In the May 16, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how college students can turn a degree into a job upon graduation.


When I graduated high school at age 19 I tried to find a job in the town where I live. Well, I couldn’t get anybody to hire me so I made a resume. A couple of employers have my resume and are keeping it on file. So now I’m 20. I just started college. I enrolled so I could have a better chance at getting a job. Can you please give me some advice about how to make sure I have a job when I graduate?

college studentsNick’s Reply

Every job seeker I’ve ever known would love to have four years to find a job. College students do, so start now! I’ll try to show you how.

A college degree is the wise choice

Good for you for going to college. There seems to be a movement nowadays to skip college and either get a job immediately out of high school, or go to a trade school. Unfortunately, this is being cast as an either-or choice. It’s not. College is not just about getting a job. It’s about getting educated. But that doesn’t mean colleges can afford to ignore students’ need to get a job when they graduate.

While a college’s first mission is to deliver a good, well-rounded education, there’s no reason a college cannot also help its graduates get jobs. Sadly, few colleges provide effective career services. At best, they offer pedestrian tools and poor job-hunting advice delivered by inexperienced staffers, and a place where employers can post jobs for students. Telling students to “Make sure you visit Career Services!” is not enough — and colleges can do much, much more. Students and parents who pay for college should demand more.

Let’s look at what you can do from the first day of college to help ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate. More important, let’s consider how every college and university can help every student do these things — and why every college and university must.

College Students: Start thinking about jobs now

College is a good move for you. But many people who finish college complain they still can’t get a good job. I think the reasons are clear. During college, they don’t do internships or get part-time jobs in good businesses. They don’t meet people who might hire them later.

I’m not saying to work so much during college that your studies suffer – don’t do that. For example, if you can study 100% of the time during your first year, that’s good. Get comfortable with your studies and learn to manage your education. But start thinking about jobs, too, and plan on experimenting with different kinds of work.

Experiment: Pick some companies

By the middle of year two, you should be thinking about what kinds of companies you might like to work for when you graduate. It’s more important to pick a few reasonable ones than to pick the ones you’ll ultimately start a career in. That is, you can change your mind later, and you’ll probably change it more than once. The point is to choose some kind of work you’d like to try part-time, and see where it leads you. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.)

What’s important is not to pick the right job or company. It’s to learn how to experiment with work and to learn from each experiment.

An experiment might be a job at a deli or an internship with a company’s marketing department. But it must be something where you get your hands dirty doing real work, even if it’s just a little work for a little while. And, more important than having a job is meeting people in the world of work.

It’s all about people

Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not through job postings, career centers, or employment agencies. College students’ first job is to meet people — preferably people who work in companies and on products and services you think you’re interested in. Those people will educate you about work and about jobs and employers. The sooner you start developing these contacts and learning from them, the better. (Do you think you have no contacts? See I don’t know anybody.)

Find people who work in the companies you think you’re interested in.

  • Ask your friends and fellow students if their parents or older friends work in those companies.
  • Ask to be introduced to those people – then ask those employees what it’s like to work there.
  • Or, ask your friends where their parents and friends work — and start selecting companies to explore that way.

Don’t be nervous. These are people who’ve been introduced to you. Talk to them.

How to say it
“I’m a long way from graduating, but I’m starting to learn about companies I might be interested in working for. You mentioned your brother works for ABC Corp. Do you think he’d be willing to talk with me about the company and his job — what it’s like to work there? Please keep in mind, I’m not looking for a job! I just want to learn about the company.”

Not everyone will be willing to talk with you, but my guess is most people will simply because they love to talk about their work — and they love to give advice to college students.

If you get these conversations, talk shop.

How to say it
“What’s it like to work in sales? (Or marketing, or engineering, or product development?)”
“I’d love to hear about your work. What do you actually do every day?”
“Is there something you’ve pulled off — a cool thing you’ve accomplished — that made you glad you have this job?”
“What does your boss look for when filling entry-level jobs?”
“What courses and training would be best for such jobs?”

