Career Centers in most universities are crap

After I got my first speeding ticket ever in my life because I was unaware of being behind a speeding car (the cop stopped both cars), I found myself in the perfect mood to write something I am angry about. Apparently a person has more guts when his head is hot.

After thinking about what is grossly upsetting in society and has a large impact on peoples’ lives, I was reminded about the incompetencies of many university Career Centers that my friends and I have experienced.

University Career Centers hate it when others want learn about their performances

To start my story, I’ll begin with the study my company Future Delivery, which helps Gen-Ys find great careers, tried to do on Career Centers earlier 2008. In hopes that Career Centers would work with us and use our free tools to help students more efficiently, we contacted over 50 top university career centers, asking them if we could do a study on how well they help their students and potentially creating a ranking for them. Most of them ignored us, half a dozen of them politely rejected, one school responded with enthusiasm (will praise later), and some responded in a hostile manner.

While we were still contacting the career centers, we actually got a very upsetting call from the UCLA Career Center(sadly my Alma Mater). Yes, I’m calling you out UCLA, because I want you to be better. Instead of just demanding me to take this off, please improve your ways first. UCLA told us that they heard about what we are trying to do, and they are very angry. They said they were at a Pac-10 Career Center Conference (didn’t know those existed) and Future Delivery was brought up. All the schools were very upset about our “study” and said they would not let us do this.

So we told the UCLA Career Center that we just wanted to see how they are helping their students, and also will also talk to university students to see if they feel helped by the career center. We thought the career center might as well talk to us too and so they can promote all the positive things they do.

UCLA not only refused, they prohibited us from talking to the student body about it, claiming that “I don’t think what the students say about the Career Center is an accurate measurement of how we help the students.” I thought that was pretty ridiculous. What else is a good measurement? How much funding they get a year?

Universities are like subsidized businesses

The thing about public schools, is that its like a subsidized business: it can afford to be inefficient. If companies are not doing things efficiently, they die. Public agencies usually have a budget no matter how well they do, and the employees don’t get rewarded based on their performance. Most schools (including private ones) have extremely inefficient administration services that send you from one window to another.

So what’s the best-run division in UCLA? Parking Enforcement. The revenue department is obviously more important than the customer service department. 30 seconds at the wrong spot and there’s your one way ticket to misery. If the UCLA Parking Enforcement team worked for Future Delivery, I’m sure the world would already know about Viralogy even before we launch.

Career Centers try to hinder school organizations that help the student body with career development

So that experience also brought back some memories while I co-founded Bruin Consulting at UCLA. During that time, top consulting firms like Mckinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Booz Allen Hamilton did not really recruit UCLA students because the students were so unprepared in the field of consulting. Our goal was to get these companies back to UCLA, and prepare the students so well that whenever they do come, they are thoroughly impressed by the student body. We were very successful and Bruin Consulting remains one of the premiere business organizations on campus.

However, while we were helping UCLA students get prepared for Case Interviews and learn about various companies, the UCLA Center approached us and said that we needed to stop doing what we were doing because we were growing too fast. They pretty much said that if companies could do everything so much more efficiently through Bruin Consulting, they would stop sponsoring the Career Center.

Wait….what? I thought the Career Center was there to make sure students get good jobs, and would be happy that we helped them cover a part of the 40,000 student body. OK, fine, if you wanted to monopolize this VERY important service, lets see how you do. Among the 40,000 student body, if I remember correctly, the career center gives out mock interviews to 30 students a quarter. Hmmm, my college education has taught me that this is not a very high ratio.

What about the resume help? All my peers said they just said your resume is fine even though it was horrible. They let go of 4-page resumes, even though recruiters have specifically said, “you can put anything you want on your resume, as long as it is one-page long.”

Yes, their Bruinview service is actually pretty good, but that’s because companies respect the UCLA name and constantly list their jobs there themselves.

So yea, I understand you don’t have the budget or resources to cover such a large student body. But instead of endorsing student organizations that do your job for you for free, why spend that energy to threaten them? That’s pretty disgusting to me.

Companies dislike working with Career Centers and claim they are non-responsive, while school budget-makers hear great things about the Career Centers.

I have a friend who works as a recruiter at a reputable engineering firm, and he told me that he is proposing to cut budgets for various university career centers because they were “uncooperative, hard to work with and non-responsive.” I hate to admit, but he said that the USC Career Center was friendly and worked hard to make the connection between the company and motivated students easier and better.

