6 lies your career center told you

With a new class of graduates about to enter the full-time job market, a lot of them are seeking job search advice from their college career centers. Unfortunately, the advice that a lot of colleges are doling out is often outdated and frequently downright bad. In fact, as a workplace advice columnist, when I ask recipients of bad advice who told them to approach their job search that way, one of the most common answers is “my campus career center did.”

Here are six pieces of bad advice coming out of many – although thankfully not all – college career centers.

1. Getting a degree will make it easy to find a job in your field. If only this were true! A degree will certainly make it easier to find professional work, but most people will still need to invest a lot of time and energy in job searching, and new grads may not find it easy to get work in the exact field they were planning on. A degree has become more of a minimum qualification than an easy pass to a good job. But for grads who have been told for years that working hard in college was their ticket to any easy professional life, this can be a frustrating awakening.

2. The most important thing during college is to focus on your studies – work can come later.Anyone giving this advice to college students is doing them a tremendous disservice (unless the student has unusual circumstances that make this truly necessary). It’s tough to find a job after graduating if you don’t have internships or other jobs on your resume. This work doesn’t have to be in your field, but you do need to have some kind of work history to show to prospective employers. You’re going to be competing against other grads who do have that experience.

Speaking of which …

3. Emphasize your education most of all on your resume. College career centers often encourage students to emphasize their schoolwork over all else – telling them to lead off with the degree, followed by details about coursework, honors and extracurriculars. Yet in most fields, your academic work is going to be a prerequisite for the job, but not your most compelling qualification; most hiring managers want to see details about your work experience, not a list of courses you took.

4. Employers want to see persistence and gumption, so you should go after jobs aggressively.This advice takes all sorts of forms: call and ask to talk to the hiring manager about open positions, follow up on your application weekly or show up in person and ask for an interview. These are all bad ideas that will annoy most employers! Employers want you to use the application process they’ve laid out in their job postings, which usually just means submitting a resume and a cover letter. Trying to circumvent that system comes across as pushy and overbearing.

5. Bring a portfolio of your class work to job interviews. This advice seems to be on the rise for students, but the reality is that very few employers care about looking through a work portfolio (with the exceptions of fields like design). Expecting an employer to spend interview time leafing through a portfolio is likely to come across as naïve. Instead, put your energy into writing a strong resume and cover letter and practicing your interview skills.

6. Use subjective self-assessments on your resume, like declaring that you’re “detail-oriented” or “a self-starter” or that you have “excellent writing skills.” Self-assessments like this aren’t convincing. Since anyone could claim these things, hiring managers generally ignore them. Rather, your resume should focus on objective experience and accomplishments. If you’re an excellent writer, that’s great – but then show evidence of it by talking about how you’ve used that skill and what you’ve accomplished with it, not by just declaring it. A big one of these that has gained popularity in recent years is the claim that you “work well independently and in groups.” College career centers love to advise students to play up this skill – but the way to do it is, again, by showing evidence of it, not by simply announcing that you’re good at it.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. The Supreme Troll*

    Alison, these are all excellent points. For me, personally (with the times that I have been unemployed and have been desperate to just earn money in order to pay off some huge bills), I always take to heart #4 and #7.

    I hope you enjoy your vacation! Take care.

  2. Happy Grad*

    All of these points make AAM fans smile. There are few things more satisfying than seeing the classic pieces of bad advice countered with more accurate information about the professional world, especially all in one place.

  3. Giles*

    Definitely find out if your field expects a portfolio or not before you commit the time to doing one – marketing, writing/journalism, design, etc. do, but we’re not representative of most.

    1. HisGirlFriday*

      And I would argue that journalism varies — I have applied for J-jobs where I was asked to bring a portfolio and I have applied to J-jobs where you were told to submit clips in advance and those were the only writing samples they would evaluate. Obviously YMMV depending on the job, but read the job ad carefully.

    2. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain*

      I think another part of that is to know how they want your portfolio presented. Twenty years ago a college professor in my graphic design courses advised we would need a slide portfolio — real physical 33mm slides that we would need to drop into a carousel — it was terrible outdated advice but I went to great trouble and expense as a college student to arrange for my portfolio to be photographed and made into slides. I was never asked for slides. At that time the majority of employers expected a (Zip) disc or, if you really wanted to wow them, a personal website. It’s been so long since I’ve had to present a portfolio, I have no idea how the darn kids do it these days…instagram?

      1. SL #2*

        Haha, personal websites are the thing now. Several friends who are in design, or even in front-end engineering, have their own portfolio sites with work samples, social media links, and a bio. Squarespace and Wix have made it a lot easier to have your own site.

      2. Amadeo*

        I’ve used a PDF presented on my iPad before. Most design job listings these days ask for a multi-page PDF or a link to a site (say, carbonmade) on the application itself.

      3. ceiswyn*

        I bring mine to interviews on USB stick. There’s an introductory file with summary information about everything else on the stick, so I can just leave it with them to peruse at their leisure.

    3. Searcher*

      Ohhhh don’t even talk to me about the teaching portfolio I had to put together. Not only were we expected to turn in a hard copy, but we also had to create an electronic copy somewhere to turn in as well. I spent MONTHS on that portfolio.

      I have never been asked to show it in any school I’ve worked with since then. Maybe I just haven’t found the job that will ask? But overall I’m grouchy about the stress of those last few months of classes, lol.

      1. Luisa*

        Oh do I ever hear you. That thing was a pain in the butt to put together – although at least we were only required to do an electronic copy (I finished teacher prep in 2013) – and I’m pretty sure nobody ever looked at except for the professor who graded it.

        I did have one job interview where they asked me to bring in work samples (lesson plans and student work samples), but all those philosophies of teaching I had to write for my portfolio? The required photos and teaching videos? Multiple lesson plans, written in the program’s multi-page format, for every subject with full accommodations explicitly spelled out? Nope.

        1. Searcher*

          I wrote an eighty page unit plan for mine so I feel that. Ugh! And nobody has asked to see it in the two years I’ve been done with college :( I still have my wordpress for it up and running – that’s how I ended up hosting not my electronics one…

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        So this was’t just my school? My professor did one, after hours, seminar about how to format the stupid thing and if you missed that (I had a sinus infection!) would tell you to “format in a way that shows who you are as an Educator”. So much work and No One has ever asked me about my personal teaching philosophy with “artefacts” to support it. I really should look that up. I’m sure it would be highly entertaining now.

        1. Searcher*

          Not just you! I have had a single job in the two years since college ask me about my philosophy and honestly the one I wrote for college was so fluffy and lame I redid it anyway. I felt simultaneously underprepared and way overprepared, if that makes sense.

    4. gladfe*

      Is a portfolio (or any other application component) ever expected where it’s not specifically requested?
      I’m asking because I suspect the answer is no. A couple of my friends have recently gotten a few variations on this advice: e.g., bring a portfolio to the interview, prepare a mock lecture to present in an interview where it wasn’t requested, send recommendation letters when the application only asked for names of people to contact. I’m not familiar with either of their particular fields, but I’m really skeptical that anybody’s using secret application requirements for entry-level jobs. That just sounds like a good way for the hiring manager to make their own job harder. (The times I’ve helped with hiring, we explicitly requested cover letters and still didn’t get them from about half of applicants!) Are there any fields that do have those sorts of unwritten expectations?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Your instinct here is right. These are all bad ideas, and particularly annoying when a candidate tries to commandeer an interview to use it for this stuff unsolicited.

        1. Portfolio Creator*

          I work in government administration and had great success in bringing a portfolio to my last interview. I included policies and communications I had written and completed projects. I grouped them by the top 5 qualities I identified in the job description. I referred to different pieces in my answers to interview questions. And, I got the job! So, is this really weird? Should I not do this in the future? I agree that it would have been weird to create the portfolio, plop it on the table and expect the interviewees to review on their own. But, it helped me to illustrate how I had demonstrated the qualities they are looking for.

