As computer scientists and engineers, you're some of the most in-demand students on campus. Just last year, engineering majors were among the best-compensated new hires, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Chemical engineers also topped the list, with average offers climbing 5.6% over the last year to $59,707. Civil and mechanical engineering majors saw job offers climb by roughly 5% or more.
With recent statistics in your favor, you might think hiring companies will be beating down your door come graduation. But in today's economy, the reality is you'll need all the help you can get. And that will include enlisting the assistance of your university's career center. Chances are you've probably walked past the career center, and maybe you've even wandered inside a time or two, but you probably haven't utilized its services to its full capacity.
Go Early, Go Often
So how do you make your career center work for you? First of all, it is important to go early and go often. Bill McCarthy, associate director of Binghamton University's Career Development Center, advises students to begin visiting their career centers as soon as possible.
"Deciding on a career path really begins the minute a student sets foot on campus as a freshman," he says. "What an individual student does early in their college education can help them open or close doors of career opportunity down the line. A solid academic experience is a great foundation, but employers also hope for and want more."
Jaime Page-Stadler, director of career services at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, agrees with McCarthy that college students should begin their career planning early. She says, "Students should identify their strengths and transferable skills right away to identify interests and abilities. This will jump-start their search for relative experience and internships later on."
Your career center's counselors are trained professionals with years of experience who can help you with those doors of opportunity. The career center will provide resources and services to help you mold the skills and competencies you need for career success. They will aid you in exploring careers and gaining professional experience, like part-time jobs, internships, co-ops, or summer employment.
"Employers want to see students involved in extracurricular activities, such as student government and leadership experience. They also want out-of-class experience in internship and summer jobs," states McCarthy. "Those students with a strong classroom experience, combined with extracurricular activities, will set themselves apart from their peers when looking for a full-time job their senior year. In essence, they will be more marketable."
Career centers also have established connections with top companies that are looking to hire new employees just like you. It's their job to connect interested employers with students. And not only do career counselors know about top positions, they are also trained to prepare you to interview for these positions.
Know Your Niche
McCarthy also encourages students to conduct a self-evaluation to assess their interest and skill level. Your career center will be able to assist you with this as well. "Self evaluation is the equivalent to a business knowing their market niche," he says. "For a college student, they need to know their career interests, their career niche, their abilities, and their skill inventory, so they can successfully sell themselves to an employer.
"The common mistake new college graduates make is not knowing what they can offer employers or not marketing their skills in a clear or confident manner," adds McCarthy. "The bottom line is that strong candidates must take time to get to know themselves. It's a time-consuming process, but it will pay off in dividends - a good job offer."
McCarthy's advice to college students is to use their campuses' career development center services to evaluate their career interests and abilities and to sort through their job offers. "Students can speak to a career counselor to help them weed through the many career options they are considering," he says.
When students head to the career center, Page-Stadler adds, they should bring along their resume, if they have one prepared, and be ready to discuss their interest in specific fields or areas of study.
Your career center will typically have walk-in hours, but to get the full attention of a counselor, you should call ahead to schedule an appointment, especially if you are an upperclassman. Keep in mind that your career center will probably have some online services as well, so check their website at regular intervals for resources and updates.
Page-Stadler agrees that your career center will have a variety of programs, services, and resources. "Our most popular resource is our online recruiting system," she asserts. "Students and employers have accounts and they can either post their resume or post positions. Both can also sign up for events and fairs. We also have a virtual career library in our system, virtual interviewing, and software to identify positions both nationally and internationally."
Page-Stadler adds that the center also offers in-person mock interviews for students to test out their interviewing skills, courses to receive credit for internships, career courses, career fairs, and more.
So Get Started
It's important to utilize your career center early in your career, but if you are an upperclassman, it is not too late. Schedule an appointment now with a counselor and get started with regular appointments. There are plenty of things you can do as an upperclassman to make a major impact on your job search. Just make sure to involve your career center so they can help you on your way to career success.