How to Make the Most of Online Career Centers

portrait of Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
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Melissa A. Venable, Ph.D., has 15 years of experience in online education as an instructional designer, curriculum manager, and adjunct professor. She is also a certified career coach. Her work in higher education began in career services working wit...
Published on May 20, 2020
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  • Due to COVID-19, many college career centers are now serving students entirely online.
  • Students are requesting help with finding employers and improving their online profiles.
  • Many summer internships have been switched to a virtual format or canceled altogether.

For college students getting ready to graduate or start a summer internship, career centers are a primary source of support in the spring. With the uncertain economic situation, these services are more important than ever, but the way students access them will change.

We are now several months into campus closures due to the coronavirus outbreak, and with the potential for continued closures through the summer and into the fall, college career centers are making the switch from in-person to online services.

A poll by NACE found that “99% of career centers are continuing to connect with students virtually” due to COVID-19.

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According to Lakeisha Mathews, director of the University of Baltimore's Career and Internship Center, the impact of the pandemic has been significant in terms of how her staff now "engages students in a virtual environment and helps then find employment and navigate the workforce."

A poll from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that "99% of career centers are continuing to connect with students virtually" in the wake of COVID-19. This is happening through a range of resources and services designed to help students move forward with career planning and the job search process.

A man in a denim button-down shirt and over-ear headphones smiles as he looks at his laptop computer propped on his kitchen counter.

5 Ways to Take Advantage of Online Career Centers

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education shared a new survey from Handshake, a job search partner at many universities. The group identified five ways in which college students would like to work with their schools' career services offices right now.

Fortunately, many career centers are already changing how they provide their services to better meet students' needs.

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    Schedule an Online Career Counseling Appointment

    Students used to be able to visit their career center and speak with an advisor or counselor in person during posted drop-in hours or by scheduling a one-on-one appointment. In recent weeks, however, these sessions have quickly moved online.

    Johns Hopkins University's Life Design Lab now offers daily drop-in hours through the Zoom web-conferencing platform. Similarly, Mathews shared that University of Baltimore students can access "career coaching online via Zoom." The school has also implemented a chat feature in its UBworks career management system.

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    Ask Which Employers Are Still Hiring

    Despite recent news that companies are declaring bankruptcy, temporarily closing, or furloughing large numbers of employees, many employers are still actively hiring — and even conducting recruiting sessions online.

    According to the NACE poll, as of mid-April, 61% of employers said they were not currently revoking job offers. Evidence also suggests that recruiting is continuing through special events, such as Virtual Illini Recruiting Week at the University of Illinois. You can check out the University of North Carolina Career Services' list of companies hiring right now to learn more about open positions.

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    Get Feedback on Online Professional Profiles

    When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? If it's been a while, now is a good time to get to it. Check out our guide on how to use LinkedIn as a college student.

    Your university's career services center can also provide a helpful critique and recommendations for making your profile stand out. The LinkedIn for Students resource collection is another solid reference you can use.

    Think about not only what your profiles say about you, but also where your profiles are posted. While LinkedIn is generally considered the go-to social network for career and employment needs, it's certainly not the only option out there.

    Ask your career advisors for additional information about niche online communities focusing on your field of interest. For example, Dice is a networking platform that shares resources, advice, and job listings for technology professionals, whereas Idealist provides similar support for those interested in working at nonprofit organizations.

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    Meet Employers Through Virtual Events

    In-person employer information sessions used to be common on-campus events, but virtual sessions are now taking precedence.

    The NACE poll found that almost half of employers "plan to increase their use of virtual methods to recruit the class of 2021."

    Mathews explained how the University of Baltimore Center's employer relations services is "converting recruiting into virtual networking opportunities." Other examples include information sessions posted by Drexel University's Career Development Center and recruitment webinars and office hours hosted by Georgia Tech's Center for Career Discovery and Development.

    There are many ways career centers can simulate the act of meeting face to face with employers at a job or career fair. Several software applications allow for real-time engagement and sharing of information and files, such as resumes, through virtual career fair events like Michigan's Teacher and Administrator Career Fair.

    Check with your school to see whether it has any plans to offer similar virtual events this year.

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    Speak With Alumni Online

    Getting to know alumni from your school and program can be a meaningful way to expand your professional network and increase your access to relevant information and job opportunities. Many college career centers work closely with alumni associations to encourage connections between current and former students.

    If you've already graduated, you may be able to continue working directly with your alma maters career center. Many schools offer a variety of alumni services, such as counseling appointments, resume reviews, job fairs, and scheduled employer interviews. Auburn University's alumni career services includes all of these options as well as online interview practice.

A young woman wearing headphones and a long-sleeved t-shirt sits at a dining table and holds a video-call on her laptop computer.

Prepare for Virtual Summer Internships

If you've been accepted to participate in an internship this summer, you've likely already heard from your employer regarding your placement. Some companies may confirm your position with no changes, while others may shift from a traditional on-site internship to a completely online experience.

The NACE employer poll indicates that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more employers are converting internship assignments into a virtual format, perhaps to match plans for employees to continue working from home.

More employers are allowing students to complete their internships remotely, though this won't be possible in all cases.

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At the same time, some employers are reducing the overall length of the internship time period. Unfortunately, not all companies can easily make the switch to virtual internships or adapt their programs to a work-from-home environment.

If you haven't received an update on your internship and are curious about the status of your position, get in touch with your institution's career services center, which likely maintains resources to help students in this very situation.

For example, the University of Virginia Career Center provides a collection of templates for communicating with employers during COVID-19. With these resources, you can learn how to ask about your internship status and how to request alternative options.

On a similar note, Wake Forest University's Office of Personal and Career Development offers suggestions on what to do if your internship gets canceled, as well as recommendations for how to respond to a rescinded offer.

Plan Out Your Career Goals

No matter where you are in your educational journey, career and employment goals were likely your biggest motivation for going to college.

The BestColleges 2020 Online Education Trends Report found that 77% of online students had these goals in mind when they enrolled. And yet, career counselor Dr. Yesel Yoon shares that "students wait too long to take advantage of [the] great services at their colleges."

Even if you don't have an internship lined up or your placement was canceled, you can still continue your career planning over the summer.

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Even if you don't have an internship lined up or your placement was canceled, you can still continue your career planning over the summer. Mathews suggests that students "take a summer course, volunteer in a safe environment, launch a business or community service project to help a specific population, or take a free or low-cost professional development class."

She added that students can also use this time to "gain a clear understanding of how [their] industry is doing during the pandemic. Some companies are hiring and others are not."

As with the transition of on-campus classes to fully online options, the move of support services to virtual delivery will take some time. But you don't need to wait to get the assistance you need. Mathews reminds us that college career centers will stay open throughout the summer.

The best step you can take right now is to reach out to the counselors and advisors serving your school to let them know your priorities. These professionals are there to connect you to all available options, and your input is critical in helping them shape what comes next.

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