          1. Portfoli-no*

            As someone who once received an unsolicited portfolio, of sorts, during an interview once…. it didn’t seem to achieve what they hoped. When I asked a question of the person about what they believe are the key elements of planning a teapot making system, they said, “I’m glad you asked!” and with a flourish unveiled a folder with several copies of a powerpoint presentation, slide by slide explaining how to do the thing. And while some of my colleagues seemed impressed with the person’s gumption, as someone who knows how to do the thing I asked them how to do, I looked at the presentation and said, this looks like it came straight out of a grad school class presentation. It was, like the rest of their answers, eager, filled with classroom knowledge but no real world experience. It was like a party trick, but it didn’t compensate for them not being qualified enough. It was a lot of effort and didn’t improve their chances. And it was a bit awkward – it was like having a very nervous, overeager person rush through a lecture with an audience that already knew the material. We were much more interested in having a conversation, probing deeper, hearing what they’d done. It showed us that they REALLY wanted to land the job, but not much more.

    5. Just Another Techie*

      My company (electrical engineering) often wants to see a quick sketch of a students’ classroom projects but typically we expect the student to be able to do a 3-minute sketch of their past work on a whiteboard. I’d be somewhat confused if they brought a portfolio of their designs.

      We also look at a students’ projects on github if they include a link on their resume (and have rejected students for bad code or incoherent pull requests when warranted)

  4. De Minimis*

    #2 is a big one I wish I’d thought about both in undergraduate and graduate. Undergraduate was a little difficult because I lived at home and commuted a long way to campus, but I should have been able to find something at least during the summers. I only worked intermittently in grad school, and found out right away that it was a problem when I had on campus interviews.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, I was an English major and the humanities didn’t even think about advising people to get internships when I was in school, unless you were interested in politics. Thankfully my parents insisted I have a job during school vacations and the sister of a friend happened to work for a temp agency — I didn’t realize then how valuable those summers I spent stuffing envelopes and filing would be to my getting a job after graduation.

      1. copy run start*

        My parents told me not to work because I’d have the rest of my life to work. I am glad I didn’t take their advice because I would’ve been screwed on graduation.

        J-school also told us not to work when we were juniors and seniors, but that was because they were trying to simulate an actual news job in certain courses where you’d show up to class and get assigned an event to cover with a story due at midnight, or to find something to report on and turn in by X o’clock. I thought it was really unfair to the students who needed to work to get through school though, since they’d get stuck between homework and earning money for food or rent.

        I never found summer work, but this was ’08 – ’10. Most people I know didn’t have any luck either unless they were available year-round. I always ended up working for campus in some capacity.

        1. De Minimis*

          My main problem in undergrad was living too far from school, and also living in a small town in a rural area where most jobs involved driving to other towns/counties. Still, there were opportunities for work that I did not pursue. I think I was a bit too average gradewise [and did no extracurriculars] for most internships, and that’s an avenue I never even considered back then.

        2. justsomeone*

          I had similar issues with J-School and only semi-successfully pushed back on some of it. (Being at a liberal arts school calling them out on their assumption of privilege actually had some effect.)

        3. AnotherAlison*

          My parents gave the same advice. They were oriented towards getting stellar grades and no distractions. Fortunately, internships were not as big of a deal in the ’90s as they are in my field today. I did work a couple summer/winter jobs that were enough to have some work experience, and these were jobs in a big printing company and telemarketing, so they were a little easier to talk to engineering job interviewers about than if they had been fast food jobs or something.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        When I went back to school, I worked full time the entire time and took classes at night. That’s why it took me six years to finish–because I could only go to school part time. If you’re a non-traditional student, you probably won’t have to worry about work history, but if you’re changing careers, you might want to look for something at least related to the field you’re going into.

        The hard part about this is internships. Most adult students can’t afford to quit working to do an unpaid internship or something like clinical practicums or student teaching, unless they have a ton of savings or a spouse / partner with a good job. The student teaching thing was one reason I quit grad school; there was literally no way I could have done it without any income.

        1. De Minimis*

          I had a somewhat tough time in grad school because my program wasn’t designed for working adults–I often had classes during the workday and also at night. I still managed to find part time work occasionally, but similar to undergrad I didn’t actively pursue it enough.

          I did apply to one internship and was turned down, but was offered a full time job after graduation instead [at the time I didn’t realize this was basically a red flag in my field.] That also kind of ended my interest in finding work during school since I figured I already had a job lined up. I paid for it later, though, when I was let go after a year and so it became just another one of my short stays.

        2. BananaPants*

          The problem my husband ran into, as a non-traditional student, was that his resume only showed working in retail and he was pigeonholed even once he had the degree. He couldn’t do internships during his non-traditional stint because he was busy working full time and we couldn’t afford for him to quit and take an unpaid or lower-paying internship. And then he graduated at the start of the great recession.

          Unfortunately he’s never been able to find a job in the field he majored in (which he loves), and at this point has accepted that he’s never going to work in that field. His degree (from a well-regarded state university) has basically been worthless.

        3. Luisa*

          I did student teaching with basically no income (my husband was working a commission-only sales job at the time…let’s just say it wasn’t his true calling), and it sucked. I had a part-time tutoring gig, but that brought in a little over a hundred dollars per week at most. I remember my one pair of nice slacks gave out the last week of school, and I had to repatch the hole (of course it was in the crotch area!) every single day until I finished teaching. (I could wear jeans for tutoring, so my “nice” pants only had to last until school got out and I could go back to tutoring close to full time, which would allow me to buy pants to wear to interviews so that I wouldn’t have to tutor for a living anymore.)

        4. CoveredInBees*

          Or do what I did. Come from a country where internships weren’t something you do for free in school, directly after graduation . There, they are paid contract positions you do your first year or so out. In fact there were organizations you could join that helped match people to internships and provided some guidance along the way. Sigh.

          I wouldn’t have been able to afford to work for free either.

      3. Allison*

        I went to a school where nearly everyone worked co-ops starting in their sophomore year. What they didn’t tell us was that the political science co-ops would be competitive, and the employers wanted students with office skills, so if you hadn’t worked an internship with, say, an elected official or some kind of advocacy organization, or volunteered on a campaign, your chances of your first co-op being paid were slim to nil. Didn’t help that the economy tanked just as my class was starting to look for co-ops and a bunch of employers pulled theirs.

        Lesson learned: if you have any inkling that you want to work in politics, start working internships immediately. And buy some professional clothing from H&M early.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      I got an EMT certification and worked night shifts and weekends in college and grad school. It wasn’t related to my field of study, but it sure helped me stay out of debt and gave me plenty of interview stories about handling stress and working with difficult people.

      1. Thinking Outside the Boss*

        This is a fantastic comment!

        While not all hiring managers are the same, and I work with a few bad ones, never underestimate the power of how a responsible job looks on a resume, regardless of field! I’m a managing lawyer at a government agency, and some of the best employees I’ve hired have shown responsibility and commitment outside of a classroom. The employee who was a manager at In-N-Out Burger while going to college and law school? A great employee! The employee who worked a full-time job while attending undergraduate classes at night? A great employee! And I would definitely higher a former EMT.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          It did end up being an advantage when it came to job hunting after grad school, partially because it was different and partially because it does I require a lot of different, transferable skills. I still have my certification and have kept it current because it is also a good “Plan B” if there are layoffs

      2. CoveredInBees*

        And you had the good sense to identify transferable skills that you can’t get in a classroom and can be hard to instill in employees on the job.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          All wrapped up in some pretty colorful, often dramatic stories. I didn’t realize it at the time but it taught me so much about being in the working world, especially dealing with coworkers. And to think that I only got my certification because my brother wanted a study buddy and I had no idea what else to do the summer after high school.

    3. Xarcady*

      I lucked out because my financial aid package included Work-Study money, so I was able to get a good on-campus job at the library. I worked in Technical Services for 4 years, and my senior year, they gave me all sorts of projects to do, which really helped my resume.

      Plus, I got Work-Study money for the summer, so I was able to go home and get a job with the town for 8 weeks each summer.

