A Job-Hunter’s Guide to the CDC

Parents, teachers, and mentors have been telling us for years that we are brimming with potential – intelligent, talented, and driven individuals – and that we’ll consequently “go far in life.”  Yet one of the prevailing anxieties on Stanford students’ minds is: How do we get there?

Given the currently inauspicious job market, more students nationwide are postponing the job hunt, choosing instead to pursue higher degrees.  Such a choice undoubtedly expands the student’s opportunities – as well as allowing the economy a bit of time to improve.

But for many, two to eight more stifling years of school does not seem the ideal way to spend one’s twenties.  Others desire work experience to lend them perspective – and a breath of fresh air – before returning for that higher degree.  And for most Stanford graduates, a healthy income provides welcome relief when the realization hits that room, board, and other essential living expenses persist, even after financial aid and parental support runs out.

Yet we’ve all heard the tragic accounts – or read them on FML – of college graduates who fail to obtain even low-wage jobs, despite their qualifications.  According to an April CBS News report, nearly two million college graduates in the US are unemployed, and a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts companies will hire 22 percent fewer graduating seniors this year than they did last year.

Still, there remains good news:  Stanford offers a number of resources to connect us with jobs and guide us toward our long-term careers.  Many of these resources can be found at the Career Development Center, or CDC, across from the Haas Center for Public Service.

Upon entering the CDC, students are frequently directed first to the CDC’s website.  After a short registration process, students receive access to three databases for jobs and internships.  According to Lance Choy, Director of the CDC, their Stanford-specialized database – called “Cardinal Careers” – has 8,000 to 12,000 job and internship listings posted annually.  Of the opportunities listed, Choy estimates that 70% are unique to Stanford students and alumni.

However, many students lament that these databases are, as one sophomore put it, “less than user-friendly.”  Unless one chooses to do an “Advanced Search,” Cardinal Careers lets the user put very few limitations on the results that come up.  Even then, because employers want their listings to reach as many job-seekers as possible, they often include a wide array of majors and keywords in their descriptions – meaning that users may have to wade through dozens of irrelevant hits before they find any related to their majors or interests.

Furthermore, fuzzies beware: the majority of online job and internship listings do seem to be for those in tech, science, business, and policy-related fields.  Thus, as Choy explains, it’s important for students to “develop a strategy appropriate to the type of job that they’re seeking.”  For example, Choy continues, “A very low percentage of jobs in the entertainment field are posted online.  Word-of-mouth and knowing the right people are the keys to pursuing a career in entertainment.  So one would develop a strategy with a strong focus on networking.”

While “networking” may sound like it involves a lot of time – and luck – the CDC actually provides a fantastic springboard: the Stanford Alumni Mentoring program.  One student participating in the program, Jenny Wolochow ’10, enthuses that the CDC found her the perfect alumnus match.  “He did the major that I’m doing, he’s got the job that I want to get,” explains Wolochow, a Philosophy and Religious Studies major who aims to go into education administration.  “So I want to ask him how he got there!”

For students with less clear views on their ideal careers, senior Jon Kass recommends another resource: appointments with CDC career counselors.  In one forty-five minute appointment, a counselor can help the student clarify his or her interests, skills, career values, and work style – and then, with this information, can suggest possible career paths and outline strategies to achieve them.  “They can reveal options you might not have thought of before,” says Kass,  “And they’ll point you in the right direction.”

But, warns Kass, individual counselors’ advice and tactics vary widely – so students shouldn’t become discouraged if their first appointment with a career counselor is a flop.  “It’s like dating,” offers Kass.  “Everyone has a bad first date.  But that doesn’t mean you should just give up!”  After an unfulfilling meeting with his first career counselor, Kass was later assigned one whose thoughtful and individualized tactics impressed him.

For those who have already found job offerings they would like to apply for, the CDC’s career counselors also provide assistance with resume writing and interviewing tips.  Choy adds that, for students who cannot find job or internship listings with the companies they’re most interested in, the CDC has “a number of resources, strategies and tips to help students contact employers directly.”

Regardless of one’s major, year, qualifications, and level of job preparation, one can expect the CDC to provide some form of guidance toward a satisfying career.  Or, of course, one could just join the start-up company founded by the guy down the hall.

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