UCLA objectively trumps many universities in most regards – but there are some things that we can learn from other schools.
Providing good career services, for example.
UCLA emphasizes providing students with a top-notch education. However, classes generally focus on subject matter mastery, rather than preparing students for their intended career paths. While this greatly helps Bruins who wish to attend graduate school right after completing their undergraduate studies, those who want to pursue a career in industry suffer in the process.
The UCLA Career Center provides a number of services to help students prepare for jobs, internships and graduate school, including one-on-one advising, drop-in sessions and career pop-ups at common student areas. It also provides programs, such as workshops about refining resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles.
However, students often struggle to find internships and jobs, or do not feel confident during recruiting, and the center can do more to help them.
The Career Center must focus on the specific needs of various career paths that students might have, rather than providing only general career-related aid. Specifically, the center needs to help students succeed in interviews, acquire skills that can be transferred to careers and stay up-to-date on recruitment timelines, instead of offering only general career-related help.
Christine Wilson, interim director of the UCLA Career Center, said the job of the center is to help students explore career options and understand what skills they need to be career-ready to get jobs and internships.
But the center does not go beyond providing generic help with career matters. Most jobs and internships require applicants to have knowledge and experience using specific skills and do not even consider those that do not have them. Similarly, classes focus on specific subject matter and do not generally teach students practical skills. As such, students often rely on on-campus student organizations to learn about job opportunities and important skills and to prepare for interviews.
There are a number of skills that students need to learn to be eligible for jobs and internships. Microsoft Office and basic programming skills, for example, are prerequisites for many careers. Without these skills, it is often difficult for students to transition from university life to a full-time career. Bruins do not have an established way to acquire these skills through the center, which used to provide important courses through lynda.com but has now discontinued the service.
“I definitely think more resources on hard skills would be helpful,” said Brian McCormick, a third-year business economics student. “I learned Excel and other skills through student organizations and on the job at my internships, but never really used in tandem with anything (from) UCLA.”
Many students are also on their own when it comes to entering the professional world because the Career Center does not regularly follow up with them about important recruitment deadlines. Various industries, such as investment banking and management consulting, have extensive recruitment cycles on campus, during which companies hire students for internships and full-time jobs. Not all students are aware of these recruitment timelines, though.
“I think the most important aspect that the Career Center could help with would be by making students aware of all the deadlines and the processes that come with it,” said Nawapak Lerthirunvibul, a fourth-year economics student. “I had to rely on business clubs on campus, rather than career services, when recruiting.”
Besides acquiring industry-specific skills, students also need to prepare for interviews, which have varying formats depending on the industry. Students can currently either schedule appointments with a peer advisor or drop in for a short, 15-minute session to do mock interviews. However, certain industry-specific interviews, such as case or technical interviews for management consulting and investment banking opportunities, require extensive practice. Such short sessions are hardly enough for students to thoroughly practice.
Other universities have found better ways. The University of Southern California, for example, provides extensive interview preparation resources, including 24/7 access to online mock-interview modules, interactive case-interview resources and detailed information about numerous industry-specific interviews.
Some may argue the center already does an adequate job of helping students get the information they need. Students in UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering, for example, can take advantage of numerous career-related opportunities offered by the center such as career fairs and networking events.
However, it is the center’s duty and mission to ensure students in all departments are career-ready. While engineering students can learn most of the programming skills they will need on the job or via classes, North Campus classes tend to be more theoretical and lack definite career paths. The center needs to provide appropriate career services to ensure these students are able to practically apply their knowledge in jobs and internships.
Students deserve to feel confident about entering the real world after graduating from the top public university. To do that, though, UCLA needs to start thinking beyond academic confines.
Only then will Bruins be career ready.