      And my college pretty much required everyone to get an internship, at least if you wanted to graduate, so every department had a list of places students had been able to good internships at, and many of those companies were happy to take on more students. Back then, though, we had to get credit for our internships, so we paid the college the same amount as if we were taking a class, and then, of course, all the internships were unpaid. Which seemed a little unfair.

      But I graduated during a recession and got a job in less than 3 months, so I think it all helped.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I’m pretty sure my work-study library job (and the references from it) was at least half of the reason I got my foot in the door of my first full time job.

  5. Just J.*

    I would really like to stress item #2: Get quality internships and summer work.

    I am in architecture and engineering. This is a competitive field. The best graduates are the ones that not only have a solid GPA but also pursued and completed quality, responsible work each summer starting with the summer after their freshman year. (Yes, you read that right: starting with Freshman year.)

    This shows us that you are committed to the industry and you have endeavored yourself to learn as much as possible so you can hit the ground running once you start full time. This absolutely positively gives you a leg up over your fellow classmates. We acknowledge that not all of your summer work has to be in the A/E field, but we expect to see jobs where you had personal growth, gained knowledge and had real responsibility.

    1. FlibertyG*

      Man, I hope there are a lot of paid internships in the field then! Otherwise (nothing against your comment specifically, just that I’m in DC and I see this all the time) they are basically selecting for only applicants whose parents are able to support them while they work for free and/or tiny stipends.

        1. Alton*

          This can still be tough, though,when you’re already juggling a class schedule and a job. I didn’t pursue internships as much as I would have liked because I was scared to jeopardize my existing weekend job, which was paying the bills. I couldn’t see a way to do it without working and being in class 7 days a week, and I just couldn’t do that, mental health-wise, without dropping the ball.

          1. Gabriela*

            Absolutely. The value of an unpaid internship also varies a great deal by industry. While they are valued highly in non-profit and government industries, there is a ton of research that says that students who have done unpaid internships in many for-profit industries fare no better than students who didn’t complete any internships at all.

          2. Tuckerman*

            Yup. I worked full time in grad school (and through most of undergrad), so I didn’t have an opportunity to pursue internships. I got free tuition by working full time, so it was a great option. I have plenty of work experience, just not in my new field!

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, it can be tough (and in some cases no doubt not possible). But it’s not accurate to say that only people with parents supporting them can afford to do unpaid internships.

            1. Student*

              I think the bigger point is, that’s a lot like saying “The rich and poor alike are arrested equally for sleeping under bridges.”

              Sure, technically possible for anyone to do an unpaid internship, but the logistics are so much easier if somebody else is able and willing to pay for all your living expenses that it’s a bit silly to say that. It’s out-of-touch. Part-time, entry-level jobs are no longer part-time to accommodate employees with unusual schedule issues. They are part-time to accommodate employers with unusual schedule issues. Low-skills part-timing changed with the advent of cheap computer schedulers and massive ~2008 unemployment, and hasn’t adjusted back.

              The handful of places that hire around an employee’s unusual schedule, like universities, are usually doing that to get bargain-basement rates on work that they can get away with explicitly because the usually have some living expenses “covered” inside their tuition payment loans, and thus don’t need to make enough to pay rent or food bills every month.

      1. Artemesia*

        Many colleges have internship options during the school year; some require them and supervise them well. If you can’t afford an unpaid summer internship then do one for 3 hours of credit during the semester; that would stack up to about 15 hours a week in the field which is plenty of time to establish a work record and recommenders.

      2. Fisherman2*

        Engineering internships tend to pay, and pay reasonably well.

        The lowest paid internship I had as a student, was ~$13/hour in 1994. My last summer internship in 1997 paid ~$19/hour.

      3. Just J.*

        Pretty much in engineering (and for our architecture interns, though I cannot speak for all), summer interns are paid and paid pretty well. Engineering is not an easy field. If we didn’t pay, students would never intern! :)

      4. BananaPants*

        I’m an engineer, and engineering internships are usually paid very well. Most are full time in the summer, some are longer as part of a co-op program.

        Note: it’s expected when we hire a new grad that they’ve done at least 1-2 serious summer internships in the engineering field. Having zero internship or co-op experience on a resume is a major red flag unless there’s some mitigating factor like military service or relevant work experience (like as a CAD technician or machinist).

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Yup same. We try to make allowances for tough personal circumstances (foreign born candidates who couldnt get internships because of visa or clearance requirements, or nontraditional students who were supporting families and couldn’t risk losing their regular job by taking time off from it for a fulltime summer internship-almost all internships in thisnfield are full time) but it does make their candidacy a harder sell. They have to be 100% stellar in every other regard.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Yeah, that’s fun, because then you get to explain that you’re a non-trad student with kids to support. (This can be the case if you’re 21, ahem, for me.) It is probably better for men, but if you’re a woman in engineering with kids when you get your degree, it’s not something you want to discuss in interviews.

            1. CoveredInBees*

              In law school, women were told (unofficially, of course) to take off wedding/engagement rings for interviews. Did you get that too?

      5. Clever Name*

        I got a degree in a hard science and I worked lab or research jobs all through undergrad. I basically walked around the department with my resume and asked professors if they were looking for research assistants.

  6. FDCA In Canada*

    I don’t wish anything as much as I wish I had done internships during my undergrad and been more proactive in my work search. I feel like I would have been so much better off than what I did, which was work retail summers. Retail taught me an awful lot, but good Lord, I wish I had done internships instead!

    1. Anonorama*

      IDK I’ve rejected a lot of candidates over the last few years who have only ever done internships and part-time or temp jobs in our field because they just had no idea how to interact with people. I definitely think there is a danger to doing too many internships without having any corresponding actual work experience.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        Wait, an internship can absolutely be actual work experience, though. I’ve had an internship that was a regular 9-5 job working alongside full-time employees and I know lots of others who have had similar experience. And what else are college students supposed to get besides part-time jobs or internships?

  7. BBBizAnalyst*

    #4 is huge. While well-meaning, the majority of my career center was full of people who didn’t have the appropriate experience and had been at the center for xx amount of years. That’s great for academia but for an undergrad who was trying to break into a certain industry, it wasn’t helpful.

    I would also add “the creative resume”… my career center loved telling students to stand out by making their resume one of a kind. Please do not do that. I don’t want to rotate a piece of paper because you decided to create a maze and instructions for origami out of your experience.

    1. penny*

      +1 in the creative resumes! If I want to see your design skills, I’ll ask for a portfolio. This new trend of high design resumes adds no benefit. Instead it hides or minimizes space for the relevant content so you can add cute icons.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        You can have a well designed resume while still being informative. Just don’t use that stupid bar graph construct to explain how much experience you have in a software versus another — I don’t know if the nearly full bar means you have years of experience versus software b or what. I need concrete facts here.

      2. nofelix*

        A well designed resume = attractive, clear presentation of the necessary information. I would honestly wonder about someone who applied for a design position with a poorly designed resume e.g. paragraphs not aligning, poor choice of font, no clear hierarchy of information. Whereas if it’s a non-design position then I’d just want it to be legible.

  8. Frozen Ginger*

    Thankfully my career center didn’t tell me any of these things!

    But honestly, I was really impressed with my college career center. The woman knew her stuff, and she didn’t say “Oh you’ll get a job, don’t worry.” She instead said, “While your resume doesn’t have a lot of relevant experience, you’re going to have a good degree and some skills employers are looking for. Don’t be afraid to look for jobs in fields you hadn’t considered.”

    1. FlibertyG*

      Mine was also pretty good, I will say. And they had lists of job contacts that were actually useful. Thank you, Linda!

  9. all aboard the anon train*

    I think internships are field dependent. I could never afford to do internships in publishing, but I found a job in publishing all the same. Even paid internships were often in other cities and I didn’t have the money to get there. I needed to work for the money when I was in college, not for the experience, which I know is a situation a lot of kids are in.

    But I did have years of work experience from tutoring, freelance writing, and working retail, so it was better than nothing. That helped a lot when I was applying (even though I graduated right when the economy exploded and no one could find a job).

