What to expect from your college career center

There can be a disconnect between what students expect and what this resource can provide. Here's a reality check.

What to expect from your college career center

Your college career center can help you find answers.

Your campus career center is a very valuable but likely underused resource. Unfortunately, some college career centers go underutilized, but that often reflects a fundamental disconnect between students' expectations and their career-center staff's limitations.

Just what can you reasonably expect from your campus career center and its staff? That question is best answered by beginning with what you cannot expect, followed by what's reasonable. (Tip: For more help getting started on your career path, Monster's grad site has loads of great info.)

Expect job-hunting help, not placement

Some students think their career center will get them a job; in other words, place them. But career centers aren't placement agencies, and their staff counselors aren't recruiters.

More realistically, your college career center will help you develop the skills and contacts necessary to get a job. "We offer on-campus interviews, career days, e-fairs, information sessions, job postings, resume databases, open houses, and special events," says Richard White, employer relations coordinator at New Jersey-based Drew University. "We're trying to build connections between as many students and employers as we possibly can."

Expect to be shown, not told

It's unreasonable to expect that your career center will tell you what major or career to pursue. How could anyone, let alone a relative stranger like a campus career counselor, talk with you for a short time and tag you with your perfect major or career?

More realistically, your career center will teach you how to explore majors and careers that might be a good fit for you. The professionals at your school's career center should have both the resources and personal expertise that will help you explore majors and careers thoroughly. The career center should also have data on the jobs landed by past graduates in various majors from your school.

You may also think your career center will have lists and quick answers to address every conceivable career question you might have. More realistically, your college career center will help you find answers. The staff should be willing and able to show you various ways to research your specific questions and concerns. Your career center should be "a place where caring people will help [students] navigate the seemingly unlimited career and job search resources out there," says Marianna Savoca, assistant vice president for career development and experiential education at Stony Brook University in New York.

Expect that the staff has limits

You may think your career center can and will make your emergency a priority. However, the staff's time and resources may be limited. For example, a colleague of mine is the sole member of her school's career center staff. It's simply impossible for her to drop everything she's doing to see a student who stops by. So she asks students to make an appointment to see her. Recently, a student kept dropping in. My colleague kept politely asking him to make an appointment, which he never did. His incredibly unfair response: He complained to his department's administrative assistant, who in turn complained to my colleague.

More realistically, your career center will be respectful and genuinely willing to help you. Most campus career counselors are in their profession because they truly enjoy helping college students with important career issues. If you run into a counselor who isn't a good fit for you, ask to see a different counselor before you write off the entire office as worthless.

The people at your school's career center aren't miracle workers. They don't read minds, and they aren't your personal job search agents. And they don't have bags full of internship and job opportunities in their offices just waiting to be handed out. But if you'll "at least show up by your junior year, make some plans, and get some help, the career center can make your next transition a successful one," says Jerry Houser, retired associate dean and director of career services at Willamette University in Oregon.

For job search help, do this

A college career center can only do so much to help you kick-start your career. But there are plenty of other resources available that can help you get noticed by employers. Want to know more? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads.