why do so many college career centers suck?

Preemptive apologies to any college career center that doesn’t fit this description — but every time I hear about a campus career center, it’s about the bad advice they gave someone: insisting you need to have an objective on your resume, recommending salesy interview answers instead of genuine ones, giving our commenter Rob bad advice about how to email his resume, and so forth.

What’s up with this? I suspect it’s because they haven’t done a lot of hiring themselves and are relying on outdated advice from job-hunting guides from the last century. But if colleges are supposed to be preparing students for the workforce, maybe it’s time for a new type of career center, especially when their grads are going to be facing a crappy job market like this one.

Has anyone had a good experience with your college career center that you want to share?

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. montglanechess*

    My college career center has been an excellent source so far in my job search! I finally went to them to tighten up my resume just that last little bit, and they totally came through with pointing out what could come off without compromising the message!

    And despite the super-quick factory-line sort of vibe, they're always professional and have so far offered good advice about interviewing and cover letters (stuff I've seen verified here, even).

    I also like that they offer taped mock interviews and a lot of good online options. I'm not sure if I'd use their resume builder, but I tried working with the cover letter function and it was nice for editing purposes at least.

    I can honestly say that I feel like I'm now pretty much the best that I can be on paper thanks to their efforts.

  2. Anonymous*

    I feel like an objective line is useful for career fairs where you may get dozens (or if you're a Lockheed or IBM or Microsoft at a MIT or Stanford, hundreds) of resumes for several different kinds of positions. For example I can look at someone's resume — say BS in electrical engineering. But that doesn't really tell me 2 hours after the fair in my hotel lobby what kind of position they want. Chip design? Programming? Sales?

  3. Erin*

    My career center had two cars that students could drive to internships. They charged mileage fees, but there was a credit card for gas that you could use. It was a life-saver.

  4. Dorie*

    If my college had a good career center, I wouldn't have worked at Starbucks for two years following graduation…

  5. Chuck*

    I am a corporate recruiter and my experience dealing with college career centers isn't any better.

    My email address is exposed to the world b/c they don't know how to use BCC. I reply to another career center and my email is rejected b/c their mailbox is full.

    One college career center told me that career centers are that bad b/c colleges put their money and efforts into recruiting and getting students enrolled (i.e., tuition dollars) and they don't really care about placement after graduation.

    After all, non-graduating seniors often return to college as grad students.

  6. Anonymous*

    My college center fits right into the category. I had overheard that the director never got a career in their own field so they went into the field of telling students/alumni how to get jobs in their chosen majors. Go figure that one out! I haven't been able to rely on them.

    AAM – it might not be your cup of tea, but you might help others if you worked in a career center or did something to improve those that are sub-par.

  7. Class factotum*

    Nope. Although I did get all three of my corporate jobs through the placement center at the University of Texas (where I went to grad school) – but that's just because they hosted the company. Nobody at the placement center gave me any good advice and I sure could have used some because I am an awful interviewer. Great worker, bad interviewer.

    The placement center at my college was not good at all. I was an English major at an engineering school. The woman at the placement office asked me how fast I could type. I am not making this up.

  8. Anonymous*

    I work as an employment counsellor and also go to school. My experience as a professional is often that youth doesn't want any advice on how to improve their interviewing skills or, say, what they need to do to prove themselves to the employer – that is gain the experience in the field, industry, etc. Often that means taking a so called survival job. Instead, they want a quick fix, some magic bullet to get them ahead of the crowd of other hopeful graduates. I'm sorry, but there's no magic bullets and if you didn't do much to improve your chances or build some foundation while studying, it's not going to change when you're finally "ready".

  9. Anonymous*

    i don't have a good experience, but the other problem with career centers, at least mine, is that they only know how to handle students with particular degrees. At my school, if you're in business, engineering, computer anything they can find you a job. Anything else? Or *gasp* A GRAD STUDENT?! They have no idea what to do with you. They give you a blank stare. As a grad student in anthropology, they have been totally worthless.

    1. Rana*

      That was my experience, too. When I went to my alumni career center for advice on finding jobs outside of academia that would be interested in someone with my degree (Ph.D. in history) they had me take a skills assessment that told me that I should apply for jobs as a submarine operator. Yeesh.

