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You understand the importance of locating your classes and the best coffeehouse—but where’s your college career center? If you don’t know, go find it. There’s more happening there than the fourth-year job search, and students who stop by a few times a year gain a powerful advantage. “The earlier students start to explore careers, the more time they have to test out their interests, build essential skills, and gain exposure and experience in possible fields,” says Jean Papalia, director of Tufts University Career Center, Massachusetts.
Seventy percent of students use their career center for résumé help, according to a 2012 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). More than half of students are making use of career counseling and internship assistance. Here’s what you can do at your career center:
1. Find four full years of opportunities
“I thought that my career services office would only help me find full-time jobs when my four years were up,” says Lexi K. at Stonehill College, Massachusetts, “but they helped me find summer jobs, apply for on-campus opportunities, [get] semester-long internships, etc.”
2. Check out your potential future(s)
The self-assessments offered at career centers are not designed to tell you what to do, but to give you ideas that aren’t already on your radar. The questions touch on your values, motivation, skills, and interests.
“The career center has led me toward what I want to do with my life,” says Christina L. at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts.
3. Pick your major & know what to do with it
Weighing your major, minor, and elective options? Considering their impact on your career opportunities can help set you up for getting employers’ attention.
4. Network with alumni
Your predecessors are often open to requests for informational interviews, and might even connect you with a specific opportunity or strategic contact. “Networking is a key component of career exploration and job search success,” says Papalia. “Alumni are especially supportive and always willing to provide information and advice.”
5. Develop your best résumé and cover letter
Selling yourself on paper is not as easy as you think. Check out your school’s drop-in sessions or workshops for assistance with selecting content, formatting, organization, grammar, and layout flair. “They’ve helped me better understand how to create an effective résumé and how to tailor it to specific employers,” says Nathan R. at the University of Wyoming.
6. Own that interview
In mock interviews, you might be paired with a career counselor, another professional, or a fellow student who has interviewed already. “I didn’t know that such a thing existed or that it would be helpful to practice with a real recruiter and no penalties,” says Kayla G. at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York.
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