5 Job Search Lessons Learned from the College Hunt

Work + Money

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Nancy Collamer, Career Consultant, Author & Speaker

By Nancy Collamer

As the mother of a rising college freshman, I spent an inordinate amount of time this past year helping my daughter navigate through the college application process.  Sometime between coming up with her initial list of prospects, coaching her on interviews and helping her to make her final selection, I began to notice some interesting similarities between the college application process and the job search process. 

Let me share some of my observations:

1.  College catalogs provide interesting insights into occupational opportunities. 

If you’ve been considering switching careers, college catalogs contain interesting information about the up-and-coming fields of the future.  As we toured the colleges, I was impressed by the number of schools that offered programs in emerging fields such as environmental policy, bio-medical engineering and internet marketing.  Looking through catalogs is a smart way to learn about fields likely to thrive during the next decade.

2.  Online research is useful, but hands-on experience is priceless. 

Colleges have invested heavily in their websites and most of them are quite informative.  But looking at websites is only a first step -- visiting the schools provided my daughter with insights that no website could possibly provide.  The same lesson holds true for your job search.  Use the internet to do your basic research.  Then, meet with people and conduct informational interviews to gain a more complete understanding of potential job opportunities. 

3.  The “Names” are not always the best choice.

There is no doubt that being a graduate of Harvard, Yale or Princeton (or an employee of IBM, Google, or McKinsey) lends a certain cache to your resume.  But as we toured the colleges, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the “lesser” schools offered more innovative programming and personal attention than their Ivy counterparts.  Likewise, many of my clients have discovered that working for smaller companies bring them a level of fulfillment, flexibility and control that is often lacking at the bigger, name-brand corporations.

4.   Persistence pays off.

Like most high school juniors, our daughter had only a vague sense of what she is looking for in a college when she initially embarked on this process.  City or suburban?  Large or small?  Northern or Southern?  As she toured the campuses, the answers to those questions slowly began to emerge.  While there was no one “Aha!” moment, each visit provided her with clues that ultimately helped her to define her “perfect” school.  Whether you are searching for a college or the ideal career, remember that a consistent, conscious and interactive discovery process pays dividends over time.

5.  Invest in Plan B. 

Competition for admission to premium colleges in 2009 was fierce, with many schools rejecting close to ninety percent of their applicants.  Consequently, every student, no matter how impressive, needed to have at least one safety school on his/her list.  The “Don’t put your eggs all in one basket” rule applies to job seekers as well.  No matter how bright your prospects appear to be, target a wide range of opportunities to improve your odds and ensure long term success.

When it comes to finding the right job, as with college, it's all about the right fit -- and keeping your options open.  It turns out the lessons we learned all those years ago still apply; now it's time to put them into practice.

Nancy Collamer, M.S. is a career coach, author, and the founder of, and  She is the author of three electronic products; The Layoff Survival Guide, FlexJobs, and The Back to Work Toolkit: A Guide for Comeback Moms.

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  • Another point to add to this essay is the important factor that location can play. Having attended school in Boston, across the country from California, where I was reared, I feel I gained an education in itself by experiencing the different cultural norms, local color and weather of the east coast. There is so much to gain in widening ones perspective by being thrust out of ones comfort zone and into a new environment. It can be equally stimulating to take that risk in finding a new job.

    Posted by Yogamomma, 6 August 2009.