colleges aren’t preparing students to get jobs when they graduate

Far too many students are graduating from college unprepared to get a job. And part of the reason for that is that colleges aren’t providing the right guidance — and in some cases are actually providing harmful information.

Here are eight things that higher education could do in order to better prepare students to find jobs when they graduate.

1. Hire better qualified career center staff. Career center staffers often don’t have much work experience themselves, and what experience they do have is at the junior level. This is a disservice to students, who end up getting advice on getting hired from people who have never done any actual hiring themselves and don’t have a first-hand understanding of what employers are looking for.

2. Stop with the outdated advice. Too many college career centers are dispensing outdated advice – telling students to use old-fashioned resume objectives, recommending aggressive follow-up phone calls that irritate and alienate employers, and other advice that doesn’t work in today’s market. Not only does this outdated knowledge not help students, in some cases it actually harms their job-searching efforts.

3. Teach students how to network. Students often come out of college having heard that they should network, but not understanding what that means or how to do it. As a result, some new grads simply don’t network at all, and others inadvertently use strategies that turn off their contacts.

4. Help students understand that a degree alone won’t get them a job. Too many students graduate with the belief that their degree will lead straight to a job – setting the stage for a painful wake-up call when they realize that in most fields, a degree is simply a minimum qualification, not an instant pass to easy employment.

5. Teach students how to evaluate an employer. New grads often take the first job they can find, without asking any of their own questions to evaluate the work they’ll be doing, the workplace culture, or the employer’s financial stability. Colleges could help significantly by teaching students how to figure out if a potential employer or potential job is likely to be a good fit or not.

6. Start talking about careers long before graduation. Many students pick a major without fully understanding what jobs it will (and won’t) qualify them for once they graduate, and then are frustrated to learn that the major doesn’t come with a clear career path or one that they’re interested in following.

7. Teach students how the interview process works. Too many new grads have no idea what to expect from a hiring process or what each stage means. As a result, they’re prone to think a job is in the bag when it’s not, to mishandle something crucial like supplying references, or to make other mistakes of inexperience.

8. Explain the supreme importance of working during college. Whether it’s a job or an internship, students who come out of school with work experience on their resumes are at a significant advantage of students who only have classes and extracurricular activities to point to. Students shouldn’t learn this once they graduate, at which point it’s too late to go back and change it. Schools should be making them aware of this from the start.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Amen to all of the above. I got a Master’s in 2009 from a well-known state school. My department advertised its own ‘career center’ which was really just one guy who was completely out of touch with the realities of looking for a job as a new grad in 2009. His networking advice didn’t go beyond ‘join our alum Linked In group!’ and his stated ratio of applications::interviews::offers was pure insanity (for every 2 interviews, you should get one offer!). Most of us graduated without jobs, and we all felt totally helpless and unsupported by our department. I wish careers and job searching had been part of the conversation from day one. The one thing my department did do right was require an internship as part of the curriculum but even the follow-up around that could certainly be improved. Get with the times!

  2. Anonymous*

    I really wished our career center was better at helping us with finding what jobs would fit our majors.

    When I went to mine at undergrad, all I got was “So what do you want to do with your degree?’ I plan on becoming a paralegal and I told them this. They said that my degree and my option would get me a job right out of school, since paralegals are more in-demand nowadays. Well, most places now require that you have a certificate in paralegal studies AND relevant work experience. Of course they didn’t know this because I don’t think they really cared too much. We were only allowed 30 minute meetings and we had to make appointments months in advance. Also they wouldn’t do walk-in hours, either.

    I should have done my research more, but if they told me I needed those things and gave me a cold dose of reality, I could have had more time to plan on getting my certification after graduation and interning at a law firm while in school. They were very unhelpful and I had to learn almost everything about job searching, networking and writing a resume through friends and AAM. :)

  3. Student*

    Do you have any concrete suggestions as to how colleges could implement this kind of thing? #1 is straightforward, but after that, I’m not sure how you’d actually accomplish any of this.

    Most of these topics are really specific to the field you’re planning to enter. Networking, for example, is wildly different for marketing majors than it is for chemistry majors. So is the interview process, the common job requirements, the employer evaluation criteria….

    For most of these things, I think the college student really needs a mentor in their career field instead of help from the university itself. Since professors (on average) are notoriously bad at giving career advice to anyone who doesn’t want to become a professor, I could see this being very difficult for a university to pull off. Perhaps the career centers (or department heads) could seek out (and screen) alumni to act as mentors for different majors and sub-disciplines.

    Then there’s still the matter of pushing the students to talk with the aforementioned alumni-mentors. I have no clue how you’d do that, short of offering copious free pizza at the mentoring meetings.

    1. Anonymous*

      Some colleges have a 1 credit course which includes the various aspects AAM discusses in this piece. It is not always mandatory, however.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s not that hard. I mean, this blog alone has helped people get jobs in all kinds of different fields (if I can believe my mail, which I do), and I’m just one person. An entire college should be able to do that too.

      1. Laura*

        I went to a large state school, and although I DO NOT think they did a great job, they did a few things correct, which can be implemented on a larger scale.

        My specific undergrad major REQUIRED a 6 month internship (or 3 months for more hours) that they gave you credit for, helped you get the internship, and required a presentation at the end. In addition, it required a 1 hour class once a week which went over interview skills, deciding “what you want to do with the degree” , and networking. My prof even catered in lunch and had us practice a business lunch. Such a meaningful class.