      1. Liz*

        Yep. I had the same thing happen to me. I’m getting my PhD in medieval literature and languages and was looking to prep for a backup options that don’t involve adjuncting.
        I came in to brainstorm ideas such interning at a publishing house or getting certified to teach ESL (I speak/read a number of languages, some of which are not dead). I got given a skills assessment and told I would make a great poet or linguist. Yep. That’s what they told me 30K, 2 degrees, and 5 years ago. Maybe we should try something different this time.
        Also, the woman absolutely flipped and made put an “objectives” section on my CV (not the resume, the CV. I brought in both).
        I give up. I’ll just work at Barnes and Noble for life.

  10. Anonymous*

    My college career center offered free mock interviews that were videotaped. This was extremely helpful because I was able to watch how I came across on video and correct some of the nonverbals that may have gotten in the way of being hired.

  11. Anonymous*

    The undergrad at my school was a total waste of time. The grad school had a separate career center. All students were required to take a career class. We had to create a resume targeted towards our "dream" job. The career counselor created CDs that only contained relevant resumes targeted specifically to each alumni partner that expressed interest in MBA grads. I ended up getting interviews with two firms from this process without ever applying for a job. They had a formal mentorship program and hosted several round table events. They were a phenomenal resource.

  12. Christine*

    I have to agree with the writer. My college career center was not beneficial at all. I got most of my internships through my major department and my own research. As a science major, they were not helpful at all in bringing recruiters in organizations that were of interest to me.

  13. Kimberlee Stiens*

    You should start a sidearm to your consulting business to help colleges set up GOOD career centers!

  14. Pam*

    My career center sucked. Mostly because their resume and cover letter advice were based on these standard handouts they would give you.

    Even though my U has one of the largest engineering schools in a public state university, the career center consistently failed in recognizing that an engineering resume needs to look and read differently than say, an Ad/PR resume. They were clueless about what things could really be awesome on a just-out-of-college engineer's resume, like a great class project or better yet, a team competition from a professional society. It is very rare other clubs have things like that (debate clubs come to mind..?) but are stellar for engineers.

    All of my knowledge came from engineering societies I participated in. We often had recruiters from local engineering companies come in and tell us what they were looking for in a resume.

  15. Ask a Manager*

    Kimberlee, I seriously want to! I don't know how to solve the problem though, because I think it's so systemic: I suspect they're hiring the wrong people, people who are just parroting back fairly generic job-search advice they read on those awful handouts, rather than people who have actually done hiring and thus have a nuanced understanding of how candidates can maximize their chances. So they need to hire different people, for one.

    Or, alternately, they need to see themselves not as the advice-givers, but as the conduit to advice-givers — pointing students toward good blogs (ahem), bringing in good speakers, etc.

    Actually, that might be the solution, to see themselves as conduits/facilitators.

  16. Anonymous*

    My undergrad career center was fairly useless for me, but I also didn't spend much time there because I was heading to grad school anyway. I found them fairly useless for helping me find summer jobs, but I also may not have been going about it in a very useful way. (I ended up getting my summer jobs by either networking/family connections or through temp agencies.)

    My M.Ed grad school (middle school and high school teacher preparation program) had an excellent career program. Since they knew that everyone in our program was there to get a license to teach middle and high school and probably wanted to teach in the area, it was easy for them to offer targeted advice. They even set up a one-day "career fair" in which we could have mock interviews with local principals and hear from the local school districts about what they were looking for in new hires/resume formatting/letters of recommendation/etc. Since these were the same schools they placed students in for their practicums and student teaching, the relationships were in place to get the representatives to come and speak, and since the districts knew they were talking to a big chunk of their prospective applicant pool, they saw it as worth their time to make sure we understood how to apply effectively. Of course, this wouldn't work in a less vocationally-focused program.

    I don't really know how to translate that experience into something for, say, English majors, where their B.A. doesn't lead to one obvious job with an equally obvious set of local employers.

  17. Rebecca*

    My college career center's chief purpose was to organize on-campus job recruiting. They also maintain an alumni job board; for better or worse, my first two jobs out of undergrad and the majority of my past job interviews came from this board.

