corps, or whatever.

        Reply
        1. that former college career counselor

          THIS!!!!!!! I worked at a campus with just over 10,000 students and only 4 career counselors, a graduate counseling intern, and 2 undergrad peer counselors. On top of career counseling, we also did grad/professional school advising and on-campus recruiting. No way could we have handled mandatory appointments!

          Reply
      2. Bonnie

        We have recruited at one university that requires college of business students to take a class for credit at the their career center each year. They turn out an amazing number of very polished little clones that makes it very difficult to differentiate after a couple of days of on campus recruiting.

        Reply
      3. College Career Counselor

        THIS. Student engagement/accountability/follow-through is often terrible. What college quickly teaches you is that whatever is not required, is optional. And whatever is immediate (grades, thesis, campus/other job, social life) takes priority over anything in the future (job after graduation, networking, career planning). This is why colleges and universities are scrambling to figure out how to “do career services better” right now. Because there is more attention on the educational ROI as evidenced by first job after graduation outcomes.

        I agree with Jane Doe about requiring career planning meetings with counselors, however I’d do it earlier (sophomore year) so that you get a culture of engagement going and students have time to implement what they’re learning in getting internships and other career-building experiences.

        Reply
  17. AnotherAlison

    I’m just surprised how wrong new grads can get it, when they have so little information to put on a resume! I’m not at all picky about format, objectives/no objectives, etc., but we had a guy who applied for an internship as a sophomore (i.e. only 1 full year of college completed), had a two page resume, and spent page one listing his duties as a remote-located admin assistant for a yoga studio and sacking groceries. For an engineering job. He didn’t mention his education or the one semi-technical job he had had until page 2.

    To me, this is common sense. You might not know to list accomplishments vs. duties, or to use a serif/sans serif font, but I don’t think a career counselor should have to tell you what part of your experience is relevant. New grads could get as simple as just asking themselves what experience do I have that someone hiring for XYZ positions would want to know about and avoid at least half of their problems. I think they might get more messed up when they go randomly searching the internet (or their career center) for advice because they seem to blindly apply (and mis-apply) rules that are not for them.

    Reply
    1. Kou

      It’s not common sense, though. It’s just not. It feels like it should be when you’ve seen so much of it that you understand it, or if perhaps you grew up in an environment where you could learn much of it through osmosis. But the conventions don’t just come to you naturally, you can’t just puzzle them out yourself as an inexperienced college student. That’s why widespread bad advice (or lack of help) is such a huge issue.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        FWIW, I certainly did not grow up in an environment where I could learn this by osmosis. I don’t remember much about the whole process I went through in college anymore anyway.

        I agree with you that the conventions don’t come naturally. The part I think a student should be able to figure out on his own is what part of his experience is relevant to the job, what makes him a good candidate. The fact that graduating students can’t figure that out speaks poorly of all of us. We should insist that a student who spent 4 years and thousands of dollars 1.) learn something that is of value to the marketplace, and 2.) learn how to articulate why he’s valuable to the marketplace. If you were in a leadership role in a student organization, that’s important and it demonstrates leadership skills that translate to the workplace. I think it should be understood that that is a key point for the student’s resume. I’m genuinely interested in understanding why someone else would need to tell a student that.

        I realize a student might list 15 major classes, and that might tick off a certain manager, but to me the bigger problem is that the student doesn’t understand how to frame the value of those classes properly (again, like leadership on a key class project, or a particular research paper in the area of the targeted company’s business).

        I’m not blaming the students. They’ve been failed by us.

        Reply
  18. Jubilance

    I’d like to see more career centers engage alumni, especially hiring managers, to see what’s really going on in the world of hiring. Too many career centers are peddling out-dated information and it’s hurting students but also their own credibility.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      This! But they don’t do it. I would be more than happy to go to my alma mater with a red pen and help students rewrite their resumes and cover letters. But the Career Center doesn’t reach out like that. They reach out during the Annual Fund Drive though…The Career Center at my college, a wonderful school, was awful. I didn’t bother to visit the one when I attended grad school and found a job on my own.