        I do have tons of friends who went to Ivy League schools and their career centers are somethign else! VERY involved. They help them with all sorts of things, including calling the employer on their behalf to request an extension in accepting an offer, salary negotiation, etc. I think it is too much hand holding, but the system is better than no guidance at all. The employers who recruit exclusively there expect / understand that system. It is totally weird system for me to understand, but some schools make it work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For what it’s worth, if a school called me to involve itself in negotiations with a candidate, that would be the end of that. They can certainly coach the candidate, but calling the employer directly? No way. Are you sure they’re really doing that?

          1. Laura*

            Yes, actually. I think it is SO weird. The school runs the show entirely. All resumes in/out have to go through school career center. The industries I am referring to are consulting and investment banking, but I know the career center is integral in other areas. Essentially, the students dont’ even job search on their own. They pick who they want to apply to based on what companies come to career fair. Companies contact candidate for interviews through an online portal that goes through career center. Everything is tracked. If a company gives an offer and requires a response in a short amount of time (1 week), it is called an “exploding offer” and career centers consider that a violation of their terms and won’t work with that company.

            I am speaking specifically to 5 out of the 7 ivies. I don’t know about the others.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ah, this is because consulting and investment banking at top schools have really defined relationships with the big firms. I thought they were just doing it as a matter of course with anyone in any field — it’s still weird, but this makes more sense.

              1. K.*

                Some more info came in while I was typing my first comment. This does make more sense – my alma mater had VERY close relationships with the big banks and consulting firms, so I can buy that.

                Also, some business school career centers work similarly, but only with recruiters that come to campus (and that’s not limited to banks and consulting). And as far as I know they’re not involved in negotiation (at least, mine wasn’t).

        2. K.*

          I went to an Ivy and I think the level of involvement was directly proportional to what you wanted to do. My friends who went into finance got much more guidance than my friends who went into teaching (although programs like Teach for America did recruit on campus).* My alma mater was very good at teaching you how to network, though.

          *Having said that, I’ve never heard of my alma mater calling an employer on a student’s behalf. I’m very close with the head of the career center of another very well-known university and as far as I know her office doesn’t do that either.

      2. Anonymous*

        Entire colleges do not focus on career help…usually it’s a department with 1 to 7 or 8 people. I think this is great advice that many some people need, but I don’t think you have the best vantage point of higher education institutions.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m not suggesting every faculty member involve itself. I’m suggesting that the college, as an institution, figure out how to handle this better. It might be entirely revamping their career center, or it might be something else. But the college administration is who needs to prioritize and address this.

      3. Student*

        People who actively know that they have a problem and need to get hired are the ones reading your blog. It’s self-selecting the more motivated students.

        The students that really, really need this advice are the ones who aren’t looking for career advice. Those kids don’t know that there’s anything wrong with their approach until they’re standing around with a degree and trying to figure out why people aren’t hiring, at which point all this advice is too late. How do you reach those kids in a college environment? Career centers and formal career-oriented classes are often optional.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t know, but I’m very confident that a college administration should be able to figure it out without too much difficulty! It really shouldn’t be impossible or even terribly difficult.

    3. Anonymous*

      Step 1 – Clone Alison and put one of her at every college career center in the country.

      Step 2 – Get job.

      But seriously, connecting with alums is a superb idea. You’ll probably get advice specific to your location, and of course students get the opportunity to grow their network. You can’t force students to participate. If they don’t recognize the value of a peer in their field or of 21st century career advice, then so be it. They’ll eventually wish they had taken more advantage of opportunities (I speak from first-hand experience….).

      1. Anonymous*

        If your school has a great alumni network, definitely take advantage of it! If it weren’t for one of my school’s alumni, I wouldn’t have the temp job I have now. They can be a very valuable asset to job searching and can give you leads and advice about your field.

    4. jennie*

      Schools hosting networking events can be really valuable. I participate in my local university’s mock interview sessions and resume feedback sessions. It lets me network with potential candidates and they network with hiring managers. Win-win.

      They don’t do more casual social events that I know of, but I think that would be a great way to get hiring decision makers in touch with students.

    5. KayDay*

      Providing field specific resources is where colleges most need to step in. A good college career center should be reaching out to alumni to get field specific information, and should have major and career specific resources for students. Students can get plenty of general information from the internet and books, but it’s much harder to find field-specific resources.

      I would give my school a solid B+ in this area. My college divided up it’s career center staff by school and had some really great info sessions with Alumni that focused on different fields and different majors.

      Now if only they would stop telling the students to have an objective on their resume….

    6. Noelle*

      Good colleges can and do try to refer students to alumni in that field, but if they actually teach students to network well it would also be much easier for students to reach out to a mentor anyway. And to your last point, I think career centers should be obligated to offer good advice, but it’s not their job to bribe students with pizza to make them follow it.

  4. Anonymous*

    I would also like to add a little bit to the staff of the career center – Hire people who have had jobs in their fields! My college’s career center has a director who openly admits he never once had a job in his chosen field, and he fell into working in college career centers fairly right out of his own college days. With all due respect to him, how can anyone take his advice when he couldn’t have done it himself?

      1. Thomas*

        I’m happy to say that one of the three counselors at my undergraduate institution’s career center spent eight years as a hiring manager for one of the big four accounting firms. I don’t recall the career background of the other two, though.

    1. Jubilance*

      I would love to do this & have even applied to positions at my alma mater. Problem? 1) the pay is considerably less than what I make in industry and 2) I don’t have a counseling/student advising background…cause I’ve been working in industry! *sigh*

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I don’t know that this is a solution. If you have a job in your field, that means you know about one field. If the college is like mine, where there is one person doing career help, then that’s not very useful.

