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Ask a Career Counselor

We know this is a challenging time, and whether you have a job post-graduation or not, you likely have questions about how to move forward in your career.

Tract McGarry

Tracy McGarry, a career counselor at CCE who specializes in working with the alumni of Columbia's undergraduate schools, took time to answer some frequently asked questions by those in your shoes. Her thoughtful answers are littered with great resources for the Class of 2020 as you move forward in your post-Columbia lives.

What does the job market look like right now for entry level jobs? Are employers hiring Columbia grads?

Our Employer and Alumni Relations team have been connecting consistently with our employers to learn about their current and future hiring plans; check out our In the Know blog to read their findings.

Generally, companies in travel, hospitality, and leisure have been impacted the hardest by COVID-19. Arts, publishing and many nonprofit organizations are experiencing challenges, while finance, consulting, and tech appear to be less affected than other industries. The size of an organization is also a factor in how the workforce is being affected. Larger multinational firms are still moving forward with summer and fall recruiting.

Full-time and internship roles continue to be posted in LionSHARE. Use the label “Columbia alumni opportunity” in your LionSHARE search to see positions posted by alumni champions seeking to hire you! You’ll also see in LionSHARE newly posted employer recruiting events. To best support your job search, we recommend that you schedule a career counseling appointment. We have a Class of 2020 appointment type and are here to partner with you in your search.

How can networking with alumni support my search? How should I go about networking?

At its core, networking is about being curious, asking questions and having conversations. You are not asking for a job; you are asking for advice to improve your job search. Alumni are your allies. They often want to give back by offering candid industry insight that will enhance your application materials or help you prepare for an interview. They can also be advocates for you in the hiring process at their organization. In order for them to be able to refer you for a role, you will have to do some relationship building.

Now is a great time to follow up with old contacts or conduct informational interviews with alumni in the field. When you’re reaching out to people, it’s important to be sensitive and manage your expectations. The COVID-19 crisis and embedded racism highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement are affecting everyone right now. Check in to see how the alumni are doing before sharing your request and make it easy for them to help you. Rather than saying “I’m open to anything”, share 1-3 employers or industries that interest you, skills you want to use, or causes you want to work on.

Career counselors can help you get ready if networking is daunting to you. Also, learn how to write a standout networking message to alumni and build a strategy for networking in a virtual environment. During a virtual panel this summer, an alum shared a great tip on how to effectively ask for an informational interview: ask a specific question and make it clear as to why that alum is the best fit to answer it for you.

What's the best thing I can do right now to set myself up for success in my search?

We encourage you to start working with us to reflect on your goals, research your industry and organizations of interest, and build a strategy for your job search. A search strategy will vary based on your industry of interest, goals, location, experience, etc. Together in a career counseling session, we can refine your search strategy so that you’re ready to execute. Our new tracker system is one of our favorite tools to stay organized in the search. Staying organized will help the search feel much more manageable!

Acquaint yourself with all of the job search resources available to you as a Columbia alumni through CCE. Did you know we subscribe to resources that you can access for free using your Columbia UNI and password? We want to highlight Big Interview, an online tool where you can practice your interview skills, and Vault, a collection of industry reports and industry-specific job search and interview guides.

If you’ve been submitting applications and haven’t heard back, it’s time to revise your strategy. Before you click submit, keep in mind the employer’s perspective - why are you a good fit for the position? Be sure that you tailor your materials to fit the job description. Use keywords, highlight your relevant skills, experience and motivation and show your deep interest in the work or the company.

And again, remember that our team is a resource to support you at any stage of the job search process.

What do I need to know about looking for opportunities during this time?

This year, it's particularly important to be realistic about your job search. One main difference this year is that the job search is happening virtually. While this does not necessarily change how you apply for jobs, you do need to be prepared for virtual interviews. The search might require more research, with a greater focus on relationship building and networking. Networking needs to be more intentional. Since social, recruiting, and professional development events are largely taking place virtually, there are limited opportunities to strike up a casual conversation.

It’s important to note that your first job will not be your last job. You are not making a lifetime commitment, just finding a place to start out. You can build skills, adapt to 9-5 or longer hours and develop relationships which will help you in future job applications. This is just the start of your career and these are not normal times - consider working at a company whose product or culture you enjoy, even if it has no relationship to your ultimate career goal.

You may need to expand your search geographically and your job and industry targets. Since so many jobs are remote, there is an opportunity for more flexibility in terms of geography. Consider searching beyond cities and pay attention to large organizations in your community or offices near where you live.

Think critically about how your skills fit in with industries that are thriving right now. Economic impacts vary across industries; if you are not finding job openings, you will need to expand your target role and industry: look for creative roles, finance roles, or tech roles in different types of organizations. Linkedin, The Muse and many other outlets publish updated lists of employers who are currently hiring.

Finally, take care of yourself. Recognize the stress of job search, acknowledge the loss of an anticipated future, and celebrate the accomplishment of graduating in the midst of a pandemic. Be kind to yourself, and find people who uplift you and increase your confidence. Remember that career counselors at CCE are here to support you.

I've been thinking about participating in one-on-one career advising but I'm not sure. What is a typical appointment like?

You don't have to have a specific plan or question to make a career counseling appointment. You may work with a career counselor on your career planning process to connect with resources and guidance to help you navigate your individual career journey; or as a sounding board to talk through ideas, generate options or plan next steps.

A career counselor can help you to craft your introduction, highlight relevant skills, practice interviewing, build confidence, strategize a job search, understand an employer’s perspective, negotiate a job offer or troubleshoot a workplace situation. Career counselors will typically ask some questions to get to know you, your current situation, where you are in the process, and potential goals.

If you're not sure how a career counselor can help, read what students and alumni have said about their career counseling experience.

What's the purpose of the post-Columbia survey and how can filling it out help me?

The Beyond Columbia Survey is an annual effort that gathers information on what our alumni go on to do after their time at Columbia. We like to say that it’s a short survey that tells a big story. The results can help your peers and future students identify varied career paths based on their academic major. For example, have you ever used our major tipsheets? Data collected in the Beyond Columbia Survey are used to create this resource.

Taking the survey will also help us understand how we can best support the Class of 2020. We will follow up with alumni who report that they are searching for a full-time role to share job opportunities and offer timely job search resources and career counseling support.

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