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8 Ways College Could Better Prepare Students for the Job Search

Alison Green

While reports are mixed about whether the job market is getting any easier for recent graduates, one thing is certain: Too many students are graduating from college unprepared for the job search that awaits them. And part of the reason is that colleges aren't giving students the right guidance.

Here are eight things that colleges and universities can do to better prepare students to find jobs when they graduate:

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

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 Stop with the outdated advice. Too many college career centers are dispensing outdated advice--telling students to use old-fashioned resume objectives, recommending aggressive follow-up phone calls that irritate and alienate employers, and other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 Not only does this outdated knowledge not help students, in some cases, it actually harms their job-searching efforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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