      Reply
  19. Michelle

    The problem with most career centers is that the people working in them, through no fault of their own, are not hiring managers. Nor are they HR professionals who have a lot of experiece reviewing resumes. They have gernally worked in their role for a long time and haven’t even applied for positions very often. This means that they just lack the technical experience of job searching and hiring. Ideally, career centers would look to hire external folks from businesses to run these centers, but that isn’t how the higher education system works.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep, this is exactly the problem. (This is also the problem with a lot of the “career advice” writers on the Internet — they have no actual experience with the stuff they’re advising people on.)

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor

        Also true that once you leave a field, your intimate knowledge of the practice tends to decline, so I’m not sure that hiring industry experts (which admittedly is happening out there) is the sole answer. I think a hybrid model of industry experts and career services professionals has value, however.

        Reply
    2. Elizabeth

      Although those that hire may have experience helping with the job search, people often forget that Career Centers help a lot with career exploration and career counseling, not just the job search end. I also think it would be nice to get more people from the business side of things in the field, but until these positions start paying more it’s not going to happen.

      Reply
      1. Laura L

        This is something that I dislike about career centers. I didn’t start using mine until my junior year. They had some good workshops on interviewing and how to act once you got a job and they were really helpful if you wanted to do a post-grad volunteer program or fellowship. But, you couldn’t go to them and say: “this is what I’ve studied, these are my strengths and weaknesses, these are things I like doing, what types of jobs would fit that?”

        It didn’t bother me that much at the time because I was one of those volunteers, but my friends really hated it.

        Reply
    3. Anonymous

      Even if career centers did hire hiring managers, or people who worked in HR, it matters where those people worked before. Academia often has it’s own weirdness in what they want (faculty hire), or who they want (religious uni), or how the chain of command works for hiring and firing (soft money positions, for example my dept. head can’t fire me, only my direct supervisor or HR can). Governmental jobs probably has it’s own weirdness too.

      Reply
  20. Liz in the City

    The only valuable piece of advice I ever got from a college career center was the person telling me I didn’t have to wear a collared shirt with my suit, since collared shirts and I are not friends for various reasons.

    Other than that, everything else was junk, including “articles written as are the same as published clips” (nope).

    Reply
  21. Kou

    I think the problems caused by the kind of advise/expertise in the career centers is compounded by how very much faith people put in their ability to help. The students certainly think they’re experts, but people outside the universities also seem to think the students have some fabulous resources at their disposal and any issues the kids have is because they were too lazy or too shortsighted to take advantage of them.

    I can’t even remember how many times I heard, as a new grad wallowing in unemployment, “Why don’t you go to your school’s career center? I’m sure they can help you find jobs to apply to and they’ll have connections to organizations you want to work for. They’ll have inside listings from recruiters that you can’t find elsewhere.” I always wondered what kind of fantasy world those people lived in. My school’s career center did exactly 0 of those things. I have fond memories of going in as a senior and asking for help finding industry-specific openings & networking, while they starred at me blankly before telling me to look online. Oh or the time I took in my resume and cover letter for review and the guy said it “could be better” but had no actual edits or suggestions. Though to his credit, he didn’t give me bad advice– he answered “I don’t know” to all my questions.

    So not only did I not get help, but to anyone looking at my not-terrible-but-definitely-not-good resume I look like a putz who wasn’t even bright or proactive enough to have someone else go over it.

    Reply
    1. TL

      ‘I can’t even remember how many times I heard, as a new grad wallowing in unemployment, “Why don’t you go to your school’s career center? I’m sure they can help you find jobs to apply to and they’ll have connections to organizations you want to work for. They’ll have inside listings from recruiters that you can’t find elsewhere.” I always wondered what kind of fantasy world those people lived in. My school’s career center did exactly 0 of those things.’

      Oh, this!

      To be fair, I never made much use of the career center (I had part-time jobs during college anyway, so it wasn’t like I was looking for my first job *after* college), so I can’t definitively say whether they were good or bad. It’s possible that they offered useful services that I never dug deep enough to find. But in my case, their “job searching help” consisted of pointing me to the (physical) wall of job ads, none of which related to anything I was looking for, and to their small job listing site, and the OOH.