    For these two things, they were pretty awesome. Otherwise, all you got was interview workshops (of highly variable quality and generally geared toward business jobs) and a "career library" full of outdated books (almost all geared toward business jobs). The resume advice was mixed ("don't just restate your resume in your cover letter," but also "no one will look at your resume if you don't have an objective").

    I think one reason they might be lousy is that turnover in career centers is pretty regular for good employees, at least according to a friends of mine whose first job out of school was at a neighboring college's career center. Directors rarely stay more than 3 years and lower-level employees never stay more than 2… unless they can't get a job anywhere else.

  18. JulieM*

    I work in a college career center and am a former corporate and campus recruiter.

    I think the variety in advice comes from differing opinions on a totally subjective topic. Each and every recruiter and hiring manager prefers a different type of resume, candidate, and interview experience.

    For example, I think if you're passing your resume off to a family friend, or someone who plans to refer you, it is imperative you have an objective. I can't tell you how many resumes from referrals came across my desk without any information about what the student wanted to do (no objective) and I was supposed to determine from a mix of experience — two internships, a restaurant job, and treasurer of their fraternity — what this person wanted to do and how they could benefit my company.

    I got into this line of work because my college career center helped me get off to a great start. Plenty of students who complain about their career center most likely didn't use it effectively (i.e. came to one networking event and only talked to their friends, waiting for employers to seek them out).

  19. Jennifer*

    Our college career center is pretty good, by all accounts. They have good connections in their region and are very willing to go above and beyond to help students get an internship or a job. They do mock interviews, help students write resumes and cover letters, and invite employers in different fields to have lunch with students and give advice. However, I feel that they need a whole different center when it comes to applying in creative fields. Even though your basic objective is the same – communicate what skills qualify you for the job in question – writing a resume to be a lighting designer or an actor is much different than writing a resume to work in a bank. Not that one is better than the other – it's just different.

  20. Anonymous*

    Somehow, my undergrad career center had been co-opted by large consulting and finance companies.

    If you were applying to McKinsey they would do everything in their power to help you.

    If you were 98% of this SLAC's students who were completely uninterested in this, they would hand you a tip-sheet of resume hints.

    I was in the 2%, but it was sad to see how co-opted they had become. In addition to cultivating students, these "prestigious" companies had cultivated the career centers and they had forgotten who their customers were.

  21. Stephanie*

    I'll echo Anon 5:38's comment–my career center at my college had basically been co-opted by finance, oil, and consulting companies. If you had an interest in working in these fields, the career center staff knew exactly how to assist you in getting these jobs. However, if you wanted to do anything outside of that, you would usually just get some handouts. It definitely was a bit disheartening to see that the career center had turned into a placement agency for a few select companies.

    That being said, they weren't entirely useless. I got some decent resume writing advice and went through a couple of helpful mock interviews. And I did snag a summer internship through on-campus recruiting.

  22. JC*

    My college career center was so-so. They had a lot of great basic information and packets that could benefit any student (how to write resumes, how to job search, how to collect references). They also did career fairs, interview practice, and resume reviews. So these basic prep tips did help me with some things.

    However, they clearly catered to certain majors (nursing, teachers, and business professionals). When I went in asking about my degree, and resources and jobs available, they suggested I go to my academic department for that instead! I got so much more information about how to look for jobs and present myself professionally from my professors and academic department than I ever did from my college's career center. Following my career center's advice of looking for jobs on Monster and HotJobs would have gotten me absolutely nowhere. It was my professors and networks who gave me the right search engines and resources.

  23. Anonymous*

    One of my friends went to a workshop and the workshop instructor told everyone try this lil trick
    – At the end of an interview, right when you are about to leave the room, say "oh excuse me", turn around, walk back to the interviewers desk, place your hands on his desk and lean your head forward to meet the interviewers eye, and say in a very firm voice, "is there anything you see that would prevent me from getting this job?"

    When my friend told me this 'tip' I thought "yeah, you look psycho and are scaring them"

    Another tip my friend got from a career center rep is to ask the interview what they don't like about the company. Is that question really normal? My instict is, why would you ever ask your interviewer to complain about the company you are interviewing for.

