10 Questions to Ask a School about Career Services and Jobs

Parents and teenagers are understandably interested in colleges and universities that prepare students for eventual jobs. What schools, they wonder, will give their grads an advantage in the job world?

It’s a tough question to answer because the statistics that schools share about their graduates’ success in finding jobs are often wrong. To learn more about this sad reality, read the following post that I wrote this summer for my CBS MoneyWatch blog:

Beware colleges’ job placement claims

I am bringing this subject up because of an interesting person I met in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago when I was a panelist at a session at an Education Writers Association conference. I had a chance to talk with Ed Nachbar, who was formerly an executive with a company that manages and markets web-based applications used by hundreds of colleges and universities.

After leaving the company, Nachbar started EducatedQuest, a free website that contains incredibly detailed profiles of 26 universities (and more will continue to be added). He writes the profiles after conducting in-depth interviews at the schools that he visits.  Profiles you can find on the site include Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, University of Wisconsin, SUNY Binghamton University and the University of Connecticut.

Career Services Questions to Ask

I’m mentioning Ed’s site today because he shared with me the following nine questions regarding careers and college majors that he asks during his campus visits. I suggest that you ask these questions during your visits and take the time to stop by career services offices, which potential students rarely visit.

1.  Are career services and experiential learning separate  offices at your university or do they work together?

Career centers will usually handle the non-academic aspects of finding an internship or other experiential opportunity. They will manage the employer contact database and coordinate any meetings between the student and faculty involved in approving the student’s assignment as well as the academic credit for the position. They will also vet any legal agreements between the student, the school and the employer. These are to help ensure that the student has a relevant work experience; too often employers used interns as “go-fers.”

2. When does career services 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 the faculty instructor and the student peer mentor to include units on resume preparation and/or research on careers and employers. Some schools have bought packages such as FOCUS where a student may do an online search by major for jobs or a search of careers for majors.

3.  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 are very well connected. For example, the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy handles a job fair for the BS in Pharmaceutical Sciences and their PharmD students.

4.  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, where I just visited is well known to recruiters for engineering, computer science and agriculture within the Fortune 500 and consulting forms. 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, for example, Indiana, which has aggressively targeted corporate finance and investment banking positions.

5.  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 (OH), 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 City in conjunction with the Big East basketball tournament.

6. 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 for no charge. In the past many schools referred employers to a service called JobTrak that charged to type their jobs and shared revenues with the school.

7. What share of the students continue their education vs. accepting employment?

This has become more important because more career centers handle graduate and professional school advising or work closely with others who do.

8.  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.

9. 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.

10. Is your school a part of jobs 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 to work with. Events can be live, for example, a job fair at a conference center in a large city where the students want to work, 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.

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  2. We can ask these questions, but it would be helpful to know what constitutes a “good” or “excellent” answer. How many job fairs should we expect a college to hold? What are strong stats for employment and grad school, and what are weak? I know from your other post that the employment stats from colleges are usually not dependable, but I’d like a few more clues about how to interpret the answers to these questions.