What’s interesting is that I have a friend who works for the University of California Regents (like the Board of Directors of all the UC schools), and when I pointed this out to him, he said, “Hmmm, that’s interesting, because the UCLA Career Center has won many awards and is known for its programs.” There clearly lies a misalignment between the high-level decision/budget makers and the end-users who use the service. That’s why one of the Good to Great CEOs, when newly appointed the job, spent 50% of his time with the end-user, observing how they use the products and the problems they face.

Extremely impressed with the Notre Dame Career Center

One of the university career centers that I was highly impressed with was Notre Dame. When we contacted them about our study on career centers, they responded with feverish enthusiasm. They told us that we could interview every one of their career counselors, as they are all completely passionate about helping their students. We could examine how they use new tools and technology to make the connections between students and companies easier. Finally, they said they were frustrated how their hard work never affected the university rankings, and would welcome a ranking system for the career centers. Even though we were never able to do the real study because there were so few schools that cooperated, I ended up with the utmost respect for the Notre Dame Career Center. They made me want to be a Notre Dame student.

Career Centers should be the first to tackle one of the largest problems in society

In FD, we believe that too many young people don’t know what they want to do, and too many older people hate their jobs. We believe its because people don’t have enough information and opportunities when they were in college and started off in a career they do not care about. The Career Center is the first to have this great opportunity to solve this enormous problem. Take advantage of it! Even though I mostly wrote about the UCLA Career Center, every person I talked to also revealed similar experiences¬† with their own career centers, so its a universal problem that all career centers need to think about.

What does everyone else think about your career centers while you were in school? Are they helpful? Do they care about their students? I would love to know if you guys have the same experience, or actually have great career centers that helped you get to where you are today. That way I can recommend them to high-school kids!

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5 thoughts on “Career Centers in most universities are crap”

  1. Like this post. It’s a valid issue as schools cut back on career counselors. I went to see this cc at Au and she had been there for 25 years. She was wearing a mumu dress and was dressed for a day in the backyard. What I dislike is how they try to be helpful but then make you feel not so. After she deconstructed my resume (I had earned a masters but not at their university), she handed me this generic resume for an undergraduate for me to model my resume upon. Another issues is how some cc’s play favorites. One fellow at Udc practically hinted that if we paid some seed money, it was a source of motivation. In fact, at that university, down to one ft counselor recently, all they really do is enroll you in CollegeCentral online. Some online services are better than others. At Cosd, last time I checked they had 89 jobs, at least 35 of which were for one particular hotel chain working as a hotel desk clerk in Fla. Apparently some outfits are really there to make money by sponsoring Job Fairs. When one is an older student (second career), minority asian, and female, they think there’s something wrong with you. This is a placement, not a husband one is shopping for; but nevertheless they think you’ve got a history to overcome. What is amazing is that so few people complain. In fact, most just quietly disappear from campus. Maybe they don’t want to get burned too often.

  2. Hey Emerson! Thanks for commenting. I totally agree with you. UCLA has so many resources(students) that are just lying around waiting to be used by them. They should really focus on making sure as many students get a great job instead of protecting their territory. Afterall, people go to college to find a better job. What use is there if the actual department that does that doesn’t REALLY want to help?

  3. What an intriguing post! I find it mind-boggling that so many universities are in the same boat. I have been saying the same thing about the UCLA Career Center since I arrived on campus. I did not realize that they were trying to stomp down student groups from encroaching their territory.

    Unfortunately, UCLA’s career center is quite lacking. I think they are definitely understaffed for the size of UCLA. I am personally not a fan of BruinView because I feel like the usability on the site is quite poor.

    I usually feel that the people at the UCLA career center will either not tell you anything of interest, or their advice is rudimentary. It is unfortunate that such a great school, has such a problem.

    The career center needs to take advantage of the talented students and work with them rather than against them. Between encouraging more floor programs and sponsoring student groups they could make do with their small staff. Teaching a dozen students some tricks and sponsoring them to lead seminars could create a terrific network that would continue to branch out. While their students are handling that work, they should be approaching businesses about posting jobs on Bruinview or speaking at events.

    There is not nearly enough breadth of businesses on BruinView and the number of talented UCLA students is tremendous.

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