You will learn a lot and, if you pay attention, these conversations are what will show you how to prepare for those kinds of jobs.

Meet the juniors and seniors

There’s one special class of people who can really help you if you will invest the time: College students more senior than you. They will graduate first, and they’ll have jobs while you’re still going to school. They’re the perfect channel for learning about many employers.

  • While you’re a freshman or sophomore, meet all the juniors and seniors you can at your college.
  • If you’re at a two-year school, meet second-year students.

These people are gold! Once they’re employed:

  • Hang out with them.
  • Go visit them at work.
  • Join them for lunch in their company cafeteria.
  • Meet them after work at local joints where employees hang out.
  • Become part of their group and make more friends among the employees.

Try to meet their bosses – not to ask for a job, but to ask about the business and about the work. This shows you’re motivated, but they don’t have to hire you now, so there’s no pressure on them.

You’re just making friends – with people you’ll work with later! All these people will remember you. While they’re tossing incoming resumes of people they don’t know in the trash, they will remember you. That’s where jobs come from. It’s very likely this is how they found their own jobs — via personal referral. (See Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Cultivate friendships now

Once you meet all these people, don’t lose the new contacts you make! If you stay in touch, you’ll become a known entity to the insiders you become friendly with. Personal relationships can take years to develop before they might lead someone to introduce you to their boss about a job.

The point is, if you start doing this early, there’s no hurry. You have loads of time while you earn your degree. And by graduation, you should have loads of good, personal contacts — people who have gotten to know you well enough that they’re comfortable recommending you for a job to their company.

If you’re nervous about “networking,” don’t network. Never say or do anything that feels awkward. But I think you’ll never feel awkward if you approach a new contact by asking them about their work. People love to talk about themselves, so help them — and you’ll make new friends. (See “Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!)

Connect school to work

Whether you’re taking an Early American Literature course for fun, but want to be an engineer, or you’re studying accounting and you’d really like to be a social worker, there’s something in every academic course that can be applied to the work you’d like to do.

Writing a good Lit paper requires logical thinking and being able to show how premises A, B and C clearly lead to the conclusion you’re trying to make. You might laugh, but that’s how digital circuits work, too. Try to map the argument for your Lit paper using a circuit diagram. Show it to your engineering professor and to an engineer you meet through your friends.

Social work is usually funded through public sources of money. If you’re studying accounting, try to map out a business model for a social services agency. Go meet the manager of such an agency and ask how its success is calculated. Better yet, ask your accounting professor to invite the head of a social services agency to give a talk to your class.

These are just two examples of how to stimulate useful discussions. That’s how you make friends who have the kinds of jobs you want!

college studentsColleges have an obligation to deliver ROI

Colleges don’t like to make these connections. They claim it detracts from time spent on a course’s subject matter. Bunk. Colleges are good at teaching what, but Colleges fail How. They don’t make the connection between education and how to do work.

I tell college administrators that every course should include one class session that features someone from the work world talking about these connections — no matter how far-flung or weird they are!

If all college students had one class period in every course over four years where someone from the real world of work came to discuss how an academic topic could be related to a job, those students would meet dozens of people who could help mentor them into jobs upon graduation. (They’d have some fun discussions, too!)

That’s where job opportunities come from!

Colleges love to cite job placement rates and salaries of new grads (when the statistics suit their marketing campaigns), but they don’t like to talk about their second big obligation. School is not just about getting educated. Colleges also have an enormous obligation to show return on investment (ROI) to those students who want to get a good job after graduation. Imagine any college or university administrator explaining to the parents who fund an education that, “This isn’t about college students getting a good job.”

Start small

These methods for meeting people and talking shop — you can start using them freshman year — should lead you to opportunities for part-time or summer jobs or internships. But, what kinds of jobs should you pursue?

It almost doesn’t matter. Start small and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. If a company you meet this way will let you work part-time, take the job, even if it’s not exactly the kind of job you’d want after graduation. The point is, once you’re in there, you can meet people in the departments where you really want to work. Once again — it’s all about the people you meet. The more, the better! You have four years to parlay these relationships into a job.