      If there’s anything I’d tell new grads, it would be to keep in touch with the teachers who have the most current real-world experience, and the most industry contacts, and ask *them* some of the questions you’d ask a career counselor. Not all of the advice will be great, but I think I would have been able to do much more by networking through past teachers than by asking the career center for help.

      Reply
    1. Henning Makholm

      Around here they’re required to post the most recent inspection report somewhere easily visible. Goes for any business that handles unpackaged foodstuffs, I think, since most ordinary groceries also display them.

      Reply
  22. Meg

    I never used the career center at my college. It seemed more geared towards helping seniors prepare for grad school vs a career. Though the best advice on resume I have ever gotten was from a recruiter who told me my resume wasn’t going to get me developer jobs (especially in a $50K+ salary range. Coincidentally, I’m making a considerably much larger salary than that). I restructured my resume to reflect a profile/skills at the top, followed by specific websites and projects I worked on (my role and accomplishments), followed by Other Experience, followed by Education. After that, I had recruiters throwing developer jobs at me.

    Then of course AAM’s tips (particularly cover letters, though my current position didn’t even ask for one).

    Perhaps AAM should write a book “Lies My Career Center Told Me: A collection of college graduate horror stories”

    Reply
  23. Oxford Comma

    In my experience, these college career offices tend to give out one-size-fits-all advice. Now they face the same problems that most departments and units in academia do: budget constraints, so it’s probably difficult for them to tailor stuff, but it does a huge disservice to the students. In my experience, they give out dated, cookie-cutter advice to students regardless of the prospective field which is typically found on lots of web sites and is still being given out by well-meaning parents.

    What kills me is that when I am trying to mentor my grad student employees, it is very, very hard to deprogram them. “But the career center said my resume should only be 1 page/I should call prospective employers to ask about my application on a weekly basis/I don’t have to give a list of my references because I have ‘references included upon request.'”

    Reply
  24. Maria

    UM yeah, this is one of my biggest issues with my college. I met with career services many times during law school, indicating I didn’t want a traditional path and asking what I should be doing to make myself a good candidate out of that realm. I was assured numerous times I needed to nothing other than what I was already doing, that law degrees are valuable in and of themselves…blah blah blah. Cut to me now being told I should have more applicable experience in the field I’m trying to transition into, having now been without a long-term job for two years. I can’t blame them 100%, but I do feel I was given, on numerous occasions, very bad advice. I always felt like they were trying to say whatever they could say to “shoo” me out of their office as fast as they could.

    Reply
  25. Steve G

    City University of NY’s Baruch College’s Career Center was good when I used them. They gave my a reality check when I was really young and was over-shooting in terms of jobs, re-did my resume, salary expectations, etc., and set me up to get a bunch of streams of job leads that I couldn’t find posted on any of the major jobs websites. They helped guide my to jobs I’d be good at at an age where I had no clue what adults in suits actually did all day, and put me through a good moc interview….

    Reply
  26. Rana

    I never approached my university’s career center for advice in how to apply for jobs, but I did seek them out when I was attempting to broaden my choice of career options, and they were well-meaning but pretty much useless.

    When you have Ph.D. in history, are curious about what that degree qualifies you for beyond academia, and the career center comes up with options like “captain of a nuclear submarine,” you know something has gone terribly, horribly wrong.

    Reply
      1. Rana

        There wasn’t much to explain, as the way they attempted to “help” me was by sitting me down at a computer loaded with one of those skills-and-interests self-assessment programs, and then vaguely waving me in the direction of some binders with job descriptions.

        I get (sort of) the value of that if you’re an undergraduate who has yet to declare a major and is curious about possible career paths, but if you’ve already got X years of experience in a field, with the credentials to match, and are looking to see what other fields might be interested in those skills and credentials, it was beyond useless.

        (My undergraduate college has been far, far better about career help, I have to say; one thing it does particularly well is connect students with alumni in various careers who have agreed to act as mentors or to provide informational interviews.)

        Reply
  27. Pamela G

    I don’t know how different the hiring rules are in Australia, but I certainly got a bunch of very interesting advice from my school career centre (they don’t have any career centres at our universities as far as I’m aware… either that or they did a really poor job of advertising ours!). Put your age and DOB on there, put your driver’s licence number, passport number – everything except your blood type. My personal information alone took up half a page!

