Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Plug for Using College Career Centers from Jason Wall, Career Counselor, UC Berkeley

I've met dozens of college career center counselors while working at JIST, and one of their consistent top issues is students' underutilization of college career center resources. So why don't college students take advantage of free career help before they graduate? I recently connected with Jay Wall at Berkeley, and he offers his insights on that issue, as well as some other tips on publishing jobs.

What kind of help can college students get from their campus career center?

Functionally, at the heart of any career center are counseling services. The career center is your opportunity to talk to a counselor (an objective and non-judgmental person) about your future, specifically what you plan to do for a career. The three ways most centers connect students and counselors are 1-on-1 counseling sessions that are about an hour long, "drop-in" style appointments which require no advanced sign-up and are usually 10 to 15 minutes, and workshops on almost every career development topic imaginable.

Topically speaking, I tend to think of career centers as providing two main services, each with many subsections. The two categories are

  1. finding a job
  2. applying to graduate school.

The first topic, finding a job, is very broad and includes a wide range of information and activities. If you are a freshman or sophomore, it could mean researching majors ("I want to work in publishing. Should I major in English or Communications?") and career fields ("What is a Copy Editor?"). On the other end, if you are a junior or senior, it could mean finding an internship or attending workshops on résumé writing or successful interviewing. Regarding graduate school, the career center can help with every aspect from deciding whether or not grad school is right for you, how to ask for letters of recommendation, and proofreading your personal statement.

What percentage of students actually take advantage of those resources? If the number is low, why do you think that is?

This number varies greatly from school to school but somewhere around 25% (+/- 5%) is a safe bet. Why this is, is the case is a subject of much speculation. I suggest (take it or leave it) two reasons. First, students are simply trying to survive in the present. Freshman year, students are so (legitimately) bogged down with learning how to be away from home, how to study, and even how to do their own laundry, thinking about the next step is not even on the radar. Before you know it, it's senior year and students are skidding around the corner coming in at the last minute. Second, career centers are filled with old-timers (I'm probably a good example…) who are severely out of touch with students and have no idea what is hip or exciting to students. The marketing and advertising is bland, boring, and I believe more detrimental than appealing. Most students I have worked with were very hesitant to come in but thought it was fantastic once they did.

How is helping students find jobs in publishing different than, say, people who want to be engineers?

In my experience, working with students that have very practical and "obvious career path majors" such as engineer more or less just want the basics of job hunting. "Help me with my résumé and tell me what to expect in the interview." Liberal arts careers, which would include publishing, not only have the practical job search concerns but several added stresses. These include but are not limited to, learning to convey how your major has prepared you for the job (since it is not always obvious) and also convincing mom and dad that "writing" is a legitimate career path and that, yes, you will make enough money to survive. Career counseling is a perfect solution for tackling these more theoretical challenges of job searching.

Do you have any tips for finding internships and entry-level jobs in publishing?

There is an old military saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going and when it gets too tough for everyone else, it's just about right for me." I think, in the beginning at least, gaining the privilege of working with words requires this as the kind of mindset and dedication.

Obviously, there are many different careers within the field of publishing (writer, agent, editor, etc., etc.) but I don't think anybody can go too far wrong by writing every chance they get and working or even volunteering in the industry as soon as possible. If you are on a college campus, you better be doing something with the school paper and at least one other publication on campus. They exist and they need help. You have no excuse. Get a portfolio of your best writing samples together, get active, and talk to people in the industry.

You've worked on both coasts (at Berkeley and UCLA, and at MIT and UMass). Which one seems to have more publishing opportunities?

Although I did read that the city where I work, Berkeley, CA, has the most independent book sellers of any city in the nation, I think it's hard to beat the corridor of cities between Boston to D.C. Just New York City alone is rampant with publishing related opportunities. Like Sinatra said, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Anything else you'd like to add?

If your school's career center offers career guides by Vault, Wetfeet Press or Hoovers, use them. They are phenomenal resources for learning more about careers. O*NET and the Occupational Outlook Handbook are also good resources.


Anonymous said...

As a liberal arts major and graduate, and later a journalism graduate student, I used my career center a lot to find job leads, career information, job interviews, testing, internships, and career counseling.

However, my conclusion was that it was only effective in finding part-time, non-professional, off-campus work.

The current full-time job leads were concentrated in specialized professional fields; most of the ones I was qualified for turned out to be filled already, even when the announcements were new in the career center. I believe this was because the career center was the last place they were posted, out of desperation.

The publishing career information was trite, outdated, and unrealistic, as I later discovered when I obtained a publishing job.

The job interviews were uniformly depressing, because I was screened out for almost everything except retail management or sales. The few "publishing" job interviewers I met turned out to be seeking advertising department clerical workers, without even the slight promise of a proofreader or editorial assistant position.

The testing was enlightening, but practically useless. The results were meaningless because publishers use competency tests exclusively, and other businesses do not use "aptitude tests," but rather faddish personality tests such as the Predictive Index.

I was not eligible for standard assistantships or work-study because of a foolish intercampus rivalry within my school, and the career center knew nothing except what they were told by the school. Internships available in journalism are notoriously unpaid in every case, and book publishers in Indianapolis, I later discovered, had no use for interns. They literally did not want them at all.

The career counseling was hopeless. The counselors had no resources beyond the outdated career books and irrelevant aptitude tests. The lowest point was when I discovered that one of my counselors had graduated with a journalism degree as well, from my own school; but after a year of being unemployed, she had turned to career counseling out of desperation.


Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi David,

Wow. Obviously, this issue is more complex than I realized. As aspiring editors, we have a lot stacked against us: high-interest jobs with low availability and low pay, lack of understanding of the field on the part of parents and some counselors (even faculty, who should be better connected, don't seem to know much about the business world), dearth of opportunities in the Midwest, politics, and more. This inspires me even more to spread the word about this blog and help people become more aware of what it takes to get a publishing job.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I exude a little bitterness concerning the lack of forthrightness, and sometimes outright misdirection, that I encountered over the years from career counseling, employment agency, and human resources "professionals."

Perhaps my experience is unusual...however, all the counterexamples I have found seem to concern one of the following situations: (1) cities larger than Indianapolis with many competitive publishers; (2) publishers that seem to hire infrequently, lay off frequently, get sold/reorganized/downsized frequently, pay inconsistently, or have miserable working conditions; or (3) successful freelancers.


Anonymous said...

Above, in writing about career center resources, I was referring to on-campus job interviews being depressing.

College career centers would do better to just offer psychotherapy to liberal arts majors, rather than their usual refrain, "Have you considered going into retail or restaurant management?"


Sarah said...

Well written article.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,
It is a good detailed article,yes, this issue is more complex than we realized.
Well written....

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