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Careers Café

Is there a gap in university career centre services?

Alternative solutions for the student job seeker when university career centres don't have the budget to cover all the bases.


This is a response to an article that appeared in the Waterloo Regional Record, titled “Universities need to do a better job in preparing students to land a job.”

Finding a job is incredibly stressful, certainly no less so when it’s competing with coursework and exams. I wish that, when I was assistant director of the Centre for Career Action at the University of Waterloo, I could have implemented the suggestions from “Universities need to do a better job in preparing students to land a job.” And I certainly wish I had had the budget and pull needed to make them happen.

As the article mentions, “it would be impossible to staff career centres with experts from every line of work.” The worse news is that it’s still not a “budget friendly solution” to entice employers to offer consulting to students, even for short periods of time. Given the breadth of career options that students might want to explore (most students are not in vocationally-focused degrees like software engineering), bringing in employers to meet all students’ interests would, at worst, be impossible and, at best, lead to prohibitively expensive student fees.

(On a side note, the University of Waterloo, which runs Canada’s largest co-op program, is very well positioned to bring employers in. Because employers can anticipate recruiting a number of students each year, it’s worth their while to pay their staff to visit the university and share industry- and company-specific information with students. That’s why the university’s co-op and career office offers about 400 employer information sessions and company nights per year, which gives students access to a broader range of industry-specific feedback than most.)

Another difficulty with the proposed plan in the article is timing. Since students at most universities, as well as Waterloo students who aren’t in co-op programs, aren’t in a timed job search process, most universities aim for self-serve mentorship. For most students, there is no specific time of the year to start exploring career options or buffing up the resume. Further, it’s a challenge for employers to be tied to university deadlines, especially if they have ties with multiple institutions. Employers with strong relationships to universities already make a commitment to meet the schedule of one or more university job fairs.

It can be more convenient for the schedules of both employers and students to have online mentoring programs, as many do. These are sometimes run by alumni offices, sometimes by student success or career offices. Here at McMaster, for instance, the alumni and Partners Advisor Network has over 600 professionals who volunteer to offer resume critiques, do mock interviews and have career conversations. Other universities offer similar programming that brings together career staff, who coach students in how to make the best use of industry experts, and the industry experts to provide the sort of advice the author writes about. As my colleague and alumni career counsellor Jillian Perkins notes, students need the benefits of mentorship when they need it, and not necessarily during certain weeks of the year.

That self-serve approach is also a more achievable model for universities that aren’t in employment-rich communities, and for mentors who don’t have the time and budget to travel everywhere they’d like to.

So, if it’s cumbersome and expensive for universities to pay for staff to canvas students for career interests, reach out to employers in all of those roles, and possibly pay to bring them to campus, what are potential alternate solutions for the student job seeker? One is to engage with the mentoring programs that are available (starting with the alumni and career or student success offices, but also considering any relevant student clubs). That includes reading online resources or attending workshops or appointments that can help motivate and prepare you to enjoy the networking and get something out of it. If you need that kind of support, it does not make you weird; it puts you firmly in the norm.

It’s also useful to prepare for any job fair as though it’s a series of informational interviews (knowing, of course, that the answers you get will be the upsides, only, since the job fair reps are there to represent their companies well). Participate in industry- and role-specific discussion groups, including those on LinkedIn. And set up informational interviews, which give you the chance to stand out to an employer, while getting your questions answered.

It’s not easy to get all the information that would be useful in your job search, and it is stressful. But it does develop a set of skills that you will use throughout your life.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. Karen Rittinger / February 16, 2017 at 11:21

    Great response, Liz! In my experience with students as a career advisor at the University of Waterloo, many students learn to extrapolate from the general career development and self-marketing tools we help them acquire to apply them to a relevant and industry-specific career search. However, some expect the advisor to take the next step and do the research for them. As you said, learning to develop job search skills are part of a lifelong learning process.

    • Liz Koblyk / February 24, 2017 at 20:27

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. JP Michel / February 24, 2017 at 10:21

    Thank you for sharing this article Liz.You identified some issues that those outside of university career services may not have considered.

    Your last paragraph seemed to suggest that the difficulties students will face when looking for career information while at school will lead them to develop skills for the future. Is the take-away then that universities are content with the shortcomings of their career services because these shortcomings are forcing students to “overcome”, a key-skill they will need for their future? This may not have been the intended message, but it does come across this way.

    • Liz Koblyk / February 24, 2017 at 20:32

      Hi JP,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right – that’s not what I intended! Any service provider, university career centres included, should continue to look for ways to improve services. And, while degrees do help open career doors, the farther someone gets from their date of graduation, the more they will need to have the skills to market their more recent experiences. I do hope that the skills students learn from university career centres will continue to pay off for them. And, while I wish that the job search were not a stressful process, my experience of it is that it is, regardless of the fact that my own uni career centre served me very well.


  3. Debbie Smith / October 23, 2017 at 10:14

    Hi Liz. Thank you for the response to my article in The Waterloo Record and the additional insight. I find that the problem with anything self-serve with students is that they don’t take action. Even when offered a free mentoring session with a seasoned professional in their field, they won’t sign up. I think the students don’t recognize the value of what they’re being offered. Any thoughts on how to get past this obstacle?