    I modelled my resume on my boss’s resume when I was working as a music teacher – I should note that he is highly successful in his field and regularly gets head-hunted all over Australia. He had a list of responsibilities (not accomplishments) for his current job that took an entire page – everything from the important stuff (teaching curriculum, conducting orchestras/choirs, concerts) to the trivial (being a form tutor, administrative duties etc).

    My resume was 4 pages, including detailed references and a photo (I don’t know about other areas of work but a lot of schools in Western Australia ask for a recent photo with your application). It got me the job but I’m wondering just how bad it was now!

    I’m wondering if I should just throw the entire thing out and start again, once I start looking for work again (I’m a SAHM to 2 little ones so it’s a while off yet), especially since I’m looking to go into a different area of administration, specifically PA or EA jobs. I’ve already started revamping it based on AAM’s advice, since I’ve been an avid reader (but non-frequent commenter) since Sept 2011 when my husband was last job-searching!

    Reply
    1. Katie

      I think it would be really important to get Australia specific resume advice, because it seems like there are some pretty significant cultural differences between the US and Australia about what should be included on a resume.

      Even if you do start over from scratch, keep copies of your old resumes. They will probably be helpful.

      Reply
      1. Jen in RO

        I keep wondering about this. Alison’s advice sounds correct to me… but what if hiring managers in my country follow different practices? Luckily I’m not job searching right now…

        Reply
    2. Brenda

      Schools in Australia definitely do have careers centres – I work in the UK and our career appointments and resources management system is from an Australian company. However, advertising our services is always a problem, especially if careers isn’t embedded in the curriculum.

      However, that advice is terrible, and I would be surprised if it’s the norm in Australia. In the UK we would never ever ever advise putting personal information other than your name and contact information on your CV, and certainly not a photo. It opens employers up to all sort of potential for discrimination, which they’ll want to avoid if they have any sense at all. We do often see students from Asian countries include personal information and photos, so I think this may be standard/required in different, but Australia seems much more like the US and UK in wanting to avoid this at all costs.

      Your boss’s resume doesn’t sound super to me either – it may be that he’s being headhunted because of his reputation in his field, in which case his resume wouldn’t matter very much. Starting over on your resume, focusing on your skills and accomplishments, and trying to find out what, if any, personal information or references are actually required I think would be a good move.

      Reply
  28. Elizabeth West

    All I got at my former college’s career center was a personality type evaluation (“You are outgoing. You would be good in sales.” GAG. I hate sales.) and a bunch of free pens. NO career advice what. So. Ever.

    Hoping new college will be different. I think there is actually a class we have to take about this, and the director of the program quoted a really high placement rate. I do know a lot of people who went there, and they are very respected professionals now.

    Reply
  29. Noelle

    As a recent college graduate I have to agree with you in your assessment of career centers at school. They are awful!! They suggested that we get an online portfolio and fill it with papers and cases we worked on from school so hiring mangers could see our work. I’ve never heard of this elsewhere (maybe in different industries but not for a business company). The resume writing advice was also just as bad, and their cover letter writing tips were close to non existent. The career center mainly existed for students to have ‘networking’ opportunities with future employers, but I’m not sure that it even worked since there were only a few companies that showed up every year and they were mostly (and by that I mean 95%) for accounting and finance positions. I even sat down with one of the counselors at my school and it didn’t go very well, she even suggested that I overstate one of my past positions! I told her, if they call that company no one will back up that statement and they will think I am lying. Never ever trust someone that tells you to lie on a resume. Oh and she was also for an objective at the top of resumes *cringes*.

    Reply
  30. Chaucer

    I had a career counselor suggest that I drop off my resumes before because she heard of a student who got a job in retail by doing that.”

    Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, I already graduated and am CURRENTLY working a retail job and am trying to get that elusive first professional job! FAIL!

    Reply
  31. Zee

    My college career center:
    -A director who was never employed in the field in which he earned his degrees. This is all he has done for most of his life.
    -Counselors who suggest you still look in the local newspaper (almost turned rag) for a job.
    -Counselors who look over your materials when you are asking for help because nothing seems to be working and doesn’t have any advice or changes to offer.