Ask them about their work – make friends with them. Let them see you’re a dedicated worker and really interested in what they do. (Just be careful. Don’t be a pest and don’t stalk them!)

The point is simple: Take any job you can get, to meet people in the companies where you’d like to work later. They’re the ones who will recommend you for jobs you really want when you graduate.


You can already see this takes time. It can take quite a bit of time. It can take even seasoned professionals two or more years of getting to know people before they consider you seriously for a job. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. It’s why it’s so hard for college students to find a good job from job postings — there’s no one you can get to know by filling out forms online. If it hasn’t dawned on you already, the “people approach” is a lot more fun than responding to ads!

People who just submit resumes and fill out online applications get passed over because the hiring managers don’t know them. Managers hire who they know. (See Why am I not getting hired?)

While you’re in school, take advantage of this fact and circulate widely among people who do the kind of work you want to do. Invest. Rack up all the time you can being around people you’d like to work with. Try to meet their bosses – they will remember you later.

Why this works

Smart managers tend to hire people they know, or people known to their employees. While this might bother you because it seems unfair, consider that it’s prudent because it lowers the risk of getting a lousy worker. Would you loan money to a friend, or a total stranger? Would you trust your business to someone a friend vouched for, or someone you don’t know anything about? This is just basic human nature – but it’s not unfair. It’s a good survival mechanism.

So, your challenge while you’re in college is to get to know people who know people at the places where you want a job in a few years. Start now. You’ll get hired because someone that knows you vouched for you.

(To learn more about what to do when you get in front of a hiring manager, see Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course.)

Be honest and give back

Never do what I’m suggesting just to get what you want. Make real friends. Only hang out with people you’re really interested in – and be a good, honest friend yourself.

Don’t just expect something from others – do things to help them, too. Give back. This is not about manipulating anyone to get what you want. It’s about making real friends in places where you’d like to work. It’s about building a good reputation long before you get hired. It’s about creating trust.

Once you’ve made friends in the work world, it’s natural to ask them for advice when it’s near time to get a job. One (or more) of them will introduce you to your next boss. Not all of them, of course. But you need just one.

The four-year job search

I think college will be a wonderful experience for you. And if you find your college doesn’t do much to prepare you to get a job, go talk to your college president. Ask why your career is not high on your school’s priority list. Then suggest that every course should include one class session that features someone from the world of work exploring connections between the course topic and a job. Ask why your college does not regularly, and as part of the curriculum, introduce you to alumni who can show you how your education applies to work.

To ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate, start your job search your freshman year. I wish you the best! Study hard — and meet lots of people who do the kinds of work you think you’d like to do!

Should college prepare you to get a job? If you went to college, what help did your school provide to start your career? What do you think colleges should do — above and beyond delivering education — to ensure graduates get jobs?

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  1. Nick,
    All good advice, but there is one more path you only touched on. If a student is taking any sort of business classes, the professors probably have connections to local companies. Some smaller companies have part time teachers who might be working, or who might have retired from a local company.
    But if a student wants this kind of connection, she is going to have to put in double effort for this class – since a professor is going to recommend a top student, not a mediocre one. And lots of companies have policies that exclude students with low GPAs.
    Some extra-curricular activities might involve local companies, like selling ads for a student newspaper or fund raising.
    My daughter was captain of her riding team at college. That involved negotiating contracts when they moved barns, and that gave her something to talk about in interviews of relevance to companies. It paid off.

    • @Scott: Good point. There’s always contention for resources (like jobs)! It really is up to the student to step up to the plate. What motivated my column is the desire to show students that there is a good path to a good job. Many will get it, few will follow up on it.

      Then there’s the problem of how little most colleges do to help with jobs. What’s sad is how obvious, easy and straightforward this is — but bureaucrats have a very hard time with obvious, easy and straightforward. There’s no excuse for failing to put more business people on campus and in the classroom — and not just in biz courses.

      Some very good colleges and universities are literally failing today because of competition. They need to develop an ROI edge.

