Yearning for the Good Old College Days

I recently had the opportunity to network with two career professionals at Columbia University in New York City. It had been a long time since I had walked across the main campus of Columbia, but once on campus you get the feeling of being among these old academic buildings separated from the rest of the City, yet definitely the urban feel of the campus stays with you.

On this particular April day, with the morning sun warming the campus and watching students dash about getting to their first classes of the day, I couldn’t help but reflect back on my own college days at Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University in Ohio). Especially when it came to graduation time, and my dilemma of whether I should continue my studies in sociology or look for that first “real” job.

In the end, I chose to continue my graduate studies at New York University where I was accepted into their master’s program in sociology. At the time I had this vague notion I could go into teaching at the university level, although that would mean pursuing a doctorate degree, or possibly doing some type of research work. What I do remember is how I had to keep convincing people that sociology was not social work, although the latter also crossed my mind. The bottom line, I still had no clear career direction.

In the years since, I did go on to have a career – two in fact. One in Human Resources and my current one as a career coach. So the master’s in sociology may have paid off in some respects, but I still feel the path to my current career was more serendipitous than planned. However circuitous the path to my current career it did give me a renewed interest in the kinds of programs and services colleges offer students in preparing them for the job market.

In the heyday of my college years most career centers offered few programs on how to conduct a job search. They were mostly a central point for companies to post their job openings on 3x5 cards – not that I’m dating myself. But hey, that’s how I got my first job working as a “personnel assistant” for a major New York City bank. It’s also how I used to post jobs at local colleges as a corporate recruiter – ugh!

Today colleges and universities offer a broader range of services

A lot has changed in the years since. From my observations, and in talking with career professionals working in academia, colleges and universities today offer a broader range of programs and services to their undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni as well. I have also observed, on the flip side, there are colleges that still appear behind the eight ball when it comes to offering career services that position their graduates to be competitive in today’s job market.

Columbia offers programs through several career services centers including the School of International Public Affairs, the School of Engineering, the School of Business Administration, and other undergraduate, graduate and alumni programs. While these programs overlap to some degree (after all, resume writing is basically resume writing) they do focus on the specific needs and backgrounds of their students. Columbia, for example, has a large population of international students with the desire to work in the U.S., which presents some unique challenges to these students entering the workforce.

What is equally as impressive is the significant staff Columbia commits to these programs. Under a director or associate director there are several full time career professionals who offer half hour coaching sessions throughout the day; offer specialized programs where industry experts speak about their companies; and, offer unscheduled “walk-in” hours for students who may have that unexpected interview coming up and need some prepping. The School of International Public Affairs is even considering more advanced workshops on topics such as leadership development, team building, and communications.

In the coming weeks I hope to visit more New York City area colleges to learn of their programs as these students are the future of our workforce. And hopefully, companies will commit more of their resources in building these programs. Organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) work with universities and colleges to develop curriculum that prepares students interested in pursuing an engineering career. We just need more of them.

A lot has happened in the university setting since I landed my first job through that 3X5 card posted at NYU, so if you’re a student, even with a clear idea of what you want to do after graduation, check out your school’s career services center. You may be surprised at how much they have to offer and how much you have to learn.

BTW, the picture accompanying this blog is me at Heidelberg during my senior year. As I think about the day that picture was taken, I remember how great my senior year was, especially during a time when so much social activism was taking place. I only wish I had given my future career objectives as much consideration.

If you have a story or two regarding your college experience in working with your career services center please share it. Good, fair or bad I can always share them with my career services colleagues since I know they would want to make their programs even better.

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