    In my opinion, in general, college career centers are a good idea, but in practice, they need to revamp their ways, especially in this particular economy.

    Reply
  32. Allison

    My college’s career center was completely useless as well. My parents kept telling me to go, insisting it would help, but I knew it would be a waste of time. All they could do was help revise your resume, run mock interviews, and tell you where to look for jobs. Placement services would be great, but these centers are really just epicenters of bad advice. Where do these people come from? How are they trained? Are they reading outdated “how to get a job” books? Are there conferences for this sort of stuff? Do they ever talk to recruiters about what hiring managers are actually looking for?

    Reply
    1. College Career Counselor

      Wait. I’m confused. Your college career center was useless because all they did was help revise your resume, run mock interviews and tell you where to look for jobs?

      1. If you’ve got a career center that will help you revise your resume, particularly based on the industry you’re applying to, I think that’s helpful. So many students use their high school resume or make basic mistakes about what to include or how to phrase/frame it that, as someone noted up-thread, it’s not common sense and students need training in this area. No one is born knowing how to do a resume properly. Yes, styles and requirements change over time and from industry to industry. So if your career center was doing that, they were useful.

      2. Mock interviews are UNBELIEVABLY useful to students, who often have little to no formal interview experience AND who have very little practice talking about their education and experiences as they relate to their interest in and/or ability to do the job in question. Poor interview skills from college students is one of the main complaints I’ve gotten from employers, so again, if your career center offered them (and granted, did a credible job), then that’s a great service.

      3. Where to find jobs. I can’t tell you how many students think that craigslist (FSM help me) is the be-all, end-all of where to look for jobs. Most students have never heard of (and have no idea how to find) professional association job listings, informational resources, etc. So, if your career center was doing that, I have to think that puts them in the helpful category.

      Based on what you said, I think that what you wanted was something that many students (mistakenly) expect from Career Service offices: job placement. In other words, here is a list of 20/30/40/whatever job opportunities just for you and your classmates to apply for. It hasn’t been done like this for over 30 years, and they way they did it then was Company X would call up and say “send me your 5/10/15 best students.” So you had the Career Services office (or the faculty) picking the “best” students and not even publicizing the opportunity to anyone else. What’s the problem there? Well, what if I don’t remember all the “best” students because someone was in my office two months ago instead of last week? What if I am playing favorites based on people I like? What if I don’t know about the other kid who didn’t take my class? What if I forget about the minority/female/LGBTQ students?

      You also asked: “Where do these people come from? How are they trained? Are they reading outdated “how to get a job” books? Are there conferences for this sort of stuff? Do they ever talk to recruiters about what hiring managers are actually looking for?”

      They come from all over. Some have specific career services training in the graduate programs they’ve been to. Many have done practicum work in career services offices under supervision. Many have an understanding of the literature in the field about finding a job/finding one’s vocation/developing one’s passion/career. Undoubtedly some are reading outdated books, and others have their preferences (I like John Krumboltz’s “planned happenstance” theory; I’m not a fan of Bolles’s “What Color is Your Parachute?”).

      There are local, regional and national conferences for this stuff (National Association of Colleges and Employers, plus all the regional and state sub-associations, the National Career Development Association, national society for experiential education for starters), plus many other professional development conferences and meetings, including SHRM and others, which are specifically set up for career services professionals to ask questions of recruiters and hiring managers. They all cost money, and not every center has the budget to attend or even order a webinar, unfortunately. That’s the sad truth about the profession right now.

      TL;DR
      Career centers have a variety of resources available to undergraduates who choose to access them. It’s important to have an understanding of what they provide and most specifically what they don’t. One of the more eloquent versions I’ve seen is here: http://www.cwu.edu/career/open-letter-students-and-parents

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        They come from all over. Some have specific career services training in the graduate programs they’ve been to. Many have done practicum work in career services offices under supervision. Many have an understanding of the literature in the field about finding a job/finding one’s vocation/developing one’s passion/career. Undoubtedly some are reading outdated books, and others have their preferences (I like John Krumboltz’s “planned happenstance” theory; I’m not a fan of Bolles’s “What Color is Your Parachute?”).