      The lack of experience would actually be OK if they did things like, say, read Alison and Suzanne Lucas’ blogs religiously, and interviewed hirers, and otherwise kept up on their professions. But I’m learning that even though there is TONS of free, high-quality information in the form of blogs and articles on the internet for every profession, so very few professionals seem to take advantage of it!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, I think it’s possible. I mean, my jobs have all been in one sector and I do okay with the advice-giving. And I’ll happily argue that I’m simply exceptional, but I don’t think that’s the case :)

        In any case, I do think it’s important to have had fairly significant experience on the hiring side; it just gives you a perspective that I don’t think comes naturally otherwise. It’s why I’m always annoyed by career advice articles written by people whose experience seems to be mainly … giving career advice. They lack nuance; they can parrot back the basic concepts but they can’t apply them to more complicated situations or deal with really sticky issues.

        And now I feel a rant coming (or maybe it already started?), so I’m signing off!

  5. JC*

    The career center at my undergrad was pretty awful. I was a nursing major initially, and I visited the career services once to learn more about job searching, etc. The woman didn’t know what to do with me. She basically summed it up as “Well, you’ll be a nurse, so you’ll get a job anywhere!” When I switched majors, it was the year that none of the nursing students could find jobs after they graduated because so many new nurses were entering the field and the older nurses were delaying their retirements. I think this trend lasted awhile as well, as most of the nursing students I knew had to find out-of-state jobs because there was nothing substantial in our area. They were pretty much on their own.

    In my new major, I was advised not to even bother with career services and just stay within the department and network with professor’s community ties. Apparently the career center was primarily catered to business, teaching, and communication students. Overall, it was just generic information, watered down advice, and tailored to a small portion of the student body.

    In my graduate school, however, we have a career center within our department tailored to our needs and career paths. It’s been much more informative and helpful! I just wish I had it sooner ;)

    1. Anonymous*

      My career center dealt mostly with STEM, communications and business majors, since the majority of students majored in those. The support for Liberal Arts majors was mediocre, to say the least.

      It would be nice if these career centers have people that have worked as hiring managers or they have plenty of experience working in their field.

  6. JessA*

    I’m just throwing this out there…
    Would you ever consider writing a book like the Secrets of a Hiring Manager for University Career Centers? Personally, I would love to buy one and anonymously deliver it to my university.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s basically the existing ebook, actually! There’s not that much I’d change, other than to tailor it to entry-level people (which would be pretty minor changes).

  7. Noelle*

    This is all great, wonderful, and VERY much needed advice. I still remember going to my career center in college and being told, “well, first jobs are all about networking…and I’m not very good at networking so I can’t give you advice.” Great, thanks!

    The advice about degrees is spot-on as well. My undergrad degree is in music, but I have made a career in politics through getting experience at some entry level jobs and internships and working my way up. A degree isn’t a guarantee for a job in your field, but that’s not always a bad thing!

  8. A Career Professional*

    I think this is all great advice – but in all honesty it is pie-in-the sky thinking.

    You certainly do have your career center staff who are ‘old school’ and train young career professionals to provide the same, out-dated, information. But in reality, this advice is basic to most career staff, so it will not help many career centers, many of who struggle with adequate capacity (1 staff member to 2,000 students) and university support.

    Similar to the above comment, there are several career centers that do not receive the support to hire adequate staff, to offer budget for professional development and better services, and, at times, there are faculty and academic departments who hire career staff – faculty are great but they do not always have the background or experience to know what it means to be a quality career staff member.

    Students are NOT required to attend career centers and many students do not see the value in career advice. While we both know that this is great advice and necessary, a first-generation college student from a rural town does not understand the value – social capital plays a huge role in serving all students. I wish it was as simple as ‘right advice and information=successful’.

    We should all remember that universities are a place of business, most are non-profit, and they have suffered due to the economy. So there are several beyond-overwhelmed, ‘one-man’ career offices. There are many career staff who face challenges that people do not consider. Career advancement opportunities are either non-existent or far, few, and in between. Salaries are capped at a number that is relatively low in comparison to the recruiters who work with career centers.

    Yes, there are a number of out-dated, ‘old school’, and misinformed career staff in the U.S. But, there are so many other great and quality career staff members who need more advice than ‘teach students how to network’.

    As a university career professional, I love my job and I love what I do. I still work for a higher education institution where the more-than 1,000 university-wide staff are not on the same page as me and career services. In addition, students are not beating down my door for career help, faculty members (who have captive audiences) care about literary analysis and would rather not waste time on ‘career stuff’ , and administration does not always ‘get it’. Challenges and all, we continue to be successful, but with 1 staff to every 2-3,000 students… advice you provide helps as a professional development tool, but it doesn’t truly address how career centers can improve from year-to-year.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s pie-in-sky. There ARE schools that manage to do this stuff well (although they seem to be rare), so it’s doable; schools just need to decide it’s essential, and clearly right now many of them don’t put much emphasis on it. Nothing will change until they decide it needs to change — and that’s what my article is pushing.

      It would also be better for them to have NO career centers than to have bad ones. So many give students info that actually harms them — I’d rather see that go away entirely if they’re not willing to invest the resources in doing it right.

      1. A Career Professional*

        I agree that the advice is great. As a career professional, I read your blog and many others, and I appreciate it. I network with employers and speak with them to stay up to date on trends. I utilize my colleagues when there is information that I do not know.

        But, my main point is that there are more significant opportunities for improvement for many career centers outside of the information we offer students. If it was purely information and instruction, then my job would be very, very easy.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “my main point is that there are more significant opportunities for improvement for many career centers outside of the information we offer students.”

