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How Cal students find jobs: Observations of a Career Center director

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UC Berkeley provides its students a world-class education, but at the end of their journey, Cal graduates expect to be employed in the field of their choice. Fortunately, the campus also provides a topflight Career Center to help, as Senior Associate Director Sue Harbour explains in this Q&A. Sue is responsible for overseeing the Counseling & Programs arm of the Career Center, which is made up of twenty-five staff members who provide direct service to students.

What should be the first step for a UC Berkeley student when it comes to finding a job post-graduation?

Students who begin their career planning and exploration early are better able to make sound decisions about their careers down the road. We offer a robust schedule of programs each semester to help students in all majors, at all levels in their education. Our programs help first- and second-year students explore majors and career industries and assist our juniors and seniors in getting career-ready.

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What advice would you give to parents for supporting their students in their future careers?

It may surprise parents to know that the overwhelming majority of employers who recruit Cal students tend to focus less on academic major and more on the transferable skills that the candidate has to offer.

Employers are looking for bright, motivated, competent graduates who have demonstrated success in and out of the classroom. This is why experiences beyond academics can have significant impact on career aspirations. I would encourage parents to not push their students to a particular major because “it will lead to a well-paid job.” Students should study a discipline they enjoy. Additionally, parents can encourage their students in a number of ways:

Doing one or all of these things will help shape them into the person that employers will want to talk to when it comes time to apply for that first professional opportunity.

Tell us a recent success story and how the Career Center contributed.

The Career Center meets with over 10,000 students each year in 1:1 appointments, and even more if you count attendance at our events. It’s hard to choose one story! But, I think what we do best is provide synergy. We don’t simply offer services: We establish relationships that pay forward.

Here is just one example: One of our career counselors worked with a first-generation Pell Grant recipient who transferred to Berkeley as a Computer Science major in 2016. The student, whom I’ll call “Sam,” was unsure of how to begin thinking about future jobs and internships. The counselor got to know Sam. Together they discussed career exploration and job search strategies, and drafted a plan. That semester Sam attended his first career fair — the Spring Cal Career Fair — where he met many companies and interviewed with a few, ultimately taking a paid internship at a well-known company on the East Coast. Fast forward to fall 2018. Sam was invited a job at the East Coast company, and he received two other job offers as well. Ultimately, with the help of the counselor, Sam decided to accept the return offer. He is now entering his last semester at Cal, offering support to other transfer students experiencing the same uncertainty he did just the year before.

What would most surprise Cal parents about our Career Center?

The Career Center is an excellent resource for students to connect with employers. Our staff works hard to create eighteen Career Connection events each year that provide students with the opportunity to talk with professional alumni in careers that students may be considering or didn’t even know existed. Our Career Fairs (we hold fifteen annually) also provide access to recruiters from some of the top companies in the world who come to Cal specifically to speak with our students.

From your vantage, what are some key, upcoming workplace trends?

Our reliance on technology has increased in the last ten years, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. I read this great article about Workplace trends for 2019. They include: 1) more centralized communication 2) a greater emphasis on work-life balance 3) faster pace 4) increased mentorship roles and 5) focus on gender equality. Obviously, the Career Center keeps a close eye on these trends for our students, but I encourage parents to read the article, too, to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead.

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