        That’s the problem. None of that stuff qualifies them to have a deep understanding of how hiring managers operate and what they’re looking for.

        Reply
      2. Chaucer

        Yeah, I had a mock interview before a real interview for a job I wanted EXTREMELY bad and the “mock interviewer” said I knocked it out of the park.

        Guess what? I didn’t get the job.

        Reply
      3. Zee

        You and your career center might very well have all of your ducks in a row and have outstanding success with the students who come through. However, not all college career centers are as good – or anywhere close.

        Reply
  33. College Career Counselor

    I hear what you’re saying, Alison, about the value of understanding what hiring managers look for and how they operate. You’re correct that there has been an emphasis on the “counseling” portion of career counseling over the past couple of decades, which doesn’t in and of itself mean that they’re experts in hiring practices. I was specifically responding to Allison’s comment about where college career counselors come from and where they learn (including the opportunity to hear from hiring managers).

    While I can’t speak for all practitioners everywhere, I can tell you that in my practice and those that I’ve observed, the college career services professionals talk to hiring managers and industry professionals regularly about what they’re looking for and the way they prefer to have it presented for maximum effect. I’ve also brought in hiring managers to talk about their process so students can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time, effort and repetition from a variety of sources (career services folks, alumni, hiring managers, etc.) before it sinks in with even very bright students.

    Reply
    1. Lulula

      Just wanted to comment on the “open letter” you linked to above and say I’m impressed that CWU made a point of clarifying things so thoroughly. I hope other colleges & universities are doing the same! It may not solve the issue of uneven levels of service across different schools, but at least it can help manage (frequently unrealistic) expectations.

      Reply
  34. Nick

    It is a shame that Ask a Manager is going on the attack against college career professionals. There are good and not so good professionals in all work areas. Career counseling is not the exception.

    To say that maybe it is time to close down college career centers is an outrageous and borderline crazy statement. So many students are helped each year by career professionals with landing internships, finding jobs and figuring out what they want to major in and do for a career. The role of a career professional on a college campus is extremely critical, especially the last few years.

    I usually enjoy posts from Ask a Manager, but sometimes, not just this post, the writer comes across as being mean and attacking. There is no reason for it. Instead of being mean spirited, let’s all work together to improve our help and services for the student. Like I said before there are good and not so good professionals in all areas of work.

    Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not mean-spirited to point out that an industry is, on the whole, doing more harm than good. And that’s the case with campus career centers. While certainly there are some good ones (as I pointed out in the original post), those are the exceptions. I hear horror stories multiple times per week from students whose job searches were hindered by the very people who were supposed to be helping them. It’s impacting graduates’ careers and livelihoods, and there’s little/no accountability.

      The widespread nature of the problem and the complacency associated with it is what’s outrageous, and it isn’t a problem that’s served by sugarcoating.

      I’m tired of getting dejected and outright depressed letters from grads who don’t understand why they can’t get interviews, and wondering why what they were told by “professional career advisors” isn’t helping …. and then hearing back from them 2 months later that they’ve found a job after that threw that all out and started doing using the advice on this blog or in my book. Career centers are doing them a horrible disservice, one that’s easily avoided, and it pisses me off.

      It should piss you off too.

      Reply
      1. Nick

        Thanks for the reply. I respectfully disagree. There are thousands of colleges/higher education institutions and you are only hearing from a tiny sample.

        Students and alumni complain to career professionals sometimes about the way employers/recruiters/human resources professionals conduct their job. I don’t just assume everyone in those areas are incompetent. The full context of the story is not there.

        In any service industry, you will hear positive and not so positive stories. It doesn’t mean everyone is great or everyone is not good. You can’t just make a blanket generalization about the entire field. That is where I say you are being mean spirited and attacking.

        It would be fine to say I have been hearing some things about….Here are some solutions and ideas for improving the way career professionals and recruiters work with students/alumni. Complaining about an issue doesn’t solve anything. Saying it may be time to close down career centers is not a solution. That is an attack.