          I don’t think I’m quite understanding your point there. I mean, I think I agree with it — per the points in my article — but I don’t think that’s what you’re saying ….?

    2. Penny*

      This certainly may not be applicable to your career center, and there are plenty of students who genuinely don’t see the value in even excellent advice, but the reputation of the career center is also something worth considering. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy…I’m sure my alma mater’s career center got less/low funding due to a lack of student interest, but the source of the lack interest was the pervasive knowledge that the career center was useless and a waste of time (and open really inconvenient hours). I (and most of my fellows) turned to the internet instead.

    3. fposte*

      Sure, but what if it were rethought? What if it was attached to an adjunct position and if there was a required x-week course/practicum to graduate? Let’s talk about how we’d design things from the ground up.

  9. ChristineH*

    Very well-said Alison! I can see what “A Career Professional” above is saying, but I can’t imagine that what you describe would require much additional resources…just a different mindset maybe.

    My experiences with college career centers has been mixed. I don’t think I used my career center much in undergrad; I don’t think they were much help anyway. My major was psychology; most people either had a second major or took the “graduate track” with the intention of furthering their studies. I only did the one major (plus a music minor), and nobody warned me that it was not a good idea!

    I got my Masters from a large state university; the university-wide career center is comprehensive, with lots of workshops, career fairs and an alumni network. I still keep in touch with my counselor; she is a real sweetheart, but I can never get her to just sit down with me and help me talk out my career thoughts, questions and concerns. All she ever does is throw me a bunch of names to contact. Ugh.

  10. Suzanne*

    I can see that I am not alone in feeling that there must be a better way for career centers to be run. I’ve used the one at my alma mater, my son stopped in at his before graduation, and truly, they weren’t much help. They both had some great literature, but as far a practical advice, not that much.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, though. Most career center directors are not people who have ever actively been involved in the hiring process, so they really don’t know how it all works.

    I have been recommending this site to EVERYONE I know who is seeking employment or a change in employment. I may not agree with everything 100%, but it has certainly opened my eyes to how the hiring process works and made me a much better interviewee because of it. I’ve had a few interviews that I actually enjoyed even though they did not result in being hired. (I figure it may be good karma being banked for the future!)

  11. A Career Professional*

    My apologies if I am ranting too much. I completely agree with all of your advice and I find it helpful. My initial reaction was the theory of the matter vs. the practice of the matter.

    In theory, several U.S. career center staff have this information, so students at colleges every student who comes to a career center should be successful.

    In practice, having the information is one big step. Communicating the information to as many students as possible, getting buy-in and educating university-wide staff (and sometimes, staff in one’s own career center) and empowering students are just a few challenges that exist even when the correct information is being communicated. There are just as many moments where I see students get jobs as there are where I see students either not utilize the information or expect career staff to literally get them a job.

    When armed with this information in actual situations, it becomes much less clear and much more cloudy.

    I perceived your message as a magic pill of sorts when it only addresses one issue that career centers encounter. I just want to communicate that the challenges career centers face are beyond having the accurate information and former recruiters on staff.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, no magic pill. It requires a shift in mindset by a college and by career center staff when it comes to this stuff. If they make the shift, this stuff shouldn’t be that hard. If they don’t shift from outdated mindsets, it won’t get fixed. But I can’t make the mind shift for them — I can’t provide some magic potion for them to drink that will convince them it matters — but the path of what to do is pretty clear if they’re willing to do it.

  12. Yup*

    I’m in a part-time Masters program, and we’ve been BEGGING the university for alumni networking. Not even from a hiring perspective, but rather “you have all these graduates out there in the field, how ’bout you bring some of them in for a roundtable or as the occasional guest speaker”? I have no idea why the university, faculty, or career services see this as such as big deal. It’s not that involved, surely? (I’m asking sincerely. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me as a student. And a future alumn, I’d be happy to show up occasionally and talk shop with current students.)

  13. GeekChic*

    This may sound like a stupid question – but is it the place of U.S. colleges to prepare students for the work world?

    I ask because when I attended university (not in the U.S.) it was made quite clear that further education was the goal, in and of itself. Not making me (the student) employable. That was a side benefit / secondary goal. An undergraduate university education was designed to teach you different methods of thinking.

    Now – master’s work and courses taken after undergrad (ex. law, medicine, teaching, etc.) were often explicitly designed to make you employable in a given field – but that was not the point of most undergraduate programs in the country where I did my Bachelor’s.

    Not sure how this relates to the problem of career centers at U.S. colleges but I’m curious.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, I think that’s at the core of a lot of this — the changing purpose of higher education. I’d argue that today, college is indeed seen as at least in part to prepare students for the workforce and to make them employable upon graduation. It’s no longer solely to teach you different methods of thinking — after all, ask most students why they’re going to college in the first place, or ask their parents why they’re sending them, and you’ll hear that it’s so they can get a good job. And colleges themselves brag about how many of their graduates are placed in various fields. So I do think that that’s become a significant part of their purpose, but the actual practices to support that have not caught up to that thinking at all.

      1. GeekChic*

        Thank you for the answer. I could definitely see how a different “mission” (for lack of a better word) could produce these kinds of issues.

        The university where I did my undergrad did have a career center but it was directed and grad students and post-docs. They made a point of focusing on academia. Not sure what they do now.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Not a stupid question at all! A good one that kind of twists the issue on its head. Is is the job of colleges to prep students the workforce? The answer to this seems much more “yes” than it used to.

      But if college or university is going to have a career center then they should try to do a good job and give out accurate information.