  2. Also to include is the benefits of starting your own business while in school. So long as a student doesn’t go overboard in investing in the business, this can be a low-risk way of learning about the industries they want to.

    Even door to door sales with companies that post on craigslist can be beneficial. Most of those companies provide training for their sales force. And, as we homeschool families like to say: EVERYTHING is a learning experience.

    • “they want to work in.”

    • I tell new grads the best first job (and second job) is sales. A good sales job in a good company that has good products teaches you so much that you need to succeed in any job you decide to pursue later. Sales is the boot camp of business.

      • Not every person is suited for sales. Not me, for example. I’ve been on plenty of sales calls as a technical expert, and have learned to cast things in terms of the customer, not the product, but close a sale? Not me! And I’ve seen some engineers who are a lot worse at it than I am.
        I’ve noticed that good salespeople (and I’m sure you are one of them) just assume anyone can do it. Just as fallacious as when we CS types assume anyone can program.

        • Good point, Scott, especially at being so good at something that you just assume that everyone else should be able to easily pick it up.

  3. As Michael said, every job is a learning experience, even part time work.

    It matters not whether you love the job or the level of suck approaches 100%, you will learn what you like and what you don’t. You learn what it takes to be a good manager and what shortcomings the bad managers and bad workers have. You learn whether the company is a great place to work or if the work climate is toxic.

    And you’ll learn whether or not that particular job sector is where you want to aim for the future. You’re idea of what a particular job entails might be far from the reality, necessitating a change in your college major/minor/trajectory. Better to learn these lessons early.

  4. Excellent article … that should be read *before* enrolling in college.

    I believe every individual who is thinking about their after-high-school options should read What Color is Your Parachute? by Bolles, and, if college is an option, the book Making College Count: A Real World Look at How to Succeed in and After College, 2nd Edition, by Patrick S. O’Brien.

    And then get away from your computer, get out, and talk to people. It’s really the only way.

    • I disagree with your suggestion about reading “What Color Is Your Parachute?” I tried using the suggestions in that book after leaving the military years ago and got nowhere. Guess what did work…replying to classified ads in the newspaper.

  5. So very well put, and very needed.
    I was a manager for years in hi-tech companies, computer producers, hardware, software engineering. I was on the software side, so I’ll use that as an example.

    As such, recruiting college grads, on campus or via the usual application route was SOP, with some companies have pro-active college recruitment focuses.

    Clearly over the years, Nick’s points about college’s leaving holes in preparing grads to direct their careers overall and to equip them to how to simply put, look for a job is dead on. And I’m talking about a couple decades of observation from the hiring manager side.

    As a recruiting manager, for the most part, I felt the most honest answer a grad could give about what they’d like to do with their new found education and degree (not a job or task, but career direction) was “I don’t know”. Because other than a few exceptions they didn’t. I never ran across a CS grad who had received a good idea of how industry utilized CS technologies in producing and delivering products. Mostly, CS grads implicitly thought of programming, fueled by academia, and we on the industry side. When in truth there are scores of occupations where a CS or EE grad could excel at, enjoy doing, and which fit their inclinations much better for all concerned than cranking out code.

    I managed Software and System QA organizations, and later a broader touch including Marketing and sales and support. I would do well finding grads who discovered along the way, in getting their degree, that the idea of spending their days, all day, programming was repellent, but they had gone to far to change direction, completed the regimen, got the degree. And were out interviewing for programming jobs. I could make their day but letting them know their degree was highly valued in other areas, where they met and worked with people, not machines. say Sales for example.

    They should already have known that, but again the colleges just seemed to feel their role was to crank out programmers.

    As Nick noted, internships offer a high value addition to classwork. For the companies and the students. Yes for practical experience if you can align it to your interests, but even if not, a higher value from being able to sit inside a company and learn how things are done or not done. An alert CS or EE intern who sticks their head up, looks around, meets people can walk away with a good understanding of what it takes, to create and produce a computer, get it to customers, support customers, and most important who does it. And what a day in their life is like. Insights lacking in your university. If, as Nick noted you start as a Freshman doing this, you’ll be well equipped to better direct your education (e.g. mid course corrections in Majors) and to be able to talk to managers, with confidence, about where you want to take your career, and what you can do to meet their needs in so doing.