    1. Jubilance*

      Depending on the industry, the norm is paid internships. For example, as an engineering major I was paid a very competitive salary and that’s the norm for STEM fields. Plus I received discounted housing and a travel stipend to get to/from my internship.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Publishing is usually unpaid. The rare paid internships usually had preference for Ivies or they went to kids who could afford unpaid internships or low stipends. Some of the stipends I remember where around $500-1000/month in HCOL areas where you had to pay for your own housing or travel.

        1. De Minimis*

          I work for a nonprofit, and we pay our student workers [not really interns, though the goal/function is the same.] It’s not really an internship, it’s a part-time job where the students technically work for the university but the jobs are located in our office [we’re an affiliate organization.]

          We are not the norm, though.

      2. SL #2*

        The only times I’ve ever heard paid internships as being a given are in STEM or financial consulting fields. You’d be lucky to get even a travel stipend from most other places, especially at nonprofits. :(

      3. Anon for this*

        Our engineering interns are paid more than me. They don’t get benefits so my overall compensation is better, but their hourly rate is higher than mine and I am not entry-level. We also have housing available for them and I’m not sure what (if anything) they are charged to live there.

      4. Optimistic Prime*

        Engineering/tech is really one of the few fields with that as the norm. Finance/banking is another. In most other fields, it’s far more hit or miss and depends a lot on the company.

  10. Mike C.*

    The situation with #6 is frustrating because so many jobs use that very same language in their descriptions!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But that’s true of many things, and it still doesn’t make sense to just declare that you have X trait. You have to demonstrate it.

      1. hayling*

        Yep, you need to “show not tell” both in your application materials and how you present yourself in the interview.

    2. hbc*

      I always thought those were more for self-selecting out, or at least to be warned what they’re going to ask your references. Like, if they want you to be very detail-oriented, don’t bother applying if you’re a person who values quantity over quality. Bonus points if you can claim that your till never came up short or that customers and managers complimented how neatly your displays were organized.

    3. Allison*

      They don’t look for those words on your resume, though. They look at your job titles, they look at how much experience you have, they look at what you’ve done recently and usually what you studied if you’re a recent grad. However, the soft skills and personality traits are assessed during the interview process.

  11. Jeje*

    I’m in Tech/Software and I would say that in our field, the point about emphasizing with experience over course work ONLY applies to students who’ve had relevant internships. An internship in your field is the best thing you can emphasize, but if you don’t have that, your Capstone project is more interesting to us than your job at the bookstore. Some kids have even included hackathons and that gives more to consider than list of non-skilled jobs.

    Also if you’re applying for a job in tech field, don’t include Microsoft Office on your resume. Career Centers are telling CS students to do this and it makes them look silly.

    And someone is telling these kids that a link to your LinkedIn profile is decent substitute for a cover letter; it’s not.

    1. FlibertyG*

      That’s funny, I work in an office environment and I’d say it’s the reverse for us here. I’d rather hear about ANY work experience – which at least tells me if you are dependable, show up on time, understand some professional norms around working for compensation, etc – than coursework. That’s partly because we don’t ask our employees to write papers or take exams and we *really* don’t want employees who think they are the customer of the company the way a student is the customer of the university. There are probably more transferable skills in a discipline like tech.

      1. Jeje*

        Hmm. Maybe that’s why professional norms and showing up on time aren’t requirements at a lot of tech jobs

    2. Artemesia*

      this is a good point. There are academic programs with service-learning or field based components where students have worked with an organization to accomplish an academically related task. There are engineers who have worked to design and build equipment for handicapped students; business or liberal arts undergrads who have developed marketing plans, done survey research, created an evaluation plan etc etc for real clients as part of classwork. And there are others where such projects are substantial but simulated. Yes it would be better to draw on a workplace example, but if you don’t have that, being able to talk about a specific marketing or evaluation plan or webpage design you did as a class project is better than nothing. And it is different from just citing courses you have taken.

    3. Cranky HR*

      How about your Word Perfect certification? I actually have a resume with that listed. I suppose if you were applying to work with the late William F. Buckley it would count.

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      I also thought the advice to put basic computer skills on your resume was silly and outdated. (I was an EECS major at MIT, graduating in the late ’00s.)

      Then I went to my first interview. I walked in the door, shook hands with the hiring manager, and sat down. He gives me a serious look, and says: “Your teapot experience is impressive, but I really had to fight to get you an interview. You don’t have experience with Microsoft Office, and that’s important to the work we do. If you were offered the job, do you think you could learn to use it?”

      Yes, he was completely serious. I politely replied that, actually I had rather a lot of experience with Office, and quickly summarized what I’d done with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. “Oh. But why didn’t you put that on your resume?” I summoned every last molecule of professionalism in my young body, and did not say what I was thinking, which was that I’d also failed to list my potty-training credentials. Instead, I apologized, explaining that I’d cut the resume to one page and had focused on more specialized skills.

      Didn’t get the job. Pretty sure this was in the best interests of everyone involved. But I took the guy’s advice, and made space for Office (and a few other basics, like Windows) on my resume. You never know who’s going to be doing the initial screen…

      1. Jesmlet*

        I summoned every last molecule of professionalism in my young body, and did not say what I was thinking, which was that I’d also failed to list my potty-training credentials.

        Lmao, dying over here… Hopefully this just happened a while ago and doesn’t happen nowadays. I can’t imagine any recent grad not having experience in Office.

      2. Artemesia*

        I have worked with students on resumes and told them to list such computer skills and they always say ‘but everybody knows excel’ — but everybody doesn’t. For an entry level resume listing the software you are competent with takes maybe two lines and may be important to somebody just like speaking a foreign language well can be important.

        This is a great example. You thought, ‘well everyone knows microsoft office’ but then it turns out, maybe they don’t or maybe your hiring manager isn’t aware of how commonplace it is now.

        1. Jeje*

          I think what you are suggesting might be true in general, but, not for tech jobs. When my boss and I last reviewing resumes for an entry level Software Engineer, he thought it reflected poorly on the candidates, as though they didn’t understand what kind of job they were trying to get, while I chalked it up to bad career center advice.

        2. Amber T*

          Yeah, I think it’s safe to assume most people know the basics in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook, but certainly not everyone.

          I helped review resumes for my replacement, and we focused most on work history to select candidates to interview. Most put Word/Excel or Office down, but when we got to a resume without it, we figured, everyone knows it, so we’ll call her in (she did list relevant work experience). Turns out she never used Excel before and couldn’t do much more than type and print in Word. So, you know what happens when you assume…

          And just because you’re good at one doesn’t mean you know them all! My colleague is a wiz when it comes to Excel, but if I have to show her one more time how to create a calendar invite in Outlook…

          1. Jeje*

            Again, was this a Tech job? The idea that this looks silly on a resume is industry specific.

            1. Amber T*

              Office/administrative. In this particular case, the applicant said she had relevant work experience (other office type jobs), but was unfamiliar with the applications. Either she worked in a few non-technologically advanced places or was lying, but (I think) it’s pretty standard to know the basics in Office. We didn’t bat an eyelash at those who included it on their resumes. We noticed it on the ones that didn’t have it, but didn’t think too much of it because “everyone knows it.”

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              I work in tech and I don’t think it looks silly. Most candidates do know but there are some advanced skills in Office (particularly Excel) that it cannot be assumed someone knows off the bat.

        3. MsSolo*

          I’ve worked in several industries where I’ve found myself explaining to superiors (in office jobs) that a mouse has two buttons. There is a very high proportion of high level staff in some industries who started before computers were the norm and have been putting a lot of effort into making themselves indispensible so they don’t have to learn more than the absolute basics. Often those staff are on interview panels. “I am comfortable working with / I know the basics of / I’m an experienced user of…” takes one line, two if you actually have a broad spread of experience, and reassures managers who don’t know the difference between save and save as that you won’t be asking them questions they can’t answer.