    3. Data Monkey*

      I think it really depends on what type of college that you are speaking about and what type of students that they typically enroll. As college costs have risen significantly over the last couple decades, there is a stronger push to associate attending college with receiving “good” jobs. It didn’t use to be like this. I think this happened because (1) it is an argument that most people (especially in the middle and working classes) understand and can support and (2) graduates need decent jobs in order to pay back their student loans.

      In general, the field as a whole doesn’t agree that universities’ mission should be job-training unless you focus on only for-profit institutions. Equally important (or I could argue more important) for students is teaching them how to think and write critically, preparing them to function well as citizens in our society, and providing them with opportunities to grow and develop. Universities also need to be good stewards of their local community and are one of the main producers of knowledge in our society.

      While I agree that career centers should be reformed, universities often have competing goals on their resources. The schools that tend to do career advising well are the ones that do multiple areas well because they have the resources necessary to achieve these goals. It hasn’t been brought up yet but we really need to address AAM’s first point of hiring better qualified staff. One sticking point is going to be meeting the salary expectations of someone who has a lot of experience in their field. The average salary for the *director* of the career center is 67K according to a recent survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education ( Until you address this, I don’t see how you are going to attract a solid pool of candidates.

    4. Rana*

      The problem is that we’re not, collectively, quite sure what the relationship should be between career-oriented learning and learning for knowledge’s sake, and the general consensus seems to be that whatever it is, it costs “too much” in any case.

      On the one hand, we often view vocational education as something of a second-rate option, even though for many people it would be a far more effective and efficient way of training them for employment. On the other, there’s the frustration (on many levels) of trying to teach “impractical” subjects like ancient Greek to people who are genuinely interested but who share the class with people who just want to know “is this on the test” and “how will this get me a job?”

      Both sides have a point; we need practical skills _and_ we benefit from living in a society where our plumbers and janitors and daycare workers have been exposed to subjects outside their own experiences, and given the tools needed to understand complexity and analyze other people’s arguments.

      Ideally, everyone would end up with some experience of work, and some experience learning things simply for the sake of learning, and end up doing things that suit them best, but it doesn’t work that way. High school used to perform some of that function (with its English classes, shop and home ec classes, driver’s ed., civics, etc.) but increasingly (based on the students I’ve taught) it’s failing to do that.

      This leaves colleges and universities to pick up those pieces, at a time when they themselves are being defunded and struggling to justify their existence, and it’s a brutal mess as a result. Neither mission – practical vocational training nor the advancement of knowledge – is being filled right now.

    5. Wilton Businessman*

      Exactly. Somewhere in the last 20 years employers have expected kids to hit the ground running and contributing from day 1. Gone are the training programs that first year people had to go through (UBS is the exception) that prepared them for working at THAT company.

      Back when I went to school with the pilgrims, a Bachelors degree meant you knew how to learn. You brought a certain aptitude to the job depending on your major. Internships were things for the cream of the crap and not a requirement.

    6. GeekChic*

      Thanks everyone. I’m not sure how I feel about university / college changing to become more explicitly oriented toward work.

      At some level I guess I can understand this trend. On the other hand, I feel that there were other programs that used to handle this aspect of things (the training programs Wilton Businessman spoke of, vocational institutions, etc.) so I wonder why those aren’t sufficient any more.

      1. KT*

        I think a lot of this varies by major, also. Having taken mostly history or English classes, professors did try to promote going into academia.
        However, my friends who majored in more “practical” things like engineering or accounting were more clearly being prepared for careers.

  14. Doug*

    Earlier last year, I had an amazing career counselor who helped me revamp my resume. Unfortunately, my alma mater’s career center is very subpar. In fact, due to the slumping economy and problems with cutting programs and increasing tuition, the career center almost got axed. My old career counselor went on to a school in Oregon, but my current counselor (out of only two that are left) is not too good. All she could really do was point me over to the job boards we have; one is a board for students and alumni, and the other is a global board that scans every job board out there. The problem with the former is that the vast majority of jobs listed on there are also listed on other free boards, so there is really no advantage to being a student. That, and she gave me one of those computer quizzes which told me what fields I would be a good match in.

    Aside from those two things, that’s all she has been able to help me with. I told her I didn’t want to use job boards because of their relative ineffectiveness and instead I wanted help with finding networking contacts, and in response informed me that the career center didn’t do that, and that our job board has a better success rate because those employers are serious about hiring students (how can that be, since you can find these positions on careerbuilder, indeed and other boards?) It was then that she said, “why don’t you dress up professionally and job your resume off in person.” I replied by saying that most hiring managers and HR personnel don’t like that, and also made a subtle reference to your blog, to which she retorted, “I know someone who got a retail job doing that,” in which I said that I wasn’t looking into getting into retail. ARGH!

    My alumni association sucks too. There is a separate job board there for alums hiring alums, and that board has a grand total of 3 listings. Also, the LinkedIn discussion group of our alumni is plagued with spam and random job listings by people who aren’t even affiliated with our university and/or city.

    I can end this on a good note, though. The internship coordinator, who has been great to me, made me aware of a really good position that a close connection to her is offering. I am going through that process and will be scheduled for an interview. Hopefully something good can come!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Doug, please complain to your administration about your experience! They’re paying for these services, and they need to hear feedback like yours!

  15. Rebecca Z*

    I think we’re back at launching Allison’s network of career centers throughout the US (and beyond!). “Chocolate Teapot Careers.”

  16. Dr. Speakeasy*

    Sigh, Money and Politics are most of the issues here.

