Plan ahead to find right career

Noah Curtis (left) talks to a human resources rep at the UIC Spring Diversity Career Fair, hosted by the Office of Career Services. “Remember that you are looking for a career and not a job,” says Jaime Velasquez, associate director of career services. Photo: Alex Rauch/UIC News

By Joe Lopez

Students answer a lot of questions in their four years at UIC, but often the most challenging is: where do I go from here?

Most students would love to have a job waiting for them but that is not the case for everyone.

For the last 16 years, Jaime Velasquez has helped students navigate the job market.

“You look at the news out there and you see people who say, ‘I graduated two years ago and I still can’t find a job,’” said Velasquez, associate director of the Office of Career Services.

“My first question is, ‘What does your résumé look like? How do you market yourself?’”

Students have many resources available to them to give them an edge in their job search, such as gaining experience through internships and networking.


A head start

UIC alumnus Mike Fang believes interning as early as sophomore year not only helps students find a job, but it also helps them figure out their interests.

Fang, a quantitative analyst for asset management firm T. Rowe Price, didn’t find an internship before looking for a career. After graduating in 2001 with a degree in aerospace engineering, he ultimately learned that it was not a field he wanted to pursue.

“The difference between brilliant students and normal students is they try to get many different jobs in their four-year college life,” Fang said. “They might do different types of jobs but they get real experience, they don’t really waste their time.”

It’s not uncommon for students to work in a field outside their major, Velasquez said.

“Companies hire all types of majors,” he said. “Students should not limit themselves to jobs closely related to their major. They need to apply anywhere that genuinely gathers their interest.”


Finding connections

UIC alumnus Allen Patin received his chance for a career through a professor he met more than a year before graduating in 2009. The instructor helped Patin get an interview at Morgan Stanley, where he began as an intern and worked his way up to a full-time job in wealth management.

Having a rapport with his professor provided a solid networking connection so he wasn’t just another faceless résumé.

“If you are coming off the street and you’re a complete stranger, all they have to go off of is your GPA and your résumé initially,” said Patin, who graduated in 2009.

“If you know the right people [and] get your foot in the door…it’s more about, ‘Can I work with this person? Can they work hard?”


Taking advantage of resources

One of Velasquez’s highest recommendations is seeking informational interviews, where students can learn about potential career paths by talking to people in the field.

Most employers offer informational interviews — students can set them up by calling the company’s human resources department, Velasquez said. Students can ask about the work environment, industry and job requirements, and sometimes shadow a professional.

“Understand that it is an informational interview, not a job interview,” Velasquez said. “So don’t ask for a job; however, at the end of an informational interview you can say, ‘Thank you for the interview; this company seems really exciting to me. How can I learn about actual positions?’”

Fang and Patin are members of the UIC’s Alumni Association, which could also be an effective tool for graduates. The association provides networking opportunities and offers resources such as virtual career workshops.

Current UIC students can take advantage of the Office of Career Services, which hosts résumé writing workshops, job fairs and more. Stop by the center in 3050 Student Services Building.

Employers are impressed by a strong work ethic, he said.

“Employers find UIC an attractive university because over 70 percent of our students graduating will have had some kind of work experience,” Velasquez said. “Our students are not afraid to go out into the workforce. Our students live in the real world while they are here.”

After graduation, look at the bigger picture, he said.

“Remember that you are looking for a career and not a job,” Velasquez said.

• Joe Lopez is a senior in communication.

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