  24. Ginger Gibson*

    My college career center was awful. My recommendation to improve career centers, now that I'm a mid-20s working professional who found my own job(s), would be to make it about helping students figure out all the grown up working stuff they didn't teach in school. When I got to my first job and they asked me how I wanted to invest my 401k, they could have been talking klingon and I would have understood as much. When I had to sort through three health insurance options on the first day, I had no idea what any of meant. When they were asking me at 22 if I wanted to change my life insurance plan, or use a health savings plan, I was lost. My undergrad program taught me how to do my job, it would have been nice if the career center offered a one-day class on dealing with all the complications of having a job.

    On a funny side note, I didn't learn one very valuable lesson from my college career center. The last month of senior year a digital survey was sent to every student to assess the career center. There was no form to fill out your name, so I let them have it. I wrote that the center never once sent a job posting that was relevant to my major. That unless they thought mass communication/journalism majors were only qualified to work in retail at the mall, maybe they should rethink their job posting e-mails. That we're an industry driven by internships and clips and that no one in their office seemed to be aware of that. That I had hosted resume writing workshops with underclassmen and coordinated professors to be there and never heard a word back from them. That their "career" fair was overrun by oil companies and didn't seem to take into account the humanities. I basically called the office a waste for anyone not getting an engineering degree or hoping for a career in fast food.

    Well, it turned out that just because I didn't enter my name in the survey, it was anonymous. And a week later I got a really nasty e-mail from the head of the office. I didn't entirely regret it because someone needed to say what all the humanities majors were thinking. But it was a lesson in filling out online surveys (or comment fields) — someone will always be able to figure out who is writing it.

  25. Anonymous*

    I am a college career advisor and I absolutely love my job. After a number of years working in the private sector and seeing how the needs of the employer are often mismatched to the skills of the new hires, I really wanted to work with students and help them with their career development. I took a 20% pay cut to do my dream job and it's completely worth when I see how much our students grow in just a few semesters.

    I think career centers need to be held accountable for their services by the students. We take an annual student satisfaction survey and we plan how we can do better for the following budget year based on the feedback from the students.

    I also think students can do a better job of using the resources provided and having realistic expectations. I can't be more invested in a student's future than he is himself. But if I see that a student is really making an effort, I will work as hard as I can him. The motivated students are in our office at least once a week, sometimes daily, during the peak of job hunting season. I think a career counselor can make the most difference when he or she has the opportunity to meet with the student on an ongoing basis, starting from at least 6 months before job hunting begins. This is how you can see real progress.

  26. Anonymous*

    My university's career center's help for recent grads basically boiled down to "We have an online job and resume posting site that you can access using your school ID and password. Feel free to look for jobs on it and post your resume to it. Ok thanks, bye."

  27. Anonymous*

    I have the very interesting situation of my school having TWO college career centers: one for the university proper and the other for the community college. The general opinion is the community college career center is far better at getting you a job and having used both I have to agree.

    The community college actually goes out and surveys local and regional business and adjusts it curriculum to better suit their needs. I think this is where university career centers have problems–they are so distant from potential employers that they just are not aware of what the *current* mindset of potential employers is.

  28. James*

    Honestly, I would have to say that my college career center was pretty middle of the road.

    I recently graduated from a small liberal arts college. Our career center consisted of three full time staff members. One has been a career counselor for quite some time, and she serves as the director of the department. Another staff member serves as an alumni outreach coordinator and internship coordinator. She had graduated from the college in 2001, and up until last year, had worked in the development office. The last staff member was another alumna, and was only 3 years my senior. She has worked in the office since she graduated. When you look at the makeup of the staff, you can see that only one is an experienced career counselor and has been for a while. The other two really have no experience in management, hiring, firing, staff development, etc. While having alumni in the office does allow for a better understanding of students and better connections to other alumni, there’s not much experience there.

    I only used my career center once. It wasn’t that they weren’t accessible or unfriendly, I was just able to accomplish the same things myself. The one time I used it, I was applying for a very competitive psychology internship at a state teaching hospital. I had already had my resume and cover letter put together and had them as polished as I could. I went to career services hoping for helpful advice, but all I really got was proofreading (which is never a bad thing) which was less than I had hoped for. I ended up getting the internship, but I don’t think it was because of the career center.