      3. Bryce*

        When I hear about folks listing Office/Excel skills and such I always assumed there was some special side to them that let you turn a spreadsheet into a 3D 90s cyberscape that would let you hack the Gibson and save the company. I’m not sure if it’s low self-esteem or just assuming anything that comes easily to me comes easily to everyone, but “able to write a function and modify cell values” doesn’t seem resume-worthy.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I think there are three different sides to this. The first is a job that wants basic Office skills – creating a formatted document, writing an Excel function – and assumes everyone can do it. The second is a job that wants highly advanced Office skills – things like pivot tables that a basic user doesn’t even know about – and gets frustrated when people list Office skills when they’re a basic user. And the third is for more software/programming jobs, where Excel is strictly for expense reports, and listing it as a skill on your resume implies that you don’t really understand what the job is about.

          1. Bryce*

            Huh, I did not know the “pivot table” term but googling it that looks like a really handy thing to know. I probably would have spent an afternoon trying to code it by hand if I had to work with something like that. Thanks for the learning!

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          There is absolutely a world of people who make Excel do strange and wonderful things – MBAs seem to be especially fond of this. It’s marketable, and if I had those skills I’d be loud and proud about it.

          Personally, I think that if you really want a database / data visualization engine / report generator, it’s better to use tools that are actually built for the purpose…making Excel do it is just sad. It’s like someone wants a guard dog, so they took their elderly Chihuahua and hired someone to build a mech-suit for it, when they could have bought a German Shepherd that would do the job right out of the box (kennel?) and for a fraction of the cost. But some people make it work.

          But then, I’m a data wrangler, so if someone shows up in my office with an Excel spreadsheet…it means they got halfway through wrangling their data themselves, and then realized they were in over their heads, so it’s usually a red-hot mess. Let’s just say that I was deeply annoyed when Excel was “upgraded”, such that it no longer crashed when opening a file over 65K lines; that’s a feature, not a bug, because it tells you to go bother the resident data wrangler about it. =)

        3. MsSolo*

          You’d think, but a colleague listed Excel skills, then rewrote all my formulae with new data (in coloured cells so you’d know they weren’t for data entry!) and used a manual calculator to add up everything that was on the screen. Apparently her skill was knowing what program the Excel icon opened.

          1. Bryce*

            Oof. I’ve done something like that (minus the calculator) by accident, but in that case it’s easily ctrl-z’d.

    5. Electron Wisperer*

      Interesting, Last time I was involved in hiring, we were **FAR** more interested in “What have you built?” then in the details of the candidates degree. I mean they have one, which is nice and all, but I want the person who took the parents TV apart age 11 (And got it back together again!) or the person who built a boat, or the one who builds toy steamtrains, or the one who built a radio, I don’t care what, and asking about building stuff is a good way to find them (IMHO Any worthwhile engineer has been building things since WAY before college).

      When hiring for a member of a small engineering team it is often a far better question, because anyone who should be in that field will be able to talk about building **SOMETHING**, it pretty much matters not what, and you can poke around problem solving, design tradeoffs, research skills and team work in a far more meaningful way.

      There should be no excuse for a newly minted software grad to not have a github repo, and much the same goes for any sort of engineering graduate, the form of the portfolio may change, the desirability does not.

      It is not of course sufficient, but degrees are academic, I need a mix.

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL. My son is a software engineer but could easily have gone into electrical or mechanical instead of going the liberal arts route and from early childhood the kid could fix our household appliances and build things. He made a remote control car out of a dustbuster motor once and a iron smelter in the backyard. I’d think the ‘what have you built?’ question would be a fabulous screener in any engineering field and with modifications in any STEM field.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          This type of question historically biases against female candidates due to decades of social conditioning where women just do not do these types of things. I built stuff during my senior design project, so I could have answered it. But, I didn’t tinker around making stuff in my garage, and I still don’t, and I’m a fine mechanical engineer. There is a need for very “hands-on” engineers, and there is a need for engineers who can write and speak well (where females can excel) but may not troubleshoot equipment failures in the field as well. Lots of design work requires you to understand how something works and how to model it, but you don’t have to be handy with a lathe or mill. Many different types of candidates can have long-term success in the field.

          1. Electron Wisperer*

            Indeed, but for the roles I was hiring for, which frankly were far more practical design then anything else, I found it to be an excellent filter for people who would place the mounting holes on a sane grid and would remember that you have to actually get the board into the box somehow (That guy we fired).

            Also, going by my family it would not have been all that discriminatory, sister #1 has a bigger and better workshop then I do (Mainly wood and silversmithing, some blacksmithing, occasional sheet metal, jealous? me? Never!), sister #2 converted a 1960s double Decker bus into a camper. Either would pass that test easily, it might just be the set I run with but I suspect this is far less discriminatory then asking for an engineering degree.

            Our team BTW is five people, two of them women, one of whom is Indian, hiring competence is difficult enough, stupid to make it any harder by discriminating on stuff that does not matter.

          2. Jeje*

            The same conditioning of both genders makes women feel like an outsider at hackathons. Costing us both networking and skill building opportunities.

            In this case, I think there is also an element of how much does the candidate eat, sleep and breath their work. Some hiring managers expect that even experienced people come home from their day jobs and work on side projects. One of these days, I’d love to hear a candidate tell me boss he just watched Netflix in his free time.

            1. Electron Wisperer*

              There is not that much that the hiring manager can really do about the ratios that apply for the jobs, if you want to fix that, look at the ratios of men to women teaching in infant and junior schools, fix that and the whole societal expectations thing that drives it (Also, “Math is hard, lets go shopping”, grumble, somebody at Mattel needs my steel toe size 11s up their fundament) and then wait about 20 years.

              I would love more qualified applicants, male, female, I really don’t care, just please send me competent folk (That I DO discriminate in favour of, bigtime).

        2. nonegiven*

          My son got his job after graduation because another guy on the team had been on the same unpaid open source shareware project.

      2. Optimistic Prime*

        I understand the sentiment, but assuming that all worthwhile engineers have been building things since before college has the tendency to screen out students who haven’t had the resources to build things or take things apart before they got to college. There are some really talented folks out there who can do the job and simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn the skills before college.

    6. Ellie*

      I came here to say exactly the same thing… I am in tech, I have just gone through a bunch of resumes for graduate programmers, and we couldn’t care less about work experience that’s not in our field. Internships are great, but otherwise, the degree and subjects taught/skills learned are far more important. Turning up on time actually isn’t as vital a skill as being a good, creative programmer.

  12. FlibertyG*

    I remember struggling so, so much to talk about accomplishments (something my career center actually did tell me to do!) when I had so little experience to go on. All the examples provided were stuff like “I doubled the sales in our Denver office” and all my work experience had been stuff like supermarket cashier or coffee-fetching intern that I couldn’t really “spin.” (“I followed instructions reasonably well most of the time!”). Thank God somebody finally took pity on me and gave me a full-time job so I could start documenting some measurable outcomes.

  13. FlibertyG*

    I will say I had mixed results with the resume advice I was given as an eager young graduate. They really wanted me to include an objective, which I did but then an interviewer ended up making fun of it haha (they did hire me though, so I’m not too bitter!). They also told me to add “action verbs” to my resume which kind of makes me wince, but for all I know may have also actually helped at the time. I didn’t have a lot to go on so I remain grateful for the assistance … Lord knows what I would have come up with on my own.

  14. Bad Candidate*

    #1 is very true. I wish I had known that before I went back to school to finish my degree.

    1. Artemesia*

      Many students do masters degrees thinking that will be the entree to a job. It rarely is (unless it is a very specific professional credential) Mostly it makes you overqualified, and gives you student debt.

      1. Bad Candidate*

        I didn’t even go back for a Masters, I went back to finish my Bachelors.

    2. JM in England*

      I fell for the propaganda that is #1 and I strongly urge today’s undergraduate students not to make the same mistake. My field is scientific and at the time I went to university, was told that industry was crying out for graduates in my subject. However, was not counting on the big recession of the early 90s happening which led to my industry placement year (UK equivalent of an internship) being cancelled. This meant entering the working world with the the double-edged sword of being either overqualified for some jobs and not experienced enough for others. Took a year of intense job searching before landing my first full-time job!

