College career expert: Four myths about job-hunting in college, and what to do right now

Kate Brooks (Vanderbilt University)

As college students prepare to head home for Thanksgiving, many of them are bracing for a question they may not be able to answer: “What kind of job do you want after you graduate?”

After all, it’s hard to picture life after graduation when you’re studying for your fall midterms, especially if you’re not even a senior yet. But there are several things college students can—and should—be doing now to set themselves up for success in their future job searches, says Kate Brooks, Evans Family Executive Director of the Vanderbilt Career Center. That means getting real about four very common myths about job hunting in college, and how students can engage with their career center now to get a leg up later.

Myth: My career center is only interested in me if I want a business career.

Reality: Career centers exist to help all students with all careers. “It may feel like they only care about business careers, because those are the employers you tend to hear about the most on campus, but the truth is that your career center wants to help you with whatever you’d like to do in the future,” Brooks says.

Do This Now: Visit your career center early and often. “Even if you don’t have a firm idea of what you want to do after college, what are you considering?” Brooks says. “Start looking for opportunities to learn more about those fields during the school year or next summer, even if only to rule it out. Better to explore now than after you graduate.”

Myth: On-campus recruiting is the best way to find a job.

Reality: On-campus recruiting is a great opportunity to connect with employers in certain fields, particularly in business and finance, but the large majority of employers across the country do not recruit on college campuses. “For internships and positions in marketing, advertising, nonprofit, government, public policy, the arts and so forth, you’ll want to look beyond campus,” Brooks says.

Do This Now: Become familiar with any online resources your career center subscribes to that can help in your search, such as Vault guides or GoinGlobal. Brooks also recommends connecting with your school’s alumni networks.

Myth: If I’m not wearing a suit in September of my senior year, something is wrong.

Reality: It can be disconcerting to see some of your friends and roommates interviewing for jobs in September or October of their senior year. Brooks notes that the consulting and finance industries hire early in the senior year and seek interns years before that, so if you’re not pursuing one of those careers it can feel like you’re not keeping up. “Relax,” Brooks says. “Most fields do ‘just-in-time’ hiring, meaning they advertise when they need the person to start, not nine months in advance.”

Do This Now: Make—and stick to—the plan that’s right for you.Your job search is unique and your time frame should be relevant to what you want to do, not what others are doing,” Brooks says. “Try not to succumb to ‘comparison-itis.’

Myth: So what you’re saying is that if I’m not interested in business or finance, there’s no point in thinking about my job search until I graduate, right?

Reality: No. “Remember that finding a job is a marathon, not a sprint,” Brooks says. “The more you can do to develop your career ideas early, the better prepared you will be when you graduate.”

Do This Now: “You can do all sorts of things to make yourself a desirable candidate now: take classes to help you develop needed skills; do an internship; find an interesting summer job; volunteer in your field of interest, and more,” she says. Also, Brooks says, many career centers can help you set up a strong LinkedIn account and give you tips for how to manage your personal social media accounts to prevent any embarrassment once you start interviewing. “Students often don’t think employers will care about their social media,” she says. “But they do.”