    The office also hosted mock business dinners, mock interviews, resume review, etc. They had a library as well.

    Overall, I think the career center at my college was helpful for maintaining a job openings board and proofreading of resumes/cover letters, but not much more. I have learned much more on my own via the internet.

  29. Andrew*

    My alma mater’s career counselor is beyond fantastic. Even though I am still unemployed after college, she has given me extremely valuable advice and genuinely cares about trying to help me find a job.

    However, when it comes to the overall school, I don’t think they care as much as she does. The “Alumni Center” is basically a useless building, and there are no networks of alumni that you can reach. All that is there is the job board that is through our school. The Career Fair, while having several legitimate employers, mostly had insurance companies looking for sales reps, and pesticide companies looking for door-to-door reps. The only good thing about that fair as compared to the rest of the other fairs the city has is that there were no for-profit schools, for obvious reasons.

    Worst of all, a listing on the school’s board turned out to be a work at home scam! I was stunned that a money laundering scam actually got through to a state university’s job board! And the worst thing was, when I mentioned it to the front desk, they did nothing about it! I had to call the director myself, and it was finally removed.

  30. Anonymous*

    As a career service advisor, it is important to stay active in your business community to build strong relationships with hiring managers so they can keep you informed on what they want on a resume and during an interview. Career Services that don’t do this is out of touch with reality. Individuals seeking help from their advisors should ask them, when was the last time they spoke or visited with an employer. They should monitor how many fairs they are putting on and watch to see if they are engaging with each employer. Using an objective today on your resume screams that you are stuck in pre-2005 when it was an EMPLOYEE’S market. That’s gone and will never return again. I inform students to only use the objective when you have no experience and not enough schooling to put any project work on the resume.

    Good Luck to all…..

  31. Anonymous*

    As a former hiring manager and currently an etiquette & image consultant, “objectives” on resumes are fine and even recommended, under certain circumstances. A recent survey revealed that many hiring managers prefer them; thus, this issue remains a matter of opinion. Having worked with and contacted a number of college career centers on behalf of clients, I can say that some are excellent and others could use improvement. However, on the whole they are a valuable resource that should be investigated by every student. Moreover, during the four-year college span, career centers can undergo staff turnovers, which might mean the career counselor of your dreams now is available to help you identify and launch your career — but if you don’t maintain a relationship with your career office you’ll never know. The services of a college career office are included in your tuition, and overall are a value that is worthwhile. High school students who are checking out colleges should inquire about the career center and ask what services they offer, including job fairs, networking events, interview prep and workplace readiness workshops. Part of the problem involves budget cutbacks, which usually affect the staffing and resources at career centers. Letting your college or university know that you expect career planning services will help to improve these centers.

  32. jlp*

    My school career center is awful, they focus more on the students being dressed up for the graduate school fair. I saw a lady block the door and gleefully decline students because they were not dressed to get graduate school information. Recruiters notice that and dont want to come back and pay several hundred dollars to talk to a handful of people. They are too lazy to put up flyers in all the buildings on campus for events.
    The center refuses to take resumes that do not have gpa’s on them and the format they want you to use is for someone with little to no experience. A graduate student or an alum looking for a job, they people look confused and unsure of what to do. I forgot to mention at least 20-30% of the results are for community service opportunities for undergrads.

  33. Ann*

    My college career center offered mock job interviews. The coach said my answers were great but that since I had more internship and work experience than typical grads that I was intimidating. To be less intimidating to the interviewer, she recommended that I 1) make less eye contact during job interviews and 2) wear a pink blouse instead of a typical white button-down under my suit so that I “would look younger, more girly, and therefore less accomplished.” I followed her advice, got plenty of job offers over the past 5 years, but I’m still uncertain about this. Something just doesn’t sit right about suggesting less eye contact and pink?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow! Is it possible that you’re getting these interviews despite the lack of eye contact rather than because of it? And is it too late to report that coach to the school for malfeasance?

