It’s Back to School time, whatever stage of formal education you are in. Even though the fall semester is just beginning, it’s important to orient yourself to your personal career calendar, not just your classes. It takes longer than you think to launch yourself, and it’s easier when you have useful career tools and some good advice. Here are ten questions to ask those wonderful folks in the Career Development Office, or whatever they call it at your school.
1. Do I have access to any kind of assessment tools, like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Strong Inventory? Tools and Assessments like these help you get comfortable with your strengths and weaknesses, help you talk about yourself honestly and positively, and help you build confidence in your unique characteristics. All of those things help you shine when you meet new people or interview for jobs.
2. Can you help me develop a plan for transitioning from school to work and launching my intended career? A plan is not just a to-do list; a plan is a document in which you set forth and organize information, including your preferred job market and industry, and how you plan to access the right opportunities for yourself. It organizes and details your assets and obstacles you might face, and how you plan to compete in the market. It always includes goals and timelines.
3. I wrote this resume and cover letter; what do you think? Most of us need more than one version (just arranged or highlighted differently), but we all need a good editor or two. This is also the place to ask about writing samples, references, and and any other documents you are not sure you understand. Don’t get this information from the internet, your significant other, or anyone who sells services on a website or at a job fair.
4. This is what I think I want to do; where is the best market for this and do we have any alumni or connections there that I might contact for research or ideas? You should not expect to be helped by a stranger who has never met you, so it’s important to find ways to meet and engage people and make new friends. I think it’s a good idea to connect with the Career Development staff; once they know you they can introduce you, recommend you, and speak from experiences with you when they see a good opportunity for which you are qualified. That said, I’m sure you realize they do not have a secret drawer where they hide all the good jobs and the heavily guarded perfect resume.
5. Would someone be able to help me with practice interviews? I don’t have a lot of experience in interviewing and I need someone to ask me some difficult questions and test my confidence and capability before I undertake the real thing. This is a perfectly reasonable request and a very very good idea. Even if you are a natural born friend-maker and a good talker, you can benefit from an organized practice session.
6. What do you think of my hairstyle, beard, nose ring, skirt length, suit fit, blouse color, heel height, jewelry choice, eyeglasses, hair color, briefcase, necktie, shirt color, and so on and so on. Just get a second opinion from someone who knows why this and not that and is willing to tell you that you can’t sit down in that skirt, or more importantly, stand up.
7. What seminars, workshops, panels or other events should I plan to attend in the coming semester or year? You can get a lot of info and build the heck out of your network of friends and acquaintances if you take advantage of what happens on your own campus right under your nose. Convenient and they usually buy the food!
8. Where can I get decent information on compensation, and what should I be looking for other than cash compensation information? Even if your Career Office can’t help you with specifics, they should be able to help you quantify and consider the value of benefits, lifestyle, contingent pay (forms of bonus pay), holidays, vacation, professional education credits, dues, training and development, and other important considerations. And, they should be able to direct you to sources–even general information–about practices in your region. Pay is usually a local or regional practice, as well as a function of an employer’s policies and many other factors.
9. I have no idea what I want to do; can you help me get a job? Well, not so fast. I’m not sure what you think the Career Office can do for you if you don’t know what you want. Other than to discuss your preferences, your likes and dislikes, and help you figure out where you might start, it’s going to be difficult to advise you from scratch. Often, individuals who are good at operational matters but not theoretical matters have trouble plugging into a profession. They like operational details–opening, closing, adding, subtracting, lining things up, breaking them down. Think about whether or not that is you, and begin to see yourself in work mode. You can get help from folks on your campus, but you have to move to a place where you can truthfully articulate what you might want, even in very simple terms.
10. What special services and opportunities do you offer students or graduates like me, after graduation and during my career? Find out now how you can continue to access your school’s services beyond graduation day, because these are valuables you will want to ensure you preserve. In work and career relationships are the most important thing. Whatever you do, you will want to keep your bridges and connections intact, and Alma Mater is a good place to start..