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Career Education Is About More than Getting a Job After Graduation, Career Counselors Say

By Jo Kadlecek

Melanie Huff

Melanie Huff has a busy job. If she's not on the phone with a newspaper editor, she's persuading a journalism alum to come and talk with current students about their profession. Or she is planning a workshop on career tips for reporters, counseling students to consider their long-term goals, or compiling her weekly email of job openings from her office on the seventh floor of the Journalism building.

Because Huff has worked as the career services coordinator for the Graduate School of Journalism since 1989, she knows what student journalists need to do to secure employment when they graduate. In addition to making the most of their 10-month, hands-on program, she believes J-school students should be proactive when looking for work and not just react to the announcements on web-sites or classified ads when job searching. In other words, Huff says that the field of journalism is always changing due to budgets and personnel, and so editors are more likely to hire people they already know than wade through the countless resumes they will receive when a position opens up.

"In this economy, going in cold or waiting for a job posting is not a good way to job hunt," Huff advises. "Instead, it's important to target places that you're qualified for and interested in, establish relationships there and then be available when something comes up."

Huff's advice reflects a growing trend in career education, one that encourages prospective employees to think differently about their careers and take more non-traditional steps toward pursuing their goals. Rather than merely emailing a resume and crossing their fingers, graduates should consider a variety of factors when exploring their futures. And considering the class of 2002 is facing one of the worst economies and most difficult job markets in years, career counselors like Huff say that aggressive planning and thorough research will be the keys to vocational success.

Huff, along with directors from almost a dozen other career centers in various schools across campus, offers students, graduates and alumni individualized and ongoing support for career preparation, job search and employment. They work with faculty advisors and alumni in guiding students through what can often be an intimidating maze of job hunting. Consequently, they provide substantial advice and helpful workshops throughout the year for the Columbia community.

Several graduate schools on campus -- like the J-school -- also offer particular career services to equip graduate students in their field. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), for instance, requires a one credit professional development course as well as three to six credits of related internships. SIPA also offers a mentoring program with over 1400 SIPA alumni who provide career information and guidance, according to Meg Heenehan, SIPA's director of career services. The School of Social Work provides daily information on job announcements in the non-profit, social and community services fields. And the Business School regularly hosts company recruiters to meet with graduating business students.

The Center for Career Education (CCE), at Morningside Drive and West 116th Street, serves undergraduate and graduate students in Columbia College (CC), the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the Graduate School of the Arts, and collaborates with the career education centers established in other schools.

Christopher Pratt

"Though probably about 25 percent of this [undergraduate] class will go directly on to graduate and professional school full time, and another 25 percent will find employment, the rest will either delay their job search or try to dive in and become discouraged by it because they don't know what they want," says Christopher Pratt, dean of Career Education and the Center for Career Education. "That means they need to do some self assessment to know where their passions lie, who they are, what they want and what they have to offer."

Pratt suggests that self-awareness is perhaps the most important step in career planning. In fact, having a strong sense of one's own values, beliefs, attitudes and interests can help any professional map out his path more clearly. That is one reason CCE publishes a career planner workbook for students so they can better process each step of their professional development. The Center also provides numerous workshops throughout the year on subjects such as self-assessment, resume writing, vocational testing, interviewing skills, researching specific fields and networking.

Beginning in their first year, Columbia students are encouraged to register with CCE to begin their career development process and take advantage of the various services. Of the 4,012 CC students in 2002, 3,304 registered with CCS. Of that number, 1,244 sought career counseling and 337 attended workshops to improve their career skills.

Pratt -- who this spring shifted the focus of career services to career education as a way of emphasizing the integrative process of life experiences -- believes the statistics reflect a variety of issues facing contemporary college students. Specifically, he believes that today's college graduates will have several different careers throughout their lifetimes and suggests that such career mobility will require they find the connections between their values, interests, skills and sense of responsibility to the rest of the world that bring fulfillment to them.

"Young people today are delaying decision-making more and going to college not necessarily for the purpose of getting a specific job," says Pratt. "Students are thinking about lifestyles and a lot of different options at a time when until recently there had been an explosion of opportunities, types of work and places to work around the world. They are changing their majors more often and looking more before they pick. They haven't been aggressively looking for jobs and yet they expect them to be there when they graduate. Put all that in juxtaposition to the economy's down turn and you have one of the least prepared classes to enter the job market in years."

In other words, the class of 2002 entered college and watched students ahead of it enjoy a strong economy and ample employment opportunities. As a result, they expected the same situation when they graduated as well.

The problem is not unique to Columbia students, Pratt says, but is a result of a variety of global issues. Companies throughout the world are downsizing, affecting the international economy and limiting the job market for all prospective employees. Yet, business growth in technology and the Internet -- which created much of the boom in so many professions that never existed a decade ago -- has slowed down.

Because of these factors, Pratt says graduates must take more risks in their career search and become more flexible in issues like geographic location and employer options, which is why Pratt hopes to offer more international opportunities for paid internships and full time jobs in the future.

Given the realistic prognosis 2002 graduates currently face, Pratt is hopeful for next year's graduating class. The economy will likely get better, younger students will watch how this year's graduates struggled to get a job, and the combination will likely send more Columbia students to the various career education centers across campus to begin planning their futures. And that means the work for directors like Huff will only get busier.

Published: May 23, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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