Santa Clara prides itself on helping students transition into the workforce, while prioritizing ethics and social justice over simply making a lot of money. And one of the key resources for students is the career center.
In this episode, I spoke to four of Santa Clara’s career counselors to get answers to some of the most common questions that students have. Where should I find internships? Should I go to career fairs? How do I craft the perfect resume or cover letter? Should I be networking? I don’t like networking! Should I work at a startup, or a big company, or maybe do research on campus over the summer, or take a trip overseas?
Assistant Director - Career Development Specialist, Business & Engineering
Gavin Cosgrave: You worked in the past recruiting at the consulting firm Bain & Company. What advice would you give to a student interested in landing a competitive internship?
Meghan Cress: First and foremost, they’re looking for super solid academic performance and leadership. If you think about what consultants do, it’s so technical and client-focused that you have to have both sharp technical skills and the people skills to work with any personality.
GC: How many applications should a student send out for a summer internship? And how focused should those applications be vs. just sending out dozens of the same resume?
MC: There’s no magic number, but focus on quality over quantity. You can send out 50 mediocre applications, or you can send out 10 and spend that extra time making them customized and thoughtful. All you need is one to work out.
I also recommend students track which applications they send out, on which date and if someone follows up. College students are so busy, so having a mechanism to track is important.
GC: What misconceptions do students have about their careers?
MC: One misconception is that internships determine the field you’re going to remain in for the rest of your career. You can use internships to decide what you don’t want to do. I was fortunate to have two dorm-mates in Swig whose parents needed interns, and so I got to try out two different industries. Neither of those are what I wanted to stay in permanently, but I got to dabble in both and I was an asset to them.
The second common misconception is that networking is a formal, business-suit, shaking hands thing. Networking can be as simple as overhearing someone at a coffee shop talking about hiring needs and introducing yourself. I can’t tell you how many times those conversations turn into something real. I tell students all the time to look up from your phone and start really talking to people. Things happen through people.
GC: Any resume tips?
MC: I’m a big fan of including an interest line at the bottom of a resume. My personal advice is to include just one or two unique things about yourself. I’ve had student list things like “Rubik’s cube aficionado” or “snow globe collector.” Things like that I guarantee will catch the recruiter’s eye because it’s so different. The best thing a hiring manager can come away with is wanting to know more about a person. It’s also the first thing your interviewer will ask you about.
GC: Any career center resources that students should take advantage of?
MC: I hope students check out our job and career guide on our website. It walks students through tons of questions students would have during their career journey. We also have a Lynda.com account, and you can take classes online. Then Handshake, it just continues to grow and there are more jobs and internships there every day.
Assistant Director - Career Development Specialist, University Alumni
Gavin Cosgrave: What did you want to do for a job when you were in college?
Dean Ku: I thought I wanted to work with people in some capacity, so I pursued social work. I deferred to do some social work, and it didn’t work out for me. I started working at Starbucks, who had one or two stores in the Bay Area.
I really enjoyed the people, and the company was growing very quickly. I knew I didn’t want to do retail operations for the rest of my life, and I got an MBA. I built strong relationships with several people in the company who became executives.
They were starting an international department, and I got to join very early on. I got to train and develop a lot of the international teams from Thailand, the UK, and Malaysia. Ultimately, they asked me to open up the first eight locations in China.
I’ve always been someone who sought new and exciting opportunities, but I also saw the internet boom, and there were lots of exciting things happening in the Bay Area. Through the course of an introduction and serendipity, I got introduced to a cofounder for an online game rental site. I was at this startup for about seven years, and we ended up pursuing other pathways within games and eventually created a game called Guitar Hero.
After seven years at a startup funning full speed, I wanted to do something different. Through self-exploration and meditation, it helped me get a sense of what I wanted to do. I got a Masters in Counseling Psychology here at Santa Clara. I discovered I wanted to work with people individually, and that helping mentor and train people brought me joy.
GC: What have you learned from your startup experience that could help students considering working for a startup?
DK: You definitely want to look at tech trends and pursue opportunities that are really exciting. After understanding tech trends and your interests, look for opportunities that give you a chance to grow with an organization. Make sure the teams are a fit culturally. I think startups for the right person provide a ton of opportunities.