        Attending conferences that include both recruiters and career professionals, I hear many wonderful stories. Recruiters routinely are informing career professionals about the great work they are doing. NACE is a wonderful organization that combines these two industries and it is a great benefit for all.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Sorry, but I think you’re off-base here, both with your defense of the profession and with the statement that “complaining about an issue doesn’t solve anything.” Doing the latter in a public forum is how problems get noticed and addressed. It’s part of the way our system works, actually.

          (Also, any chance you’re a campus career counselor? Your IP address indicates you probably are, and I wish you’d been up-front about that.)

          Reply
          1. Nick (College Career Professional)

            Yes, I do work at a college in career counseling. I didn’t mention it because I figured it would be assumed. I enjoy working at a college with staff and faculty and helping students. It is a wonderful job to be able to assist students with figuring out what they want to do with their lives. That is probably my favorite part. I also love helping students build their experience and skills throughout college to best prepare them to obtain the job they want.

            As a whole I believe both career professionals and hiring professionals are doing a great job. I believe most have great intentions in helping students with their career development. Of course their exceptions, as their is in every career field.

            Reply
      2. Katie in Ed

        Hmmm. I think you might be off base here, Alison. Or at least, consider this alternative explanation:

        When I first started teaching at the age of 22, my students would regularly regale me with horror stories of their other teachers – we never learned this! I don’t know what a pronoun is! What do you mean it’s okay to use “I” in an essay? I was naturally aghast, and encouraged my students to foster their indignation at how their education was failing them and endangering their futures. The failures of my own education very fresh in mind, I felt it my duty to empower their feelings.

        But the situation was much more complicated than that, and I was wrong. I am certain that many teachers had failed the students I encountered in my classroom, but that’s pretty much because it’s impossible not to. I had yet to experience the crushing speed of pacing guidelines or the special kind of hell that comes from teaching a student to write poorly so they could succeed on a backwards state writing exam. I had yet to struggle with a professional development system geared towards dangerously bad teachers, rather than “good enough” teachers who wanted to improve. And I had yet to get beaten down by the endlessly frustrating process of reviewing skills literally dozens of times, only to have a student claim “we never learned this.” (side note: djhafhifhfsdkhfgkHsdjghsfdhdsghWHYWHYWHYWEDIDTOO)

        Your post reminded me of my own story because so many folks also think that failures in teaching are both pervasive and widespread, and the solution is just what you said – shutting it all down, setting up voucher systems and charter schools, etc. etc. But that attitude fails to take into account the myriad reasons why a school might fail a particular student or the context in which the student was failed.

        Your horror stories might indeed be real, or they might be taken out of context, or they might be a mottled amalgam of advice from multiple unreliable sources outside the career center. I think it’s easy to pin this on career centers, but the truth is it’s much more complicated than that. You’ve read enough garbage resumes and cover letters to know that this is a problem beyond mere bad advice, and your comment stream in this thread alone, even from dedicated readers, shows confusion on what are supposedly the most basic rules of looking for a job. College career centers are battling the same kind of ignorance that you are battling, and it sounds like it’s a losing battle. But we might be wrong to blame the profession as a whole.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, except that teachers are trained and have expertise in what they’re doing, so I don’t think it’s comparable. Most campus career center staff don’t actually have the experience or expertise that anyone should have if they’re advising on how to get hired. (We see this in lots of career columnists too — they spew terrible information because they’ve never done any hiring.)

          Maybe campus career centers should limit themselves to career exploration. But they should sure as hell stay out of job search advice, unless they’re qualified.

          Reply
            1. anon

              I went to a highly-rated University — got a great education. I was hired to work in the career services office as a Freshman. What?! All the employees except the director were students.
              The director had been there for 25 years, and had never had an employer other than the university. She started as an admin assistant. She had a very encouraging personality — a great cheerleader for students. Great for her to work her way up, but she had no practical experience to give advice to job seekers. The people reviewing resumes for students were English-major grad students. They could proofread for grammar and spelling, but what did they know about content? They were not trained. I liked everyone a lot — a fun work environment, but I opted not to return the next year because it was just too bizarre. And, I never once went in there to get career advice. That was 10 years ago, the same director is still there!

              Reply

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