      To put the above into perspective, went to a school reunion some years later and found that some of the people in my year who had been written off in academic terms had their own businesses…….

    3. Amber T*

      It’s rough, because I know for a fact my company won’t look at resumes without a Bachelor’s degree. I assisted in finding candidates to replace me (admin/office work), and we tossed a bunch of good looking resumes, with years of relevant, office related experience, because they didn’t have a Bachelors. I tried to fight for them, but head of hiring wouldn’t even hear of it. After three years in that particular position, I can say with certainty that you did not need a college degree for it.

      1. Amber T*

        What ticked me off even more was when I started transitioning into my current position (more technical, no administrative), grand-grand-boss recommended I take some business and accounting courses to familiarize myself with various financial documents. He was genuinely surprised when I told him I had a BS in Business Management and had taken multiple courses in college. He was one of the people to interview me thoroughly and still had a copy of my resume on file. So… he didn’t even look at what my Bachelors degree was in, just that I had one from a well known (coughexpensivecough). It’s crappy, it really is.

  15. BritCred*

    2 is something I’d like the law student who lives with me to realise. Already a year or more behind peers her age, doesn’t have any work or experience on her CV and is only now getting internship/placement request letters sent out because she *has* to do one next year as its required as part of the course. Its a competitive world out there and the attitude of shrug and wait doesn’t really work.

    1. Jaydee*

      Oh goodness! What does she think will happen after graduation? The age thing isn’t an issue (lots of law students aren’t fresh from undergrad) unless she did literally nothing between college and law school. But if she isn’t motivated to get practical experience she is going to have trouble finding a job after she graduates.

  16. Alton*

    With regards to #6, I really wish there was more advice out there for how to give examples of your skills when you’re relatively new to the workforce. I read lots of advice about being specific when I was job hunting out of college, but most of the examples seemed more relevant to people who’d had positions with more responsibility, like “Managed a team of five that increased quarterly earnings by 15%.” It was hard to figure out how to apply that advice when I’d never been in a position that allowed me to take much responsibility or directly influence things. I did figure out ways to be more specific (“Interacts with more than 100 customers during an average day” vs. “Great customer service skills,” for example), but I didn’t have many quantifiable accomplishments to point to.

    1. FD*

      Some of the example I used included things like:
      “Consistently got top scores on quality assurance checks”
      “Developed reputation as one of the best register clerks, resulting in being asked to train many new hires”
      “Received multiple compliments to management about great customer service”

      Not every person in the same role would be able to say they’d done these things, so it made my resume stand out more than someone who’d just done an average job.

      1. AJJLC*

        These are great examples! I’ve saved these kinds of things for my cover letter but I think moving them to the resume would be helpful as well. Thanks!

    2. Anxa*

      I would love the opportunity to get my hand on some of the metrics, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen in my position. Which is a shame because while so much of my job is qualitative (and I really, really don’t think our performance lends itself well to running the numbers), I love delving into data trends and I don’t have the opportunity to do that at work.

  17. Anxa*


    My own experience has been the opposite of this. I wish I hadn’t worked so much before graduation and instead had focused on my studies.

    I think in my case, the problem was the degree to which I didn’t focus on my studies. I had never really learned how to study in high school or elementary school and had a lot of perfectionism issues that kind of led me to think of classes as an afterthought and I threw myself into my work instead. And without a competitive GPA, I couldn’t find the internships I needed and didn’t feel confident asking for letters of recommendation, references, or to volunteer in different labs.

    So I’d say that work experience probably matters more than having a perfect GPA, but I think having a strong GPA matters just as much as general work experience. In part because you really can’t get that more specialized work experience unless you have the internships, direct volunteer experience, or get into graduate school (and can compete for funding/scholarships).

    My GPA was pretty bad, though, and my work experience really was quite a bit outside my field of study (a science).

    And to be honest, I haven’t had any jobs post-college that required the level of work or skill as those I had in college.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      If you can afford it, I think it’s a good idea to keep working to a minimum during one’s first academic semester or two so you can get a sense of how much effort coursework is going to take. Law students are discouraged from working their first year because grades DO matter, even if work experience matters too. It’s all finding a balance.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      Like a lot of things, this will also depend on field. Someone with iffy grades in journalism is going to have the same chance of landing a job as someone with a 4.0 in journalism — assuming all other things, including quality of work experience, are equal. That’s not how it works in science, of course. And, as you assessed, the degree to which you sacrifice one or the other is key.

      Too often, I see wealthy students graduate with no work experience because they don’t need to work, and their parents interpret “focusing on academics” to mean “doing absolutely nothing outside of academics [and, in most cases, partying or watching Netflix or what have you]”

      1. Anxa*

        I think it’s so field dependent!

        I have another friend in the sciences that literally has never had a single day of working outside of science. She graduated summa cum laude and interviewed (I was actually in the parking lot with her) on the fly one summer and walked out with a job a few weeks after graduation. Worked there for a year or two and went back to grad school.

        She now has a very prestigious PhD, is in paid fellowships for an agency job and on track for a great career. Shadowing a science-adjacent professional in her underclassmen/high school years instead of working was probably a great move, and I don’t think she’s hurting. Plus, while she may have missed out on ‘building character’, she had access to a whole world that many other people didn’t, which was far more valuable.

        To be honest, I don’t know how much having an extra 30 hours a week to focus on school work would have helped me, and there are tons of very good students who balance both very well. But I do wonder what it would have done for my focus and goals.

        And it’s not just this instance. Most science friends I have that have done very well for themselves worked very little in high school and the early years of school and instead worked in unpaid research projects, maybe some internships as upperclassmen. Those that worked more traditional jobs didn’t have as much success, but there are probably a lot of other factors going on there.

  18. Anon42*

    So I have a question about #6 that I’ve always struggled with (particularly for cover letters which the very thought I’d make me nauseous). I’m an executive assistant and the you’re I’d job I do in the environment I work in (government), it is very hard to state specific accomplishments that I have done as there technically not *my* accomplishments. Honestly must if the time my major job duties are CYA manager for about 25 people and herding a “6 person cat cluster” aka my bosses. How do you put those things down on a resume??

    1. FD*

      As an executive assistant, your accomplishments are more about how well you’ve supported your boss.

      So for instance:
      “Consistently delivered government-mandated documentation paperwork on time and with 5% fewer errors than average”
      “Ensured that everyone on my 25-person team had the information and records needed to do their job, including preparing packets for clerks and preparing memos to keep management in the loop”

      I don’t love the phrasing but the idea’s there.

    2. Jesmlet*

      If you put verbatim CYA management of 25 person team and herds a 6 person cat cluster on your resume, you’d 100% get at least a phone interview from me. Unfortunately I can’t guarantee the success of that with other companies lol…

      1. hbc*

        Seriously, some cleaned up version of this (“successfully supported 6 managers with competing needs and interests,” “handled all emergency X and Y issues on 25 person team within same business day”) would give a great impression.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Same. Especially since I herd a 4-person cat cluster and am now in love with that phrase.

        We had to do “professional self-portraits” at a retreat once and I drew an image of myself chasing a bunch of cats toward a corral. And then presented that to my cluster. I even gave the cats their names and labeled them as such. Thankfully they thought it was funny rather than being upset by it.

        1. Amber T*

          Herding cat clusters. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more accurate phrase when it comes to trying to deal with multiple management/VIP people. *adds to personal dictionary*

      3. Cranky HR*

        So how is this for #6 – an actual bullet on a resume I just received:
        “• Maintaining an intelligent and balanced personality coupled with being mentally and physically fit.”
        Which I suppose is all very important if you were herding cats.

      4. Anon42*

        I love it all, thanks y’all!! Seriously, I’m going to save some of this language so it’ll be there when I need it (in my own words of course). I think I just get too much in my head that that it ask just sounds redundant to me after awhile!

        And I’m still trying to figure out how to get CYA Guru on my business card!!