  34. Chaucer*

    Alright, time for my career center rant. Outside of your critique of my resume that was deemed “subpar” despite being assured by my career center that it was excellent, here are some other gems I have been given:
    Basically, they have nothing to offer outside of critiquing resumes, doing mock interviews, telling your to look at the University’s job board and doing a survey through some software program that determines which jobs would be a good “fit” for you. Not surprisingly, said software said I was an excellent match for a field that I have absolutely not interest in getting into.
    Their job board sucks. The majority of listings are either jobs that are for highly senior positions (like Director,) jobs for people that don’t have a degree (fry cook, waiter,) sketchy MLM door-to-door sales “opportunities,” or listings that turn out to be outright scams.
    The kicker came when my career counselor suggested actually going up to hiring managers in person and dropping off resumes because “someone she knew got a retail job doing that,” never mind that I am already in retail and am doing everything I possibly can to get out of that wretched field.
    My university has been hit hard by budget cuts, and I know Career Services bore a huge brunt of that blow, but that’s not excuse when it comes to giving students lame and ineffective advice. Unfortunately, knowing what I know now about my resume, no advice would have been better than bad advice.

  35. careerservices*

    I recently started in a career center and highly researched the skills needed to help our students find jobs. I refused to use anything printed before 2010 because our economy has changed so much since then which has influenced the way employers hire. Many in this field are not current with the times. I also think I am a resource; I go out of my way to bring employers to campus, send resumes to employers, and many other things, but I still hear lot’s of complaints about students not finding jobs. Most of them are from students who don’t want to do the work on their own. Sometimes you do have to apply on your own, or find your own internships, or if I help you get a job and you get fired you can’t blame me and the industry. There needs to be some self accountability. I never used a career center to find a job and have found many. I used the internet to research what a good resume looks like and wrote one. If you have a good one congratulations, but if not you went to college and know how to reseearch in your field I trust you can research how to write a resume. There are hundreds of books and websites.

  36. Chaucer*

    Unfortunately, your reasoning is a bit flawed. Yes, job seekers have Internet resources to use, but the availability of information comes at the risk of being exposed to less-than-credible sources. For every Alison Green, there are a dozen more subpar to terrible advice bloggers (a prominent one having a last name synonymous to a piece of furniture that you put stuff in.) Plus, job seekers sometimes have all this information, but no direction. An effective job counselor can help a client find that direction and also develop a plan on how to effectively use resources that are available.
    To put it in perspective, I am into powerlifting. Money’s tight since I am underemployed at the moment, but back when I competed, I did not know of a single competitor who did not have a trainer or coach. Some of them even had nutritionists. Keep in mind that these are men and women who know how to properly train and can probably develop a decent regime on their own. But the trainers serve as motivation and to help them use their abilities to their best potential. Same is in bodybuilding; you have bodybuilders who have full time jobs as personal trainers, and yet they themselves have their own trainer to help prepare them for competitions.
    Plus, I also find a bit of irony in your statement that you never use any resources prior to 2010 (why that date?,) but yet self-tout that you have never needed a Career Center in the past.
    Yes, there are students who are lazy and don’t put any effort into their job search, though that doesn’t justify a Career Center that is of lousy quality. If anything, a subpar Career Center actually hurts the motivated students and alumni even more because they are the ones who will most likely use the “advice” given, no matter how detrimental it really is.

  37. Sarah A.*

    The career center I went to was for a well-known private college for creative careers. What a joke that was. The majority of students go back to working lousy low-paying dead end jobs after they graduate with a degree and mountain of debt.

    I was only able to go once and they advised me to work for free in a stupid internship, something I repeatedly told them I couldn’t afford to do. They were useless as well because the rich kids were catered to. If you’re poor (like I still am) then you’re working all throughout college and can’t meet during regular business hours due to a work schedule or a class schedule. This to me was the most infuriating of all. I can’t go to a mock interview at 2 pm when I have to start work at 1 pm and close at 9 pm!

    They recommend buzz words on cover letters, calling to ensure the resume was received, and going into the company to follow-up. I was so furious because I still don’t have a real job let alone career (one that pays the bills and student loans) after working my butt off and going to college. I found college to be a waste of time too, just finding out it’s all about who you know in film/gaming/tv business rather than what you know anyway. If you’re good friends with a professor you get a job. Poor and have to work? Can’t go network (whatever that means) and party with the rich kids? Get used to squalor and crushing debt!

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