Using the Career Center | Eight Services to Take Advantage Of

A grad student’s best resource, outside of your department, might be the Career Development Center. You may be unfamiliar with the resources available to you, because you don’t think that they are for you.

Common misconceptions include:

  • The Career Center is exclusively for undergrads on your campus.
  • Your future is mapped out: grad school to post doc to faculty. So you don’t need any of the services of a Career Center.
  • Services are only for those who are actively on the job market.

All false.

My goal with this post is to convince you to reach out to the career center on your campus soon. There is so much to take advantage of. Their services complement what is available in your department.

There at least eight kinds of services that you are likely to find at your career center. You may not find all eight of these on your campus, but now you have the language for asking, and for web searching.

One-to-One Counseling

The most useful service is personal coaching and counseling. They offer so much that I covered it in Where Are You Going | Career Counselors Help You Find Answers. Julie Miller Vick, sage and pioneer of  field of career development for grad students, offered advice in a Three Keys interview.


Jumpstarters at workSkill development workshops are offered by most career centers. I looked at a number of websites, and here are some popular topics:

  • Introduction to the Job Search
  • Convert your CV to a Resume
  • Write Effective Cover letters
  • Interviewing Face to Face and over Skype
  • Giving a Job Talk
  • Using LinkedIn and Developing a Digital Presence
  • Leveraging your PhD & Translating academic skills to non-academic employers
  • Networking
  • Navigating Academic and Professional Conferences
  • Negotiating salary and job terms (once you get an offer)
  • Writing a Research Statement (useful for faculty job applications, and for fellowship and funding applications)
  • Faculty jobs at different institution types, like community colleges or universities outside of the US
  • Writing a Teaching Statement (for faculty job applications)

Internships and Summer Jobs

Grad students, like undergrads, can take advantage of summer jobs and internships during the academic year, to develop new skills and explore different employment sectors. Is working in a non-profit something you might want to do? Or an industry research lab? Or a startup? Or a campus administrative office? A short stint, over a few months or a few hours a week, is a great way to test out the possibilities. Your career center has contacts in the community, and a number of ways that you can get connected with possible work sites.

Career Fairs and Recruiters

Some large local and national employers schedule recruitment visits to campuses to interview students. Consulting firms, for example, annually meet with undergraduates and grad students who are graduating soon and looking for jobs. Check for schedules as these may be primarily marketed to undergrads.

Career fairs bring together a lot of employers on one day in one place. These are really efficient ways to find out about a lot of companies that are looking to hire graduates. You can ask lots of questions (What do entry-level employees do in your firm?) and you can find out what they think of hiring a grad student. By spending a few hours at the Career Fair, you can ask a lot of questions, share your short summary of your expertise, and learn about some employers you didn’t know about.

Diagnostic Assessments

There are a number of assessments that can help you understand yourself. Many centers offer these assessments (or similar ones) and help with the interpretation.

  • HomePageImage

    MyIDP is hosted by AAAS ScienceCareers

    The Strong Interest Inventory. An assessment of career interests.

  • The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. A personality assessment based on the work of Carl Jung, developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. There are many free on-line versions. A trained interpreter may be available on campus to discuss your type.
  • StrengthsQuest and StrengthsFinder are assessments built on psychologist Donald O. Clifton’s theories of positive psychology. Build on your strengths and use your talents in your career.
  • MyIDP is an interactive, web-based tool for science students to develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP). it includes an assessment portion, suggests tailored career directions from a list of 20 scientific career paths, and offers information about those career paths. MyIDP includes a tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year. A version of for humanities and social science PhDs is in development.
  • Values card sorts. Card sorting tasks, and similar values assessment activities, help you discern what matters most to you as you investigate possible career paths.

Alumni Panels & Networks

Connecting with alumni can be a great way to get a different kind of advice and mentoring. Alumni are role models and potential mentors. Your alumni association and career center may work independently or in partnership to connect alumni with students. Alumni can provide:

  • Insight into the nature of work in different occupations. They are usually willing to provide an informational interview.
  • Feedback on your applications materials
  • Guidance on work-life balance
  • Help with negotiating your salary and other aspects of a job offer
  • Motivation and encouragement
  • Connection to new people, places and ideas

Pathways programAlumni are often on career panels about PhD pathways, especially for careers beyond the academy. Conferences like Beyond Academia and PhD Pathways feature alumni.

Some schools match students with alumni for in-depth conversation and mentoring. Two examples are Stanford’s Alumni Mentoring (SAM) program and Emory University Laney Graduate School Mentors on Call program. Two examples targeted for specific fields are the MIT Sloan School of Management program, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education SAMI program.

Video and E-Resource Libraries

Traditionally Career Centers housed libraries of books on the job search, such as the classics Academic Job Search Handbook and What Color is Your Parachute. Today, career centers maintain curated lists of on-line resources like these from University of North Carolina, the University of Washington, and Princeton and repositories of videos like the Yale’s academic job search videos and MIT’s Professional development video portal (PRO-DEPOT).

Email Lists, Listservs, and Newsletters

The Career Center or counselors who specialize in a particular disciplinary area (e.g., humanities, engineering) may distribute program, job and funding information via electronic lists or newsletters. Find out whether you can sign up to receive updates.

Published March 18, 2016.


  1. Thanks for the advice. MY brother is getting ready to graduate from college. He has been working very hard to achieve this goal. He has worked the entire time gaining some small management experience, and experience in his chosen field. I know he is nervous because the job market is very competitive for college grads. I need to see if he has done any alumni meetings. I think that would give him a huge advantage.

    1. Hi Kody. I am glad that the advice is helpful to you and your brother. Regardless of the stage in education and the job search process, my experience is that Career Centers have a lot of services and helpful coaches to help along the way. Best wishes to your brother. Chris

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