  19. k*

    I’m very thankful that my college really pushed internships. I believe every major required one to graduate, and many required two. While there was still some questionable resume advice coming out of our career center, at least we all had some relevant experience to list on there. With so many “entry level” jobs requiring some experience, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to find your first job without that.

  20. SW*

    I just wanted to add that I got a lot more interest in my resume when I put my education at the bottom and not the top.

  21. B.*

    I’d just like to stick up for career centres here. As someone who current works in a university careers service, I 100% agree with all of these points, and this is what we tell our students. Careers centres get a lot of shit here, but I’ve never encountered anyone in my service or in any other UK careers service who would disagree with any of the advice Alison gives in the article.

    The UK is a lot smaller and we have a very well developed professional network with a strong emphasis on current information from employers and developing ourselves for the challenges that today’s graduates face. Maybe smaller colleges in the US don’t have the resources, but I’d be surprised if any of the higher ranked US universities were much different.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      This site in general reflects a very small percentage of jobs and fields, and that’s not an insult. It’s just the focus of this site. Sometimes I’ll wonder where certain commonly quoted norms are coming from, because my peers and I have never seen them, and then I’ll remember that the “how much do you make?” post had a really high ratio of elite jobs that paid well over the median income. The ideas about career centers in this post (and others like it) are sometimes coming from people whose career paths are not common. The best career center on the planet wouldn’t have accounted for their success.

      1. Zinnia*

        IME, most US college career centers are geared towards general liberal arts grads who don’t have a clear career path, and they do an OK job of helping those young people find a direction.

        OTH, they tend to be terrible at helping anyone with a more defined or limited job search where there are very specific industry expectations (accountants, nurses, engineers, etc.). It’s not just that they don’t know the industry expectations, but they don’t seem to know that they don’t know.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          I think there’s also the problem of career centers having to start further back in the process than is useful for the people who read this site. There are a lot of kids who get to college not knowing anything at all about resumes, and that’s not their fault. Their high schools failed them and their parents might not be in fields where resumes matter. Or at best, they haven’t written a resume since 1972. The center’s formats might be out of date, but they’re still better than the knowledge bases that these kids are working with.

          When I was in college, the career center was really just where you went to see job listings for companies that were sourcing directly through the school. The staff would help you polish your resume if you had one, but the center’s purpose wasn’t in line with the expectations that people have here. Things like internships and in-depth career counseling were the responsibility of individual departments, which makes sense.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            That was the case with my undergrad as well. I was a journalism major in undergrad, and as mentioned upthread, there are different expectations in the application process.

            In my graduate program, we had a full time, professional staff member dedicated to career services for our field. (Now there are 2 full time staff devoted!) Ours was excellent, and his successor was also excellent (I have not to date interacted with her successor(s) – she only moved on recently).

            I never interacted with the generic career services offices at either school.

        2. Gabriela*

          It really depends on the type of career center and college/university. In my experience, centralized career centers that are expected to see students of ALL majors tend to focus more on the career counseling aspect of helping students choose a major and a career path. Decentralized offices that focus on one college or department focus more on the employer relations aspect of career services in addition to the resume, cover letter and interview help and tend to be more clued into industry norms.

          Decentralized career center offices also tend (more often)to require their staff to have some industry experience in the area in which they will be advising. And speaking to Stellaaaaa’s point below, both types of career offices are indeed meeting students at vastly different levels of need and experience.

          I have been in career services for the past several years and in my experience, CS professionals would laugh at the examples given in the article and care a great deal about remaining keen to industry norms and best practices.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      I work at a pretty well-rated private US university and while I can’t speak to most of the specific bad advice here, the career center is widely regarded as useless and the resumes we get for on-campus jobs from current students are a parade of what not to do. (I really, really hope your epidemiology course isn’t “relevant” to working in a library. And while I’m glad to see you have ambitious goals in international finance, I am not hiring for a job in international finance so this doesn’t really sell you to me as a candidate.)

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        (And yes, I’ve confirmed that the bad resumes are from specific advice given by the career center, not just evidence that not enough students are using it.)

      2. Anxa*

        (I couldn’t help but chime in here, but most libraries I frequent don’t have tissues, paper towels, or full-powered hand dryers and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because I feel like that’s just a really bad idea for one of the biggest meeting centers of a community)

        Often the advice I see on career centers is the same stock resume guide that comes in a box of resume paper or is all over the web or could be found in a semi-outdated library book.

      3. B.*

        We run our on-campus temporary jobs service as part of our our careers service, and I agree that students applying for jobs often have horrific resumes and cover letters. We tried setting up a system where our recruitment consultants could refer particulary egregious students to the careers consultants for CV and cover letter support. You know how many of the referred students took the referral appointment? None. They just keep submitting terrible applications and they keep not getting jobs. It’s hard because sometimes it feels like we’re trying so hard to get people the advice and support that will help them, and the only ones who take it are the ones who don’t really need it because they do okay on their own.

    3. MLA*

      B. I agree! I work in a college career center and we tell our students as early as their freshman year that a degree alone will not get them a job. We require internships of all our students prior to graduation (and offer extensive support in the preparation and search for an internship) and encourage students to do more than one internship. We stress the importance of being strategic with part time jobs and taking advantage of leadership opportunities in extra-curriculars. We tell them that by the time they graduate, their class projects should not be the most significant, relevant experience they have because they will have relevant internship and work experience already. And, that relevant experience takes precedence on their resumes. They should only include experience on their resume that they prove via achievement statements, not subjective “buzzwords.” Getting a job certainly takes persistence, but that should be demonstrated in the form of building a network in the field prior to the actual job search. We do tell students that a portfolio can be a helpful tool in a job interview, but it is not to be just handed over to the employer to page through. It’s more of a visual aid for them to use when talking about their experience in an interview. Again, it should not contain just class projects because they should have more relevant work experience that will be included. We build career development into the curriculum so all students hear this message and develop their career skills prior to graduation. Unfortunately, not all students take our advice and some do get to graduation without having participated in extra-curriculars, with an internship that isn’t related to what they want to do, and expect that we will magically find them a job. These are the same students who will claim we didn’t tell them what they needed to do. Luckily, those students are not in the majority at the school where I work and I’m proud to see our students develop from freshman into their careers post-graduation.

      1. Career Counselor*

        I also work in career services and agree with all of the points made in this article. What I don’t agree with is that all advice from career centers is bad. While there are good and bad everywhere, it doesn’t help to use blanket statements about career centers in general. The majority are working hard and staying up to date on recruiting practices. We also struggle just to get students in the door, and I would say it’s safe to say the majority of students out there aren’t even using us but are getting bad advice from their parents or using resume templates they find online, etc. I’d encourage you to visit career centers across the country, or come to a conference, to learn more about the norms and the ways we work to best help our students. I love reading your blog and agree with you on your advice to others, just not the criticism of an entire profession.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course not all! That’s why the piece says “bad advice coming out of many – although thankfully not all – college career centers.”

  22. Dan*

    Re #6

    The older I get, the more I believe that college students shouldn’t be using the phrase “works well in groups”, but for different reasons than AAM mentions. The thing is, a “group” for coursework has a completely different structure and dynamic than a group in a real world job.

    In college, groups are comprised of a bunch of different people with no experience (hey, that’s why your in school!) or much in the way of diversity in background. And then someone (probably an alpha) is going to jockey for the position of being in charge. But the person in charge doesn’t have any real skin in the game — they are not responsible for the group’s outcome.

    In the real world, groups are often comprised of a variety of people with various backgrounds. The group leader is selected by someone other than the group itself. The group leader is generally experienced and responsible for the performance of the group (and presumably gets paid more.) As a fresh college graduate? An effective group worker fresh out of school is someone who shows up to meetings on time, completes tasking on time, asks for help when it is needed, and can take direction.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I agree with this. There’s also the fact that lots of teachers/profs still give the entire group the same grade regardless of individual contributions, while in the workplace you have people earning different salaries that hopefully relate to their roles on the team.

      But yeah, for me “works well in groups” means “I let the type-A person take responsibility and tell me what to do. Um, you can use my printer.”

