Your college owes you a job

A new plan proposed by Michigan legislators would create a pilot program to send low and middle income students to college for free, as long as they promise to pay into the program with a percentage of their post-graduate incomes. Image by Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images

The standard for a college education should be that every graduate must leave with a job, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos. If they can’t get a job, the college has failed. Image by Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I am 20 years old, going into the summer before my senior year of college. I am looking to work in the finance/investment industry next year and am trying to get prepared for one of the biggest decisions in my life.

All of the major financial services companies that I am looking at have these large recruitment fairs, and almost none of them are coming to my school. (I go to a small private liberal arts college.) What am I to do?

It seems like all of the new hires out of college go through the same process of getting hired through human resources. (I am almost finished reading your book, and I understand why you suggest avoiding HR and going instead to hiring managers.) It almost seems like I can’t escape the traditional hiring process as a new kid on the block. Any advice?

P.S. I have had a couple of internships with local financial planners who have contacts deep within the big investment firms, and they have written me recommendations, but where do I go with this?

Nick Corcodilos: The answer is in your P.S. It’s nice to have letters of recommendation from the financial planners (FPs) you interned for, but what you really need are introductions. Ask the FPs to make a few calls to get you in the door. Alternatively, ask them to get you some so-called “informational interviews” where you can just ask questions and meet the people you might be working for next. (For more about this, see “How to Say It: Informational (gag!) Interviews.”) Personal referrals like this are the coin of the realm.

Another way to get an edge is to check your college’s alumni rolls: Find out which alumni are in the financial industry, call them up and ask them for advice and insight about the industry. Do not ask for job leads; that will turn them off. People love to give advice, especially to students at their alma maters, but they hate being burdened with requests to submit resumes for them. So, talk shop with them. Ask what they like and don’t like about their work and how they would advise you to prepare for such a job.

Most important, ask if they can refer you to a manager or two at their company, so you can “continue learning about the business.” These are the people who can get you in the door ahead of the job fair recruits. (Note that there is no mention about applying for a job. That comes after you build a critical mass of contacts.)

This is how to bypass HR entirely and get an insider’s edge.

Some college alumni offices balk at giving students access to alumni. If you encounter this problem, it’s time to go to your college president’s office and politely but firmly ask why, if they don’t bring the right recruiters to campus, the alumni office won’t at least help you by making introductions? Tell your college president I said it’s his or her responsibility. The school will ask you for alumni donations in a few years, so they ought to give you the benefit of alumni contacts now, when you need them.

Unfortunately, most colleges do a very poor job of helping students and grads with their careers. “Career offices” offer a rote system that’s not much better than handing you job listings and telling you to apply. The “resume help” and “interview advice” they provide is available for free at your local library. It all comes from the same books.

How can college career offices really help students? They should be creating a career component to every single course you take during your four years. While I have no beef with the idea that the purpose of college is to educate you broadly — not to deliver vocational training — I think it’s disingenuous of colleges to suggest that they bear little or no responsibility for getting you started on a good career. For the $100,000 to $250,000 or more that you’re paying for a degree, your school should be working much harder to ensure you graduate with a job. (See “Colleges fail ‘How’.”) Adding one class session to each course, to illuminate how the “learning” can be applied in the world of work, is eminently do-able and, I think, necessary to your education.

The standard for a college education should be that every graduate must leave with a job. If they can’t get a job, the college has failed. (I’m a big fan of “education for its own sake,” but I’m a bigger fan of return on education investment.) We’d see a quick shift in the relationship between colleges and the business world.

Invest your time in developing personal contacts, and leverage your college to do it. Please also read Lisa Locher’s excellent “How To Approach An Investment Job.”

I wish you the best!

Dear Readers: Can colleges do a better job of preparing graduates for jobs? What was your experience? How would you advise this reader?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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