    Take note of Nick’s advice about meeting other student’s, juniors, seniors. Particularly those who have done internships. with who? doing what? their perceived value to them? Just know that in industry, there are internships and there are internships by name. You want a company that takes internships seriously, where there’s real work to be done, in a structured environment, which when done you can see accomplishment and contribution. Not a paycheck, acquired in a vacuum, doing gopher work, because some manager is a crappy planner. You can pick up a lot of useful intel from other students and professors about good internship targets.

    Another point to add, which applies to everyone including the die-hard techies who do love to, and live to, cut code, is develop the soft skills. These folks were shocked to find, as one computer company found after conducting a study, that only about 10% of their time was spend on actual engineering. the rest was meeting, talking meeting, talking, presenting, supporting etc. Consorting with other humans rather than machines. While you may like to think that you’d have a great job if it wasn’t fall all those people…sorry big part of the job, and about any job these days, and multi timed zoned multi culturally, is dealing with others. That great idea of yours, that slick design, has to be colleagues, bosses, other interested parties. So, from the day you set foot in college, as Nick noted…get involved, meet, help, support. And a good idea would be to get involved in debating team, and/or get involved in your local Toastmasters Club.
    Take a course in Marketing and/or Sales. Especially if you’re a 10th degree black belt introvert. Soft skills are acquired skills, you’ll get better with practice,

    And there’s a lot of improvement in academia in simply teaching students how to develop and maintain relationships, build and maintain networks and the art and craft of finding jobs, and developing your careers. The process now, is here’s your degree, statistically you’ll do well with it, go forth, and good luck

    • Don: Thanks for the battle-tested perspective. You make it all real with your anecdotes and hard-won wisdom.

  6. In addition to making contacts to advance a career, is the social development that occurs during your attendance. Not every contact is going to bring you a “lead” but maybe friendships as your social skills are developed. In my opinion, this is equally important to advance the maturation process. As many of us know and experience, social immaturity/stunting is pervasive.

    • Absolutely agree with you. The issue of social maturity is very important. Stedenic life is a very important period in life. At this moment we determine which directions to choose, here is a very good article about this: . In general, a person on the whole life path faces the problem of choice. But it is the choice of an important and interesting direction for you, in what that account determines your future. Therefore, we must very responsibly approach this choice. But the blessing, our educational system allows to change a profile even during training.

  7. Internships and summer jobs are a good way to differentiate yourself. College is for the most part kind of formulaic but the real word is mostly about problem solving. At one of my first jobs, my boss wanted to automate some reports that took an inordinate amount of time to produce. So in my off hours I taught myself Hyperion, SQL, and VBA programming to automate the production of those reports. When you solve problems for companies they will happily serve as a reference for you.

  8. I think that getting a job, even a part-time job, dealing with the public is a good “boot camp”. It could be sales, it could be waitressing, it could be a help desk job answering people’s computer questions and fixing their computer problems. Even the lousiest job will help you figure out what you DON’T want to do.

    Today, internships are required in many college programs, but beware that not all internships are paid, and not all internships provide the kinds of skills and connections that students seek. Some career services offices are doing better at screening out the “internships” that have a student babysitting the boss’ kids, picking up his dry-cleaning, etc.

    Scott’s point about many business professors being part-time (aka adjunct) faculty who work full time in their fields is good. Those folks often have plenty of “real world” experience which they bring into the classroom in ways that regular faculty don’t. They are another source of information about jobs, careers, the company, what’s good and what’s bad. It isn’t limited to business–medicine, law, nursing, automotive tech, dental hygiene, social work, English, Chemistry, and more often hire adjunct faculty, who are often as good or better than the tenured faculty.