    Your career center ideas are great but we can barely scrape funds together for the basics, it would be a hard sell to make the case for some big salaries in the career center. I would imagine a solid hiring manager with the kind of experience you’re talking about would be pretty pricey – more than a full professor in most cases. Spending that kind of money on “non-academic” personnel is a great way to bring the legislature down on your head (and the media). Hell, spending that kind of money on academic personnel is a great way to bring the legislature down on your head.

    One of the things I love about my department is we do have a career prep day that is geared specifically for our majors. We run it like a mini-conference (students can choose from 2-3 panels for each time slot) and the speakers are gainfully employed dept. alumni. However, the only way we can run this is we have one alumni who gives us a huge donation for the space/food and a couple of faculty members who donate an impressive amount of time to making it run each year. Without that alumni donation I doubt we’d be able to make a case for funding to pull this off.

    In addition, we actually are the department that teaches the Interviewing class on our campus. Much of the focus is on designing and conducting quality interviews from the R side (for a variety of purposes not just hiring) with a touch of how to be an E. We do sneak some career prep in there (resumes, cover letters, etc). Most of our majors take it as one of their electives but we get very little interest from other majors.

    As far as internships/work experience or the idea that you can’t expect a job with “just” a college degree – that has been a pretty heavily disseminated message on every campus I’ve been on (around 15 years). If students aren’t hearing that – they aren’t listening.

    And I agree with some of the earlier comments, the students who need this help the most, are the least likely to seek it out.

    1. Doug*

      This is an excellent point as well. Money all-around is tight, and as tuition goes up and college budgets get slashed, career services, unfortunately, is often viewed as something that is expendable (ironically in lieu of athletic facilities, but that’s another debate for another time.) Every time my alma mater is in the local papers detailing a project aiming to help students and graduates academically and professionally, you get the usual commentators ranting about how money shouldn’t be spent on those things, or that you don’t need money to improve those things.

  17. Laura*

    I also think there is a role for parents here in guiding their children before a major is decided upon. So many friend’s parents of mine are of the “you can do anything” mindset and don’t care that their child wants to major in women’s studies without any career plan or internships.

    My parents? When I first mentioned psychology, they had me research everything on it, made me fully understand that I couldn’t be a professor (or even sometimes a therapist) without a PhD/PsyD. They had me look into the jobs I could go into with just a BA in Psych and the associated job market and availability.I am not knocking psychology, but when I understood what it meant to be an undergrad psych major with no PhD plans, i quickly changed my mind and chose a career path that I am now working in. Now, I dont think kids should be discouraged from following their dreams, but they need to know their dreams require hard work (researching the field, networking, internships). You dont just major in anything and get $18/hr.

  18. Jubilance*

    During my undergrad career, I did not really work with the career advice office. Instead, I was very active with a student support office – the office for minority engineering. Through this office I got to attend sessions with companies (not just recruiters but engineers & other stuff would attend sessions to share abt their career), do mock interviews, get resume help, network & gain valuable skills. Essentially, they were my career advisor. The director of this office worked as an engineer before coming to academia, and her experience as a working engineer was invaluable.

    More colleges should recruit folks from industry to work in this student-facing positions. Unfortunately I see most job descriptions ask for ppl with a background in student advising or counseling. Those are valuable skills, to be sure, but sometimes students need to hear from people who have been in their position.

    Anyway, now that I’m an alum, I go back & work with the students in this office each year. I’m happy to do it because I remember what it was like to be a student & wondering abt my future.

  19. Anonymous*

    I’m in a graduate program, so the situation is a bit different than for an undergraduate. However, one of the big problems with career advice in my field is the professors that serve as our advisers (bosses) through graduate studies.

    I know for a fact that most people with a graduate degree in my field do not go on to become university faculty. However, the professors have their heads in the sand and refer to any job outside academia as an “alternative career path.” Many of these “alternative” careers still involve research, and the majority of them are high-paying jobs.

    The professors, however, refuse to acknowledge the existence of non-professors with PhDs. They don’t network with them or associate with them by choice. Sometimes the professors even demonize non-academic positions. On one of the rare occasions that someone from outside academia had come to discuss career paths with the graduate students, one professor openly accused a guest speaker of having “sold his soul to the Devil.” Occasionally, I’ve even heard about professors who refuse to grant their students a PhD until the student agrees to accept a job in academia instead of in industry.

    I’d love to know if anyone has good advice for how to turn the professor’s opinions around so we could get some serious, honest discussions going about career paths.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What an insular little world they’re creating. It reminds me of how when I used to work in advocacy (in this case, the animal protection movement), you’d sometimes run into other people in the field who felt the only “philosophically pure” jobs were other advocacy/activism jobs. I used to point out that this was ridiculous, since if you want to change people’s beliefs/behaviors, having strong advocates working in all kinds of industries was the way to do it. Segregating us all in animal protection charities would slow down the mainstreaming of the changes we were pushing.

      One of several reasons that professional activism circles are sometimes frustrating (to me).

      Anyway, I don’t know if there’s a parallel in there somewhere, but it reminded me of that.

    2. Vanessa*

      In case you don’t know about it already you might want to check out the site It’s a great advice and discussion forum for people who left or in the process of leaving academia for “alternative careers.” There are some great discussions about that attitude you describe, and how pervasive it is in academia. I find the site a great complement to this one, and it’s refreshing to read all the success stories.

    3. Rana*


      Even when it’s couched as puzzlement and ignorance, rather than active contempt and hostility, that attitude towards non-academic careers (and those of us who end up pursuing them) is really annoying.

      It took me about a decade to realize that it wasn’t me that was a failure; it was the system, but my professors’ collective and well-meaning bewilderment that I was still underemployed discouraged me from seeing it that way.

