Whether you’re an undergrad, in grad school, or a few years post-graduation, one of the best resources you have in your job search arsenal is a college career counselor. At most colleges, these individuals are trained career experts who are ready and willing to help you brainstorm career paths, identify open positions, and give your resume and cover letter a boost—all for free!
But to make the most out of this resource, it’s helpful if you know what to expect and what to do to make the most of your meetings. As a college career counselor myself, let me share with you a rundown of what to ask—before and during your appointment—to help your career counselor help you.
1. "Can I set up an appointment to discuss my summer internship search?"
While your career counselor has a wealth of resources and advice and is there to help you out, you’re the one who’s really in the driver’s seat. And she can be most effective when you share what you’re specifically looking to get out of the meeting. Do you need help finding a job in a specific geographic location or industry? Wondering what history majors do after college? Need to fine-tune your resume? Ask that from the get-go—in your email when you set up the appointment, not once you get there.
2. "What’s the best job search strategy for me?"
Every spring, I work with students on identifying, applying for, and securing summer internships and jobs. And in the process, I’ve seen what strategies have (and haven’t) been effective in a variety of positions and industries. And it’s not the same everywhere—getting a job in fashion or publishing requires very different tactics than getting one in finance.
So enlist your counselor’s experience in strategizing your approach. Ask questions like: How should I allocate my search time between networking, informational interviews, and applying for jobs? What strategies have been effective for other people applying for these types of positions? How you should approach the job search will vary based on your role, industry, and location, but your career counselor likely has some advice that will help you out.
3. "How does my resume look?"
Your counselor knows what makes a resume stand out to employers, so bring a copy of yours to the meeting and enlist her feedback. Even if it’s still a work in progress, that’s OK. Bring a draft, or even a list of all your experiences and activities—from your internships to being a publicity chair in a volunteer club on-campus to spending your summers as a lifeguard. Counselors can help you craft experience descriptions that draw attention to the skills and personal qualities you have that employers are seeking.
4. "How can I show I have experience if I don’t have direct experience?"
I get this question from a lot of students with limited or no prior internship experience in a particular industry—and it’s a great one to ask. Talk to your counselor about the specific types of positions you’re after, as well as how you can leverage extracurricular, volunteer, on-campus, and academic experiences to make the case to a hiring manager that you’re a good fit. Many employers are willing to hire and train the right candidate if she can demonstrate strong communication skills, drive, intelligence, professionalism, and other valuable soft skills—it’s just a matter of positioning.
5. "How do I look on social media?"
More and more employers are using social media to check out potential candidates, even before the interview. But even if prospective employers are turned off by your Facebook profile pic, they’re probably not going to tell you about it. So, log into your social media platforms with your counselor, and ask for her candid feedback on what your profiles say about your professional image. She can let you know what a third party might think about your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles and whether they will help or hurt your chances of securing a position.
6. "What resources are available to me?"
There are some obvious resources found at a college career center. For example, nearly every school maintains its own database of jobs and internship opportunities. But centers have less obvious resources, too—like a database of alumni contacts or lists of the best employers by industry. A career counselor can also point you toward professional associations for networking opportunities and access to valuable industry news. It’s definitely worth asking about anything that might be available to you—more likely than not, there’s something you don’t know about that you could be using.
7. "What are my next steps?"
Depending on the length of your meeting with your career counselor, you may not get to all of these questions. Your first meeting is a great starting point in enlisting the help of your career expert, but be sure to leave the meeting knowing what the next steps are. It may be your turn to update your resume or look at some companies, or it may be time to schedule a follow-up appointment to continue the discussion. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask to meet with your career counselor throughout your search process—remember, that’s what she’s there for!