    Depending upon the college and program of study, not everything is purely theory; here’s an example of a student’s idea for a business:

    I like Nick’s point of talking to faculty and college juniors and seniors, but he forgot another very important group: alumni. If the college’s career services is on the ball, they have an alumni network–a listing a graduates who work in various fields who are willing to talk with current students. Don’t neglect alumni and talk shop with them the same way Nick advises you to talk shop with managers, faculty, other employees, etc.

    Don’t wait until your senior year to check out career services or try to figure out what you want to do. The library is another good resource–they’ll have books (online and print) on careers in a variety of fields, what you can do x major, and more.

    • I didn’t mean to leave alumni out – thanks for the add! What surprises me, though, is that some colleges make access to alumni very difficult. There are indeed schools that keep lists of alumni who are willing to help out, but I wish all schools had better systems for putting students in touch with alumni.

      • You’re right, Nick, re some schools making access to alumni very difficult. I’ve attended three different colleges (one public, two private), and have worked at two different institutions (both public), and they all deal with this matter very differently. Alumni are one of the best resources, and you’d think that the career services folks or even the alumni office would be do more, but they don’t. Some of it (at least in the public sector) is budget-driven–there have been budget cuts and at some schools, these offices have lost staff. If you go from a staff of 4 to 1, then things (like maintaining an alumni database) fall off the to-do list.

        At two of my schools, their alumni offices didn’t know how to deal with women. I remember listening to one staffer complain that they didn’t know how to list women graduates so other alumni and current students could find them. Nearby are two well-known women’s colleges, and I suggested that she call their alumnae offices for advice (and I gave her a suggestion–list women under the names by which they were enrolled, whether that was a maiden name or a husband’s name, and then put their current names underneath their “old” names as a cross-reference, so people will be able to find them). It isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t just women who change their names: a male actor might change his name if there is already someone in SAG with his name. I had a male classmate who felt more connected to his stepfather, who adopted him after his parents divorced, and he changed his name to that of his stepfather’s.

        One of my alma maters keeps several directories of alums who are willing to speak to current students and other alums about graduate school, jobs and careers. They’ve organized their directories by subjects–one for engineers, one for medicine, one for law, one for business, etc. This way you’re not scrolling/flipping through tomes hunting for alums who are working in fields you’re considering, or who went to graduate schools/programs you’re considering. It is a good system, and they do ask us if we want to be part of it, so only those who don’t mind are in it (and there’s plenty, because alums help other alums and current students–part of the paying it back and paying it forward philosophy–alums helped them, so now we help others).

        The other two schools–well, their directories are disasters, and it is unfortunate, because alums can be wonderful resources.

        • @MaryBeth: My advice to students is, if your career or alumni office won’t put you in touch with alumni(ae), get the alumn directory. Get the alumn magazine. Read and read some more until you find people in industries and companies you’re interested in. Yes, you can do this on LinkedIn as well, but don’t. Names you turn up in that magazine are connected to stories – and when you contact the person, you can refer to a true alumn connection. It’s not just about getting names. It’s about shared experiences that you can talk about.

          • @Nick: that’s a great idea! The career or alumni office should have copies of both, and even the library will have copies of the alumnae quarterly. It is a good way to begin if the offices don’t maintain (or share) alumni contact info with students.

            I would also add that if there are events on campus which feature alums–be it career-related or not, students should try to attend those events. Reunions are another good way to meet alums (assuming that reunions are held while college is in session).

            Another place to meet alums are social networking sites such as Linked In and Facebook–one of my alma maters has a very active LI group (we discuss everything from jobs and careers to graduate school programs to workplace issues and balancing work/family/personal life and even had long-running discussion on books we were reading (and our favorites/recommendations). For the same alma mater, there are FB groups based upon year, dormitory, majors/subjects studied, current geographic regions (so you can connect with other alums in your state/region), and then there are the clubs (based on state/city/region/country)–but that is for alums rather than current students (but once students graduate, the president of the club where the recent grad is living extends an invitation to join, so the possibilities are endless.