    4. Rana*

      Adding on to that thought; what I think will eventually turn people around, sadly, is generational change. When all the people who got tenure-track jobs right out of grad school are replaced by people who struggled to find even adjunct positions, then we might see a shift in attitude.

      But that’s a long time to wait.

      1. Rana*

        Well, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a Ph.D. if you’re interested in the subject, and want to challenge yourself. It’s when people assume that Ph.D. = automatic academic job guarantee that they get into trouble.

        I’m glad I got my doctorate; it was something difficult that I accomplished, and I feel good about that accomplishment, even if I also regret the years I spent thinking that it meant I’d get a job out of it. Now, I just don’t expect anyone else to appreciate it that much, or give me a job merely because I possess that degree. It’s icing on the cake, maybe.

        I’ve long told people that getting the Ph.D. is like climbing a mountain. It can be a challenge of a lifetime for some folks, and worth all the time and trouble and expense on a personal level. But once you’re home, don’t expect much from other people beyond being briefly impressed and willing to admire a few photographs. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have done it; it just means that most people won’t care as much about it as you do.

        1. Laura L*

          There’s nothing wrong with it (I wasn’t saying there was, either), but it’s definitely not for me. And this is one of the many reasons why. :-)

  20. Henning Makholm*

    I wonder how #1 would work in your ideal world. Sure, you can make it a requirement that every advisor you hire has recent real-world experience hiring people for entry-level positions. Fine. Then fast-forward 5 years, and then the advisor’s experience isn’t all that recent anymore, because he has been advising students instead of actually hiring. So he’ll need to be let go. And then what?

    The now ex-advisor’s recent experience is all in career advising, a job he is now unqualified for due to out-of-date real world experience (remember, this is your ideal world, so every school has similar requirements). And the career he left in order to become an advisor will be hard to rejoin because his experience there is now five years out of date.

    It would be nice if a stint as a student advisor were an asset on his CV, but in your ideal world employers he apply to would surely look more to whether it actually leads him to bring more to their organization than the next candidate in the stack?

    Do you envisage that career centers would be run by part-timers who keep managing real-world workplaces in the other half of their time? How many part-time manager jobs are there out there?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      fposte’s idea above about tying this to adjunct positions is one way to solve this. I’m sure universities could come up with others too, but I really like that one.

      1. Lexy*

        The internship at my school had incredible contacts with employers in the area. She probably spent 1/4 of her time networking with employers.

        Granted it’s a business program so the scope of employers is narrowed, but it worked well despite the fact that she hadn’t worked in the industry in 20 years (and her industry experience was in a different geographic area). She was very smart and together and pretty much synthasized all the advice from the 50-100 companies that recent grads commonly go to. <3

  21. Tokyo*

    I agree with your advice, but I wonder how you did the research to find that colleges are doing a bad job with this.

    I’ve only been in higher education for a couple years, so I am likely missing something. But, my university does well with all eight of your points, including recruiting people who have hired in their fields. And we are not at all an exceptional school, either academically or in terms of resources. It’s hard for me to believe that there are really that many schools that aren’t meeting this basic standard. I’m not in the US, so there’s that. But we collaborate a lot with American universities.

    (I work as a undergraduate career advisor. I was headhunted from an industry that aligns with some of our more popular majors.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No particular research — just five years of writing an advice column where I constantly hear reports of it (and see evidence of it), combined with lots of experience hiring and managing where I see its effects.

      It’s great that your school does well with it; some do. But as you’ll see from the comments here, plenty don’t.

      1. Tokyo*

        Thanks, I guess I’m feeling sensitive because I love your blog and really respect your straight-forward advice, so it’s a shame that my general profession has such a bad reputation in your eyes. I understand it’s nothing personal, but I always cringe when you mention college career centers.

        I will continue to recommend your blog to my students!

  22. Vicki*

    Did they ever? I graduated from College in 1981, prepared to… go to Grad School.

    I graduated from Grad School in 1983, prepared to… um, hold on, I’m thinking. Nope. No idea. But I’d met my spouse by then and he had some good ideas, hooked me up with a recruiter. Things went from there.

    But no, my Colleges didn’t prepare me for a job. It never occurred to me they did that.

  23. Thomas Wolff*

    As a professional resume writer who often works with new or soon-to-be graduates, I’m amazed at how clueless they are when it comes to putting together a resume or preparing for an interview. Perhaps a mandatory 2 credit-hour course for all graduating seniors would be helpful?

    1. Lauren*

      I love this idea! Really, it made me stop and question why we aren’t doing that.

      But then I realized I had something like that in undergraduate (1 credit instead of 2), and it was run by the same career centers that are falling down on the job. Our career center director was very well meaning, very sweet but also very out of touch and inefficient.

      A course that actually helped seniors prepare for the job market wouldn’t be a bad idea if it was taught by some competent outsiders.

  24. Steve G*

    AAM, I love your thoughts on this. I am two years out of college and the career coach was long-standing and well respected all over campus. He had me put a ridiculous, generic Objective at the top of my resume and I knew in my gut that it looked silly, but because of his reputation I left it on there. I started reading your blog and taking your resume advice a year ago and how have a much better job thanks to your resume and interviewing tips!

  25. NewReader*

    I loved reading Alison’s article and all the comments that followed.
    I have learned more in this blog than I ever did in college.
    The point about colleges preparing a person for a job, vs college work as an end in itself was terrific. That is the problem in a nutshell.
    The college I went to had a good ranking nationwide. I thought this would assure me of the education I needed to advance.
    When I got out of school about eight years ago (returning student), I learned that a BS/BA insures you will make around $30k in my area. Getting a masters would render me unemployable because in this area employers cannot pay for that level of education.

