In UCLA’s most recent annual survey of the nation’s college freshmen, 87.9 percent of them—a record high—said that being “able to get a better job” was a very important reason that they were attending college.
Despite this keen interest in jobs, few students or parents ask questions about how schools help students connect with employers.
When the subject is broached, families usually ask what percentage of a school’s graduates are leaving with jobs or heading to a graduate or professional school. Unfortunately, when schools provide these answers, they are usually overly optimistic because the percentages typically only include grads who bothered to answer their surveys.
Questions about a school’s career services should be crafted carefully, so I turned to Stuart Nachbar, the president of EducatedQuest.com, for help. EducatedQuest.com provides in-depth profiles of a growing number of mostly public universities. Nachbar, a former senior vice president at a large education software company, has spent countless hours interviewing career service administrators on campuses.
Will a certain college leave the student high and dry, or will the school be credited with jumpstarting their career? These are questions better answered sooner rather than later. Here are Nachbar’s top questions parents and students should be asking:
• When does the school’s career services office first engage students? Is it to help them choose a major?
More and more, the career services office has become involved in “University 101” classes, working with faculty instructors and the student peer mentors to include units on resume preparation and/or research on careers and employers. Some schools have bought software that allows a student to do online searches by major for jobs or careers.
• How many employers come to campus each year through job fairs and on-campus interviewing?
The number of fairs is more important, because fairs are organized for internships as well as full-time jobs by major. A large state university will typically host job fairs for business/liberal arts, engineering, health care, government/non-profit and education. Other schools also have job fairs through the major departments where the faculty is well connected. For example, the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy handles a job fair for undergrads in pharmaceutical sciences and their pharmacy doctoral students.
• What majors are most sought by employers?
I ask this because I want to know how the employers know of the school. For example, Purdue is well-known to recruiters for engineering, computer science and agriculture within the Fortune 500 and consulting firms. The undergraduate business program is a “management” degree that has been popular with manufacturing firms for decades.
Purdue may be a better school for a student who is interested in working for a consumer products company than, say, Indiana, which has aggressively targeted corporate finance and investment banking positions.
• What cities/states do most employers come from? Does this match with student interest in terms of places where they would like to work?
State schools such as Indiana, Miami University in Ohio, New Hampshire, Penn State, Purdue, Rhode Island and West Virginia now attract at least 30 percent of their students from outside their state. Sometimes, especially if they come from California or New York, students will want to return home to work.
It helps parents to know if the career services office has connections or has worked with alumni in those cities. Sometimes schools will also collaborate on live or virtual employment events in popular cities. The Big East schools, for example, host a live career fair in New York in conjunction with the Big East basketball tournament.
• How many jobs were posted last year?
I am more interested in a trend, whether the number of jobs posted has gone up or down, as well as the numbers for internships and full-time jobs, if the school separates them.
At a good school, the volume should go up, if for nothing else because the career center has made it easy for employers to register and post online at no charge.
• What do employers like most about your students?
I'm curious to know what the employers report in a survey as opposed to anecdotes. To be honest, I get more anecdotes. But the appearance of the office and how they manage the interview rooms (for larger schools) tells a lot.
• What does your office offer them that comparable schools do not?
Career service directors at the larger schools have placed more emphasis on coordination to help the employer get more from their campus visits. While interview schedules may be set across different schools, there is more care taken to help the employer complete all interviews for all positions over a period of two or three days as opposed to several repeat visits.
• Is your school a part of job networks or job fairs in partnership with other schools?
Both large and small schools share jobs across regions, states or sports conferences. Networks are more beneficial for smaller schools that cannot fill on-campus interview schedules on their own and/or do not have a large alumni base. Events can be live—a job fair at a conference center in a large city where the students want to work, for example—or they may be online. “Last chance” events, where employers are still seeking to fill positions after the end of March, are popular for online platforms.