    • “Even the lousiest job will help you figure out what you DON’T want to do.” That wastes prescious time and energy IMO. I found going through the exercise at this site to be useful, although it hasn’t helped me get a job:

    • As someone that originally went to a four year college, dropped out, then completed degree many years later, I often found community college instructors to be better than four year counterparts. Like adjuncts, they typically have real world experience, and can better relate theory to practice. I was pleasantly surprised by my community college experience, so remain perplexed why high schoolers resist using this route to obtain a degree more quickly and economically.

  9. What do you think of this idea?
    “I’ve found my best jobs through offering “finder’s fees” of $1,000-$2,000 to acquaintances who put my resume in the hands of a hiring manager and get me a job. It has also made the job search process very quick!”

    • Employee referral programs are one thing. Finders fees are another. In the first case, a company rewards employees for referring good people for hire. In the second, there are third-party “matchmakers” who will arrange a fee for a referral. This is a kind of mock “headhunting” deal — and I really don’t get it. Unless the person doing the referring has some skin in the game, I think it’s highly questionable. More than one “start-up” has tried doing this — I don’t know any that succeeded. It seems like just one more way to add one more hand to the mix, waiting for a fee.

  10. Great ideas, Nick! And particularly timely for me, too. I’ve been invited to speak to a group of high school seniors for a career day presentation next Monday. Although I’m retired now, I know my 2 college internships made a major impact on my resumes, and I want to emphasize the importance of internships for students today. Thanks so much!

    • Thanks, Liz. Good for you for going to talk to high school students — make it real, don’t be formal, talk with them not to them. I’ve done this and I’m always astonished at two things. First, how totally unaware most high school kids are about getting a job (uh, high schools — you’re blowing it!). Second, how they gobble up plain ideas that make sense to them. Go for it!

  11. It may be helpful to have some insights on how internships, summer jobs, and in some cases college recruitment works from the inside of a corporation.

    They run the gamut from totally disorganized, whimsical, to very well done, structured, programs.

    I’ve seen them all. So let me give you an overview of my experiences with the latter, well done programs.
    The optimum word is program…as in college recruitment programs.

    I worked for a company for a # of years, in the computer business, which translates into high interest in computer engineers of many strips, EE, CS, CSE’s and many related specialties.

    College relationship is an area that I feel was this company HR’s shining hour. They hired a person for a college relations role. She herself came in as a grad, and held the role for far as I know the only full time person doing it. Helped develop it, grew with it.

    In good times and bad, regardless of the operational hiring budgets, the company made a point of keeping a positive long range view, with high level commitment toward recruiting interns, summer hires and grads from universities that aligned to the business needs. It wasn’t an endless #, but budgeted with yearly targets as to #’s and in some cases particular universities of interest.

    Backed by this commitment, she did a great job of building the company’s contact based within academia, professors, counselors, students, student organizations AND equally important inside the corporation with we hiring managers. Inside, she structured and promoted the programs to bring in interns, summer hires and grads from universities she felt, were advantageous to the hiring managers.

    Ideally the intent was to find great candidates early via internships, have them return for the summer(s), and then hired after graduation as known valued producers. Nothing hits the ideal, but there were enough wins to keep this going.

    There were rules of engagement for interns and summer hires to effect quality experiences for interns and summer hires, first so they could go back & tell their friends..professors and counselors. what a great experience they had, and in so doing to raise our chances to hire them when they graduated. For example, interns and summer hires had to have an identified manager/boss, a real project to work on, be properly equipped to do their jobs…on arrival, and a place to sit. conversely, no gopher work allowed.

    This all sounds warm and fuzzy. But it’s a necessary foundation for what made it really work for a manager paying attention.

    And that’s follow the money or more correct, follow the headcount. There comes a time in corporations where they are financially strapped. We all know the story, that in it’s worst form it leads to reductions in force, or a company vaporizing.

