A message to Vanderbilt Families from the Evans Family Executive Director of the Career Center at Vanderbilt, Dr. Katharine Brooks:

Greetings!

Did you know that you are one of the most important factors in your student’s career decision-making process? While career decisions and the job search process are ultimately the responsibility of your student, your support can go a long way to help ease the anxiety and uncertainty often associated with the process. We appreciate the integral role you play in the career process. Please browse through the pages of our website to learn more about what we have to offer and how students can best use our services. Our services include:

Some basic information about the career process:
  • Your student’s career development is an ongoing process requiring planning and action, not a one-time event. As a result, we hope and expect that your student will visit our center numerous times throughout their time at Vanderbilt. And we’ll do our best to facilitate that through ongoing emails and communication, flexible hours and locations for coaching sessions, and lots of informative programming for a broad range of career interests.  But—our services are voluntary.  We will never require your student to interact with us unless they choose to. 
  • One of the most common concerns about career services nationwide is the breadth and depth of the on-campus recruiting program. Students (and their parents) are understandably concerned about their ability to connect with organizations through campus connections, and therefore focus intently on the companies which recruit on campus.  And here at Vanderbilt, we are very lucky because we have some of the best and most prestigious organizations interviewing our students.

That said, it is important to remember that on-campus recruiting is one piece of a very big pie.  It is a great option for students who want to work in the industries represented, but it should never be the only option.  Students will need to expand their job search beyond recruiting so that they can find the opportunities which best fit their interests, particularly students who want to work in industries that are seldom represented in on-campus recruiting.

And that’s where our coaching team can be most helpful to your student.  We can help them design an independent search which will utilize our terrific employer and alumni connections, which expand far beyond any on-campus programming.  

  • It’s also important to keep in mind that while a Career Center can provide career guidance and connections to employers, we cannot make the career decision for your student. We can assist with the decision-making process, but the ultimate choice is up to the student.  By law, we also cannot select candidates or make any decisions on behalf of an employer.  Students will need to carefully follow any guidelines for applying for positions and present their qualifications in the best possible manner. Our Employer Relations team markets all Vanderbilt students to potential employers, not individual students.
  • We are often asked when a student should start the career process. There’s no one answer for this.  The timing of a search is greatly dependent on the field of interest.

If a student is planning a career in investment banking or consulting, for example, the process starts early.  Many employers like to see interesting summer experiences in the first two years, and hire students for junior-year internships while those students are still sophomores.  Preparation for advanced education such as medical school also needs to start early.

Other industries hire on a “just-in-time” schedule, meaning that many students will do most of their applications during the second semester of their senior year. This can be quite stressful for students who see their friends applying for and obtaining job offers early in their senior year.  This is why knowing the hiring process for the field of interest is so important.

But preparation starts anytime, and we’re here to help at all stages of the process. And we don’t judge our students.  Students should always feel welcome to come to the Career Center throughout their time at Vanderbilt—we never want a student to avoid our office out of guilt or embarrassment that they are “too late” to do anything.

 
How you can help:

We greatly appreciate the support our Vanderbilt parents provide.  You have the advantage of knowing your student well, and knowing how much (or little!) guidance your student will take from you. Here are some tips that we hope will provide some guidance for the process:

  1. Please encourage your student to visit our office and take advantage of our services. We know that students are busy and visiting an office like a Career Center can just be one more “to-do” on an already filled list. But research shows that the earlier the students start planning their futures, and the more active a role they take in the process, the more likely they are to experience success.  Your encouragement will mean a lot.

We have specialized career services at The Commons for first-year students.  The first year is a great time to learn more about their strengths and unique talents they hope to share with a potential employer. That said, don’t worry if your student doesn’t use the career center the first semester of their freshman year.  Students need some time to get used to their new living situation, their classes, and meeting new friends.  The search doesn’t have to begin the minute they enter Vanderbilt.