    2. Hap*

      And then someone (probably an alpha) is going to jockey for the position of being in charge

      I always took charge on group projects in school, not because I was an alpha, but because I wanted to make sure the work actually got done. I got burned a few times by letting someone else take the lead and then they dropped the ball entirely and we all got a bad grade. After that, I just decided if I wanted an A, I would have to take over and make sure people did the work. I didn’t want that job AT ALL and hated it, but I hated the idea of not getting an A more.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        THIS. The later I got in schooling (high school vs college vs grad school) the less likely it was to be a problem, but if I had the option of working solo, I did. I hated relying on other people for my success in the class. It’s very different when you are being paid to work on a team vs. being graded on a group project.

        1. Dan*

          Yeah… to that point, your project can be a group failure, but still yield individual successes. In the real world, there’s less of a chance that one single person carries the burden for the entire team.

      2. bridget*

        Ugh, school group work was the WORST. In college, I probably would not have honestly considered myself someone who works well in groups and would not have put it on a resume, because it drove me crazy to have to organize a plan, farm out assignments, and inevitably do half of everyone’s work because the other members of the group weren’t interested. That is a recipe for being riddled with anxiety.

        In professional life, where everyone has predefined roles and areas of expertise and everyone is interested in getting a good outcome? Turns out I LOVE working in groups.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Same here! And sometimes people still slack off or mess up, but there are established procedures for dealing with that.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Hah, yes. In school, including college, the very idea of group work made me want to pull my hair out in big handfuls while uttering a primal scream. It tended to mean “let’s see who we can bully into doing all the work for us.”

      In the actual workplace? I still prefer to work alone most of the time but I am absolutely fine working in groups. No hair pulling. No primal screams.

      And I had no idea how different it could be until I hit the professional workplace.

  23. Havarti*

    Ah, #6, my old nemesis, we meet again. A brief stint in resume-reviewing made me loathe candidates who were punctual, detail-oriented, good at multi-tasking, and able to work alone or in groups, because they were usually late to their interview and their resumes littered with errors more often than not. Seriously, it was just static after a certain point. 99% of people had the same thing under skills. I stopped caring very quickly. What can you actually DO?

  24. Zombie Bunny*

    I graduated university four years ago. Three years ago, I scheduled a meeting with one of my old seminar professors who was supportive of my skills and efforts, and asked him for tips on how I could work towards building a career (I graduated with a BA in English, the kind of degree songs are written about (see: “What Do You Do With A BA in English?” from Avenue Q)). Said Awesome Professor (AP) was willing to be helpful, but didn’t have a wealth of advice he could offer me, he said, since he had only ever pursued academia and I wasn’t looking to go that route. He did, however, suggest I visit the career centre at the university. He had never been there himself, but felt it was a good place to start. So, right after our meeting, that’s where I went.

    It was a surprisingly small office (I think the square footage of my garage is bigger), a woman my age peeled herself away from talking about her vacation with the only other person in the office and asked what I needed. I explained the goals above. Instead of bringing me to a career counsellor (it turned out there was no such person) she sat me down in front of a computer. There were two websites open on the browser: the university website, and the ‘Job Board’ page for the Government of Canada. She rattled off how to use the search engines for both, and pointed to where the printer was. And that was it. For a while, I think I sat there speechless. Eventually I printed off a couple of things (if only to prove to myself that this actually happened to me), and then went home and composed an email to AP.

    AP was appalled and incredulous, which came very clearly through his email (the indignation on my behalf did warm my heart). He eventually sent me a follow-up email to tell me that he and a few colleagues had each dropped by the career centre at different times to get their own impressions, and the consensus was that it was equal to or worse than what I had described. There is now talk about either lobbying to revamp the career centre, or creating their own career centre for my faculty, so that students like me can get actual help and guidance from the staff members who care.

    So yeah, career centres on campuses can really suck. Sometimes they’re run by people who don’t have any more job experience than you do.

    1. MLA*

      The place where a lot of students/alums go wrong is waiting until after they graduate to visit the career center. By that point, they are way too late. You should be exploring what it is you want to do with your degree starting your freshman year and then strategically building your experience and network to align yourself for career success when you graduate. If you have no idea what you want to do you can’t choose research topics in classes that pertain to that interest area, which could then lead to a relevant internship, which leads to a job, etc.

  25. Miss Elaine E.*

    “Recovering Journalist” here: I majored in journalism in college and it always amazed me that the other students in my j classes were determined they were going to be the next Woodward or Bernstein yet only about two or three of us got our backsides down to the student newspaper for jobs. We were always crying for staff too. By the time I graduated, I had a pretty decent portfolio and got a job. I can’t imagine what the others had.

  26. Career Center Worker*

    As a college Career Center professional, I have not, would not recommend anything on this list. I’d guess that most of us are not giving that advice…it’s just bad!

  27. MegaMoose, Esq*

    I have very mixed feelings about my two experience with career centers (undergrad and law school). While I don’t believe either of them pushed any especially egregious advice, I don’t consider either of them to have been of much use personally. That said, I’ve always wanted to believe I could make a career by writing good resumes and cover-letters and applying to job postings, then keeping my head down at work rather than focusing on making connections or taking the next step, whatever that was. Which kind of worked for a while, but when it stalled out a few years ago, I was left without much sense of how to move forward. Could those career centers have done more for me? I don’t know.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      My personal experience is that it’s really hard to get past a certain point without outside help, whether it’s in the form of direct networking, family connections, or having parents who can pay for you to attend a name school. For some people, a great recommendation from a prestigious internship carries that weight. I did well for myself after I realized I could look within the Jewish community.

  28. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

    Only one job that lasted less than a month, a useless degree (BA Criminology), some volunteering work, no solid achievements or metrics… Oh, and I’m 23. I don’t think there’s any way of making a good CV out of that little lot.

    I wish my uni had mentioned work at all. Even once, in passing…

  29. Audiophile*

    My career center wasn’t all that bad. I’m actually friends with my carer counselor and we stayed in touch. I had decent tips for my resume and where to look for jobs, I had a decent amount of luck finding jobs to apply to on my college career center’s webpage. I know I was pretty lucky in that respect.

  30. Kat M*

    Just registered for a summer class at my nearby community college, and even though I’m not a degree-seeking student I still had to go in for advising before I could register. (No big deal, I totally get why this is policy.)

    Adviser was actually pretty cool, suggested that some of the events that are normally for students looking for work/internships could be valuable networking opportunities, and gave me links to their career development resources, one of which was a bank of example resumes for students from various backgrounds.

    Oh Lord.

    So many “detail oriented” people with “strong communication skills” who listed half their classes and none of their work accomplishments. I’m tempted to go back and recommend they hire me to rewrite the entire lot of them. I might just send a link to Alison. It was so sad, though.

  31. KC*

    The internship thing is huge. The local university has a very robust co-op program. It’s competitive, but every student who wants to can do at least 1 or 2 placements (and some do 3 or 4). There is no reason why students shouldn’t do co-ops: it’s paid, they work full time for a semester and they get experience. The only problem is that is extends their university time from 4 to 5 years. Many students say they don’t do co-op because they want to graduate and start work sooner, but they’re competing against students who have up to a year’s work experience. We won’t touch anyone who doesn’t have at least 1 co-op placement.

  32. higheredontheloose*

    I have to say that as someone “in the biz” who has worked at a half-dozen universities in the past 20 years (of all sizes, both public and private), I’ve only heard this type of bad advice come (a) out-of-touch alumni/mentors/supervisors/professors, (b) well-meaning but clueless parents, and (c) newbie/solo career service advisers that either refuse or unable to network properly. And sadly, far too many current students would prefer to listen to any of those people who overrule my years of experience and employer relations with “those that can’t do, teach/advise” axiom. Yep, that’s exactly why my colleagues and I do this work.

  33. Pamela*

    I once had a college “career advisor” tell my class that we should not leave a job for 10 years and that pay wasn’t important.

    Half of us laughed out loud, because we honestly thought that was a joke.

    She was serious.

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