    But less serious, but managerially character building is something called a “hiring freeze” As discussed in other blogs, the good news is hiring never is completely frozen. Rather, true need, and managerial fortitude is tested by severely tightening the approval process, in one case where EVERY hire needed CEO buy in/approval. We managers are like bugs under a rock, running for our lives if an executive kicks over the rock and shines his/her flash light to see what’s there, and horrors what is it you Do? . So you really really need that person, to incent you to crawl up the food chain, convincing every layer to put on their shield and sunglasses and also go forth & crawl up the ladder.

    Hence, in most cases a freeze environment is not good for interns, summer hires or grads. Weak argument for immediate needs.

    You also need to understand, that in hi-tech, engineering environments, people/headcount is the major expense. And this is most important. These Companies mindlessly manage by headcount in which a Sr VP =1, a jr admin assistant =1, a grad =1, an intern =1 a summer hire =1.

    And in freeze situations vying for headcount is savagely competitive among managers.

    How can a college grad compete?

    Sorry for the long winded cursor. Now back to the main point.

    My company was committed to its’ college relations program. Good times or bad. This meant the freezes did not apply to college recruitment goals.

    If, as a hiring manager, I was supportive of the College relations Program (and I was) , worked with the HR point person, supported her, lent my body to an on campus visit(s) she orchestrated, known to play by the rules etc. and I had a good case for an intern, summer hire and/or grad. I could engage. I could hire one or more. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Said hires were NOT charged to my headcount allocation. I did not have to slug my way up the food chain for approvals.

    For example. Technically I would have approval to hire zero people through normal channels, ie. add anyone to my headcount. Further it could be so bad, that if I lost someone, I would not automatically be able to replace them. I’d have to crawl up the aforementioned food chain with all the related angst.

    But..I could draw on this pool of pre-approved heads from the College recruitment program. Such a deal. My mother didn’t raise a fool so I planned ahead and religiously worked that route, as did other savvy managers You’d think everyone would, but they didn’t. This company went through much previous growth and good times that most of their managers had no experience within a budgetary desert. I did, from a prior company that managed headcount without mercy, & I learned how to anticipate strife and capitalize on it. Sometime it doesn’t hurt to be paranoid.

    As an enlisted Marine, we had a saying. “Beware the enlisted man, thought illiterate he is crafty and sly and bears watching all the time”. “Grad” was about the depth of specificity you had to deal with. You might get push back on the basket weaving arts & crafts degree, but not always. Further you could find your own grad, it didn’t have to come via college relations. And it included Masters and PHds. So, with some due diligence, I could, and did, hire people with 5-10 years experience…who just got happened to get their MS or higher. Via the college recruitment pool, without it being charged to my headcount or grueling with grilling approval ordeals. Again, such a deal!

    Getting back to the blog. If you’re a student. as Nick noted, from the day you put your foot in the door, make it a point to building contacts. With other students to find out if they’ve interned, summer worked at companies of interest. Make a point of learning how they were found, or how they found their way in. When you attend, and do attend job fairs, on campus recruitment events. Ask about, find out about how that company handles it’s recruitment, and onboarding. Treat internships and summer work as seriously as if you were a grad on a new job. Look for signs of well founded, well managed recruitment programs. Are you talking to a vanilla HR rep? A warm body manager? Or are you talking with a person whose job it is, to tap into academic resources?

    Don’t look for jobs. Look for companies that have their head on straight about how to hire newbies. Drill your counselors. Who are they connected to? Do they know of companies that have a human being whose job it is to develop contacts inside the universities, Get the names, contact them. These are gift contacts. It’s their job to meet you & if they’re doing it well you won’t get blown off. There’s a good probability if you can locate companies with an established program, you’re going to have a much better internship, summer role and eventually hiring path, than from a knee-jerk random campus drop-in.

    Look for student run, special interest groups. for example in one university I found a Mechanical Engineering Professionals group, with their own organization. Though they had a professor counselor, they were pretty much self driven. They were the flip side of the corporate college recruitment program. Their aim was Industrial contact development. Impressive. In another university I found a Veterans ME group.

    If you can’t find anything like this in your university, create one. Trust me, this will accelerate your professional growth, engage and develop sales skills, grow much needed oratory and social skills, which will serve you well in finding meaningful work and career development.