    This college cost around $120K for a four year degree. To earn $30K annually??? Where is the return in investment on that?
    How are people supposed to get out of debt, buy a house, have families, etc?
    I do understand why career centers are underutilized. Students cannot keep up with the class assignments, never mind take additional tasks such as career planning. I would describe the students as overwhelmed- skipping reading assignments was fairly normal, cheating was rampant, and there were other acts of desperation.

    I did manage to make it over to my career center. They logged me into a well know job search site. Unfortunately, because I logged in through my school, I do not see all the jobs that are available. The site only permits me to see certian jobs and not others. The person at the career center freely admitted that the center did not help that much. Students usually got jobs because of family connections.

    Despite all this, I am still glad I finished my degree. And yes, the name of the school does spark the remark “oh, REALLY??!”
    My school could have used Alison’s list here. Plus some.

  26. Robert*

    Colleges and college students are getting blamed for employers changing the rules, without being called on to justify the changes. They are not asked to explain why, for example, in order to do an office job that is non-technical or non-scientific in nature, you need a specific, usually business, degree, and two or more years of experience. They are not required to show evidence that someone with a Sociology degree cannot do the job just as well, or even to show evidence that they have knowledge of what skills a sociology major acquires. If you are smart, and new skills come to you easily, it shouldn’t matter what you majored in, since you will excel at whatever you undertake, and you have evidence to back it up, and they have zero evidence to justify not giving you that opportunity. So where are the other people besides me demanding that employers be held accountable, instead of universities, job seekers, and everyone except the actual people who decide which of us get to have jobs and which ones of us have to resort to going back to school for a graduate degree after almost a decade of not getting interviews, having to take temp jobs, and having to live with parents long after we should have been building our own lives?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, because employers don’t need to explain or prove anything in that regard; they can hire who they want. And it’s reasonable that they make hiring decisions that they see as being in their own interests.

      1. Robert*

        The reason employers don’t need to explain their hiring process, or justify their actions, is precisely because people do not ask them to, and for no other reason. This “employers can do no wrong” mentality is bad for America, since we are a country where the only way a vast majority of citizens are able to support themselves is through a job. Since employment is so vital to the lives of individuals, and to the health of the economy as a whole, everyone who wants a job deserves a fair shot to get one, and they deserve an explanation when they do not get one.

        As it relates to college graduates, turning down college graduates for jobs that actually require college degrees, and forcing them to take jobs that do not require education, and pay less money, warps the labor market. The employees who would be better fits for jobs such as barista, or retail associate, or Greyhound cashier (my old job), end up without any sources of work. Couple that with one of the least generous safety nets in the industrialized world, and you have a huge population of citizens who have no means to support themselves. I know that employers do not care about these things, they do not care that their hiring decisions do not operate in a vacuum, but it is for this precise reason – the ramifications of decisions on whom not to hire, and which employees not to retain, that citizen jobseekers SHOULD demand openness and transparency in the hiring process, and citizen employees SHOULD demand more openness and transparency in decisions on whom to lay off or fire.

        I would argue that for many employers, their hiring process works against their interests, if we are to truly believe their interests are to find the best possible employees to further whatever goals the hiring organization has set for itself. The means of creating the candidate pool from which they select their candidates does not result in the best possible candidate pool, since their means of procuring those candidates (asking current employees, friends/family, or other contacts; basing the decision on whom to interview on a piece of paper that tells you nothing about the personality of the candidate, only their ability to create resumes) are through means other than testing their ability to do the job they are hiring for, such as someone casting for a play will see for themselves whether or not a person can act, not take a friend’s word, or read a piece of paper saying what the candidate has acted in before.

        Additionally, larger employers, the ones who already have thousands of employees, and annually hire hundreds if not thousands more, don’t really have any valid reasons other than cheapness for not hiring more than they do. They could easily make room for all the qualified candidates who apply, because as they say, there is always work to be done. Since this is the case, instead of making one person do three jobs and only paying them for one, HIRE THREE PEOPLE!!!! If they are hiring anyway, they can find the money ($2 trillion collective cash reserves) and the spots (one person performing multiple job titles) for a few extra workers. This would increase their goodwill both inside and outside the company, more than letting people bring their dogs to work or whatever other weird things some companies do to boost morale other than raises, lighter loads, etc.

        Since hiring decisions, when taken collectively, are one of the key factors affecting the economy, as a job is the means by which most consumers procure the money with which they then consume goods and services, we as citizens, and current and prospective employees, are stakeholders in every organization that employs a staff, and therefore we should demand more openness and transparency in how they put those staffs together, since they control the ability of millions of citizens to to be or not to be productive members of society.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No. I’ve never talked to anyone who thinks “employers can do no wrong,” but private employers can make whatever decisions they think best, within the confines of the law, just as private employees can do. People are not entitled to a “fair shot” from any particular employer or explanation for why they didn’t get a job.

          “As it relates to college graduates, turning down college graduates for jobs that actually require college degrees, and forcing them to take jobs that do not require education, and pay less money, warps the labor market.”

          What do you suggest, that employers hire more people than they have a need for? If you have one job opening, you’re going to turn down a ton of qualified people, because you can only hire one of them.

          “They could easily make room for all the qualified candidates who apply, because as they say, there is always work to be done.”

          We are living on different planets, I think.

          “We as citizens, and current and prospective employees, are stakeholders in every organization that employs a staff”

          Planets light years apart.

          You have a political ax to grind, clearly, but this isn’t the place for it. I like the government out of my business as much as possible. Sorry.

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