GC: What types of skills or mindsets will be important in the next 5 or 10 years?
DK: It’s hard to predict how the jobs will be different, but what’s really important is being flexible, adaptable and able to change to develop new skills. The people skills, following through on your commitments and learning to manage upwards (how to interact with your boss effectively and find a mentor) will be critically important.
Assistant Director - Career Development Specialist, Graduate Programs
Gavin Cosgrave: Are there any common mistakes you see in resumes?
Amy Peterson: I see people putting a whole history of everything they’ve done in their past. Students are always surprised when I say, “what is it that you want to do in the future?” Yes, it’s your past history, but it needs to be future-focused. Take your skills from the past and translate those into what you want to do for the future.
On their cover letter, sometimes people just write about what’s on their resume instead of telling what they want in the future.
GC: Do you have any advice for interviews?
AP: People often get excited about the interview and get nervous about making sure you’re the right fit. You want to go into an interview by interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Make sure that not only do they want to work with you, but you want to work with them as well. Don’t look at it as a one-way street. That will help students come up with questions at the end of the interview. What is it that’s important to you about the company culture, or whatever is important to you?
GC: Sometimes career fairs can be daunting and crowded. How should students think about attending career fairs?
AP: Going into a career fair prepared and with a strategy makes it a little less daunting. If you know five companies you would like to go talk to, do your research on the positions and how you’re a fit, then you’ll have something to talk about. If you know what positions and then share about yourself, you’ll stand out more than a student who just listens to what the company has to offer.
Assistant Director - Career Development Specialist, Arts & Sciences
Gavin Cosgrave: There are so many majors that don’t have a specific job they lead into. How could someone in a major without a clear path think about their career?
Kristina Kwan: A lot of times students say they look at other friends who have a linear path, and have anxiety. I tell them that you’re an Arts and Sciences student for a reason: you’re really interested in a lot of things. There are certain motivations that students have, and we can identify themes and plug them into industries. There’s a way that you can find a place for yourself. You just have to jump in and talk to people and see what their experiences are. No one really has the answers and you have to stumble upon it sometimes. It’s perfectly normal, and you’re not alone.
GC: Are there any career center resources you recommend?
KK: A lot of students are using Handshake, but they might be using it the wrong way. Students use it as a job board and put in their major or area. Instead, we recommend that students search by job type or industry, and use that as a way to research what they want to do. There are lots of things that could be tangentially related but could be of interest.
GC: How did your own career progress?
KK: I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from them, so they weren’t really mistakes. I started out in architecture, but I wasn’t very aware of what you have to do to become a practitioner, and get a license. By the time I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to do architecture, but I liked being creative. A lot of people in design are idealists because they want to create a better and more beautiful world. I continued on my path with graphics and exhibit design. I got a Masters in Industrial Design as well, but I also always studied anthropology and archaeology. I thought I would get into restoration. It ended up that the master’s program wasn’t very structured.
But there’s something called design research where you combine anthropology and social science with design, so you do a lot of research, you talk to people and observe them in their natural environment and think about their unmet needs.
I went through that and thought it was the perfect job. I went into a consulting business, did it for a few months, and found out I didn’t like it. I liked what I was doing, but not why I was doing it, because it was all for profit. People were telling me stories of heartache and challenge, and at the end of it we just talked about building a better website.
I decided I wanted to go into public service. I spent three years in legislature working in my district, and working with people one-on-one. The same skills of talking to folks, asking them the hard questions, solving issues that are human-related and being creative were still activated.
From there, I said that the people I liked the most were non-profit folks in my community. I volunteered as an employer mentor at the IRC for refugees. I liked it, and it was counseling. I put the brakes on getting a master’s and jumped into counseling in any way I could. All these places I got into were through informational interviewing.
I did counseling for a few years helping at-risk youth with their careers, then got my master’s. I thought I wanted to try out career counseling in Santa Clara, and came here.
It was a long journey and it was difficult. I needed to through all that because I was evolving. I’ve had at least three or four distinct careers, and if I didn’t go through that, I wouldn’t be able to give students the advice that they could do it too.