McLaughlin: University Career Services can use some improvement

Back to Article
Back to Article

McLaughlin: University Career Services can use some improvement

William McLaughlin, Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

I applaud the recent appointment of Mark Presnell as director of University Career Services. He will give UCS a new face and work hard to help students navigate the hostile terrain of the job search process.

I came to Northwestern in part because I thought it would give me an excellent professional foothold. Yet although president of ISBE, one of NU’s undergraduate business groups, I learned job placement at NU was a broken model that favored the lucky few over the many. Luckily, UCS needs only a few changes to turn it into a world-class job placement engine — helping everything from admissions to the University’s endowment.

1. Hire industry experts, not advisers.

When I met with a counselor three years ago when interested in finance, her advanced degree in education meant she could listen and provide general advice. But her advice for my specific situation could only go so far. UCS should hire counselors who have worked in an industry and can speak from experience. In fact, we don’t need counseling so much as coaching. We need someone to deliver hard truths, demand improvement and correct our mistakes — preferably someone who has gone down the same path as the student five or ten years prior.

We do not need someone who will only give us a glossy folder with handouts. If students, such as those undecided in Weinberg, want broad-based advice on what to do after graduation, then UCS could offer specific programming for them. But for those students who know what they want to do, but not necessarily how to do it, UCS industry experts with deep professional experience might show the way.

2. Fix CareerCat.

CareerCat is a database of jobs for NU students and alumni. Unfortunately, its user interface is ugly, cumbersome and unfriendly to new and longtime users. Yet I have heard no indication that the University sees updating this platform as a priority. For instance, CareerCat ought to allow students to compare jobs side by side. It ought to link to the NU alumni databases and display NU alumni at a given company. CareetCat could tell students about jobs they might find relevant and remind them about upcoming deadlines for jobs that interest them.

3. Chart a course.

Successful alumni define NU for better or for worse. We invite them to return to give speeches and market them to prospective students. Wealthy alumni fund endowments, scholarships and academic appointments (not to mention athletic facilities.) Famous alumni lend credible prestige to the University. Yet we don’t seem to want to make successful alumni through excellent job placement. UCS must define its mission at NU. Does UCS exist to secure jobs for all NU seniors for after graduation? To maximize lifetime earnings? Right now, it seems as if UCS solely exists to house interviews in their dungeon building next to Elder Hall. It’s unclear why they are here and how it connects to the broader mission of the University.

4. Network.

It’s kind of interesting that the job of outreach falls squarely on student shoulders. UCS ought to work harder than students to put NU in more companies’ target schools and bring new employers to campus. UCS does work to attract companies to campus — but it must be clearer in setting objectives by listening to student feedback about which companies they want to see here. The conversation goes only one way right now.

5. Stay in touch.

Recent graduates are the best resources for company news and recruitment information. Yet UCS does not seem to keep a close enough watch on students once they leave NU. It’s up to undergraduates to look up alumni, email them and collect clues regarding the job search process. It ought to track all students, not just a select few, and actually use them. Occasional alumni mock interviews and resume workshops are not enough. We should see UCS connect better with the Alumni Association to equip willing alumni to help students.

Research shows happiness and self-worth are wrapped up in one’s job — for better or worse. A job is not something that takes up one-third or one-half of your day. Instead, it comes with a lifestyle and a social circle that cannot be separated from the work itself. The return on investment from a successful NU alumnus could run in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars from donations. And the influence of notable graduates on the University’s appeal to applicants is untraceable but significant. NU, then, might want to place more emphasis on the next 40 years of one’s life instead of the next four.

William McLaughlin is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at If you want to respond publicly to this column, leave a comment or send a letter to the editor to