  1. Encourage your student to completely fill out their profile on DoreWays. DoreWays is the Center’s web-based portal that houses jobs, internships, professional development opportunities, events and interview schedules for recruiters. The more fully a student fills out their profile, the more targeted our communications can be.  If we know, for example, that the student is interested in a career in banking, we will send the student every internship and career opportunity in the field of banking that we receive.  It’s a quick and very convenient way to learn about all the career center activities.
  1. Listen to their career plans with an open mind. College is a time of significant growth and increasing independence and students often use this time to consider many different careers or opportunities. (Not to mention different majors—see the section below about majors.) Listening with an open mind and encouraging them to explore possibilities is one of the best ways to help. They will need to research whatever career fields they hope to enter, so encourage them to learn as much as they can. They may find they have found the career of their dreams—or their research may tell them it’s a non-starter.  Either way, they have learned valuable information and they will be better able to plan their next move. 
  1. Encourage your student to acquire experience. Try not to get too hung up on the word “internship.” Some companies offer internships, but what students should be seeking is “experience” which can take the form of a summer job, a volunteer opportunity, a research project, a self-designed study, etc.  There are all kinds of creative ways to acquire the skills, knowledge, and talent needed to succeed in a career field, and it’s not always through an internship.  In addition, not everyone can afford to spend a summer in New York City in an unpaid internship.  Our coaches can help your student craft a valuable summer experience based on their career interests and any geographic or financial limitations which might exist. More than anything, employers value related experiences.
  1. Provide resources and networking opportunities if you have them. If your student expresses an interest in a career field, and you know someone who can help them, by all means, share that knowledge. But don’t set up the connection for them: give them the person’s contact information and encourage your student to set up the meeting or call. This is a valuable part of the learning process around networking: being able to connect with a stranger and turn them into a valuable ally.
  1. Don’t do the search for them. Learning to independently search for a job is one of the most valuable skills a student can acquire—and one which will serve them throughout life. We have tried to make this as logical and easy as possible through our “4-D” system.  The 4-D system provides a methodology your student can use from now until retirement.  Please don’t deprive them of this opportunity.
  1. Don’t accept “I don’t know what I want to do” as an excuse for not moving forward with the career search process. Many students mistakenly think that they can only plan their career when they know what they will do. The truth is, career planning is a process and even students who “know” what they want to do after graduation often change their minds.  So any student can start the process anytime.  For instance, they can develop a basic resume that they can later tailor to a specific field.  They can take some interest inventories or other assessments to begin developing a career focus.  They can use our new Vision Place to create mind maps and other visual methods to start picturing their futures.  We welcome students who are open-minded about their futures and don’t have their paths figured out.  We’ll help! 
  1. Finally, you can help us by sharing any employment opportunities at your place of work. Please let your Human Resources office know about the quality of Vanderbilt students and encourage them to work with our Employer Relations team, sharing job and internship opportunities. If you are in a position to provide more direct assistance in the employment of Vanderbilt students, please contact our Employer Relations team directly to share your knowledge and expertise. 

 

A special note on selecting a major:

Back in 2008, I wrote a book, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. It was my textbook for the career classes I taught at the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin.  I just updated it and the new 2017 edition is out with a modified title (You Majored in What: Designing Your Path from College to Career), but to be honest, the career landscape hasn’t changed all that much with regard to majors.

The book is based on chaos theory applied to careers: they are complex and hard to predict.  And it starts with that pesky question students are always asked after they tell someone their major: What are you going to do with that?

This is the wrong question.  What should be asked is:

“What do you want to do? And how can you demonstrate through your major, your experiences, and your skills that you can do it?”

That’s where we start with our students.  We focus on what careers they are considering, what ideas they want to explore, what knowledge they want to gain, what perspective they want to have—those concepts more than anything will help them select a major. 

In many cases, the choice of a major is not a choice of a career.  Vanderbilt graduates work in virtually every sector of the economy and they all started with a Vanderbilt degree.  Certain career fields demand a more linear approach (for example, engineering or accounting) but many career fields are open to a variety of majors. Very few first-year students know exactly where they’re going or what they’re going to do in 4 years or 10 years or 20 years, but students can think about what interests them generally and try to get some summer jobs and internships experiences which will help them make up their minds.

Barring an unusual circumstance, our major advice to students is:

  1. Major in a subject which interests you and where you enjoy the reading and learning.
  2. Major in an area you are curious about and have questions you’d like to answer.
  3. Major in the area where you like the professors and find their classes intellectually stimulating.
  4. Major in the area where you will do well academically. (More likely if you’ve followed the three questions above.)
  5. If you know the general career path or graduate school path you plan to follow and that field requires a specific curriculum, use that as a guide to the best major. (Just do your research: a pre-med student, for example, can major in anything as long as s/he takes 6 prerequisite courses. And law schools are open to any major.)

There are so many new and interesting paths that your student will have a chance to explore during their time at Vanderbilt.

Please encourage them to:

They will be the wiser for it.

Thank you again for encouraging and supporting your student at Vanderbilt. 

Katharine S. Brooks, Ed.D.

Please feel free to connect with me directly through social media:

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