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Career services as an undergrad was a fully formed process. At my undergrad college graduates were scheduled for an exit interview with career services and at the interview you discussed your plan to make use of your newly minted degree. Before leaving a follow up interview would be scheduled in which you would review your resume and cover letter skills. Lastly, all seniors took part in an interview session with career services.

It seemed like a burden at the time and often seniors would make a game out of avoiding the career services gauntlet. But looking back it was a process that, rightly so, supposed the senior wasn’t sure what was needed and insured engagement by them. My current career services department takes a traditional approach that requires the graduate to know not only what s/he wants to do next, but knows the path to get to that point. Given that many enter into graduate school from a different careerpath to expect within 2-3 years of fulltime studies a student would have the answer and the pathway to access the answer seems misplaced. My career services department offers a series of workshops: Bootcamp 1-3, a career changers workshop, and a series of miscellaneous workshops. Bootcamp 3 is an all day affair, yes as in 8 hours, that covers what you should have learned from bootcamp 1 and 2 as well as an on-camera interview. Before starting grad school I sat-in on a career services workshop (the career changers one), and I liked the idea that the program wanted to broach the idea of career changers which other university career services seemed less inclined to address. 

Unfortunately what I know now, that I didn’t know then, was the lack of integration of the various workshops by my programs career services. So, while there is a career changers workshop the bootcamp series of workshops are structured as if there aren’t career changers in the group. PARs (Problem-Action-Results) is the only format offered for resume workshopping and I find it a bit difficult to take that my career services is assuming all graduates entered and are leaving with the same body of experience for the marketplace. I can understand if PARs is the ‘gold standard’ of resume preparation but in a market climate that requires standing out it would be nice to at least be informed of the alternatives. For instance realizing the way we consume information has changed with the advent of google, web 2.0, and the social media centric web I wanted to reflect that change in my resume. I am a fan of the infographs as it tells multiple little stories while presenting the big picture, and I wanted to incorporate infographic qualities into my resume. Sadly, my career services contact only could see PARs. Even after a conversation explaining my concern preparing a resume that parrots every other resume I was urged to go to bootcamp 1 (again) and to do problem-action-results statements for each employment experience and internship experiences on my resume. Needless to say it didn’t seem advantageous to me to sit in bootcamp 1 as it basically teaches you how to do PARs, and I know how to do it — I just recognize there may be other tools that could serve me better in this economic climate.

I wish I could say my university is an anomaly in it’s one pathway approach to career services but per conversations other recent graduates from other nationally recognized programs …. this is not the case. Sadly, instead of grad programs bolstering career services many career services are finding themselves swamped with more students and by proxy a higher demand on services. Because most students are focused on finding the right program for them by the time they begin thinking about what they need from career services, they are usually heading into graduation. Of course by graduation time its a little difficult to make any adjustments for the shortfalls of your programs career services.

Looking back to my selection process I wished I had asked how:

  • alumni services are integrated into career services
  • often career services reviews workshop offerings
  • career services receives feedback from expected grads and alumni currently looking for employment
  • often career services reviews employment search materials
  • employment leads specific to your program are culled

I think that it was naive of me to expect my program to adjust its career services game to the economic market, but I think it is realistic to expect my program to put as much thought into the career services as they do in the coursework design. Likewise, I think those who are looking into programs, particularly given the financial climate, should ask and take time to explore the career services offerings from those programs on a shortlist. At the end of the day going to grad school is a huge undertaking both financially and time wise. If you go to school fulltime you will be out of the market for at least a few years, and of course you will be in significantly more debt than before starting a program. Entering back into the job market is process that requires some assistance in order to navigate effectively. That navigation means the difference between finding yourself in a job under capitalized and finding it difficult to meet your debt obligations, or worst yet you may find yourself unable to shift into your new careerpath and instead falling into your pre-grad school career choices.

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There are many reasons for returning to school – a desire to pick up skills not obtained during undergrad, a bridge to the management track, etc. For many who returned to school over the last few years, post the financial crisis of 2008, the desire to return also included a need to stay competitive in the shifting job market.

Where once program consideration needed to be a succinct finite experience presented to potential students, increasingly programs need to have a response for the ongoing dilemma of the post-grad experience in order to attract students willing to take on the debt load that is graduate school.

It is not lost on me that many within in my program and other local grads I know are finding it difficult to find employment or to find ‘adequate’ employment. By adequate I mean employment that actually makes use of the new skills developed during grad school and comes with a salary that supports the new debt load of grad school. Last spring, my last full semester, I began my employment search early in the semester after recognizing that while the news spoke of the economy being in recovery it still felt like a recession which meant finding employment even in NYC would be difficult at best. By the time graduation rolled around in May I had secured employment and had lucked up with a salary that could support the impending loan payments. I started a couple of days after graduation and four months later I found myself before the board of the organization being told they couldn’t afford to keep me on staff. Because of the short employment window I found myself without unemployment benefits, no severance package access, and loan payments coming due without haste….more importantly, I found myself within the thick of an employment search as the holiday headed into full swing and the December grads entered the market.

Because, arguably erroneously on my part, I looked at selecting my program solely on the strength of coursework offered, program ranking among peers/industry, and the like and less on the tangential services that a graduate will need not only while on campus but once a graduate moves into their chosen profession I thought I would spend the next several posts on exploring some of the struggles post program for those who have decided to attend graduate school in light of the economy. Foremost, I think it may help those who are looking into programs to better understand some of the needs they will need post graduating and will be able to better weight program options, and for those currently in school and like myself newly minted graduates hopefully these posts will help you to leverage your programs resources to meet the new economy’s shortcomings.

I should note that I don’t believe that many of the shortcomings I have and will experience during my current employment search are solely a problem with my grad program. I have friends who have gone to Ivy League programs and find themselves equally unemployed and searching, likewise I have friends who have done top tiered law schools and find themselves underemployed both within the legal profession (one such friend is in many respects a glorified paralegal with the title of legal researcher) and outside of the confines of the legal professional world. I think in part the financial crisis of 2008 shifted the marketplace in ways that many folks are just really understanding the long-term implications of and we are just starting to understand why there is no real way of going ‘back’ to the pre-2008 crisis days.

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