For some students, CAPS fails to get the job done

By Kat Glass

With this year’s job search in full swing, Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS), headed by Liz Michaels, is on a lot of fourth-years’ minds—for better or for worse. Though opinions vary, there is some disparity between the resources CAPS claims to offer and the reactions of students who have used CAPS.

One Chicago student, a male fourth-year who chose to withhold his name, has had particularly unsatisfactory encounters with CAPS. He argued that CAPS does not provide the alumni contacts that it should. “What they’re supposed to do is act as an intermediary to put students in contact with employers. Really, the role they’ve assumed is minimal in terms of guidance,” he said. “Organizations such as Blue Chips are taking on the role where CAPS has been lacking.”

Dave Mu, a fourth-year in the College concentrating in fundamentals and political science, is not currently seeking a post-graduation job, but has found CAPS helpful in his law-school search and previous internships. “I am not an organized person or someone who is good at ‘selling himself,’ and CAPS has really trained me to be much better at job hunting, interviewing, etc.,” he said. “I regret that I have not taken advantage of more of their programs and think that students don’t really appreciate how great a resource it is.”

CAPS ranks networking as one of its central goals. “We are organized around three areas: preparation, connection, and opportunities,” Michaels said.

The anonymous, male fourth-year—an economics concentrator—is especially frustrated that the majority of CAPS’s resources are devoted to the financial industry. On the UChicagoTRAK’s list of 38 interview opportunities available from November 11 through December 9, only eight were not directly applicable to economics majors.

CAPS officials explained that this has more to do with the nature of the recruiters, rather than CAPS itself. “InterviewTRAK is very specifically associated with on-campus recruiting,” Michaels said. “The people who are going to recruit are the big organizations.” She said that the smaller companies do not have as many spots to fill, nor do they have the resources to recruit as heavily on campus.

“If you get into InterviewTRAK in October, the reality is that that’s what you’re going to see,” Jay Burgin, the associate director for recruiting, said, referring to the slant toward interviews for economics concentrations.

The anonymous male fourth-year received little guidance from CAPS for internships, finding his own resources more helpful. Though he did receive a Metcalf grant after his second year, he chose to turn the offer down for an internship he secured independently.

Mu had a different experience with CAPS for his summer job search. He said that CAPS was integral for both his Metcalf grant at Capgemini North America and his job at the U.S. Department of Education. “I never thought I would get that kind of hands-on opportunity as an undergrad in college,” Mu said of his experience at Capgemini, a consulting firm. “Moreover, it is because of CAPS that I got this internship.”

CAPS has made a recent effort to boost the internship opportunities by joining the Nationwide Internship Consortium (NIC). The available internships have jumped from 1,000 in the spring of 2003 to 8,500 now, Burgin reported.

“What this has given us is not only geographic diversity, but also diversity in terms of opportunities,” Michaels said.

Joining the NIC has also opened jobs in the communications and advertising areas, according to Michaels and Burgin.

Another student cited problems she had with individual CAPS staff members. “Talking to a career advisor was pointless,” said the female fourth-year in the College, granted anonymity to criticize CAPS. “They had few creative ideas, and were not good at helping me explore alternative possibilities. I may have just had a particularly poor advisor though.”

Such problems could stem from a lack of experience within the CAPS counseling team. “Most of the counselors have a counseling background,” Burgin said. “I don’t think any of them have a recruiting background.”

The female fourth-year’s said her experience with the CAPS staff was frustrating. “They give off the impression that we are children and privileged to be working with them,” she said. “If we come in one or two minutes late to our InterviewTRAK training session, they lock the doors and will not let you in.”

The male fourth-year said that he received conflicting guidance on his résumé from different counselors, which gave him the sense that there was no real expertise on the staff. “If I had to use two words to describe them, I would use ‘gross incompetence,” he said, though he did qualify his statement by saying he had found advice from Michaels and Annalee Letchinger, a career counselor, much more helpful.

Both students attributed some of the CAPS difficulties with its calendar, which will not change anytime soon. The University’s quarter system forces CAPS to open in late September, when most other top-notch schools have had a headstart. “Because of the way our school year runs, by the time I settled back down in Chicago, the job hunt was fully underway,” said the female fourth-year.

The Maroon investigated students’ career guidance experiences at Columbia University and Harvard University to draw a comparison with CAPS.

At Columbia University and Harvard University, students’ experiences were similarly varied. Columbia senior Osman Ongun said that the Columbia Center for Career Education (CCE) was as integral as it gets for his job search. “I did 95 percent of my interviews through the CCE and found my job again through the CCE.”

Columbia senior Fahed Idriss had a similar dependence on the CCE for his job search. “The way I look at it is that the offers that I currently have would not have been possible without the help of the CCE,” he said. “The CCE helped me out answering any questions I had and were very interested in the progress of my job search.”

Christina Baumel, another Columbia senior, used the CCE, but had major reservations about the organization’s priorities. “My basic job search plan for my senior year was to rely on the CCE resources during the fall to gather information about companies and entry-level positions,” she said. She narrowed down the search on her own.

Baumel also used the CCE for an internship after her sophomore year with a Columbia alumna.

Like the anonymous male fourth-year at the University of Chicago, Baumel said that the Columbia’s CCE tended to favor economics majors. Events on its November calendar were predominantly related to business. “In general, I would say that the CCE is a great resource for students interested in the financial services industry,” Baumel said. “My major complaint is that neither Columbia nor the CCE have invested sufficient resources into developing alumni networks in order to expose current students to a range of industries and companies beyond the bulge-bracket investment banks and top five consulting companies.”

Harvard senior Wordna Warren was impressed with the wide range of help available from the Office of Career Services (OCS). The OCS has career counselors in 13 specific fields, including arts, business, social work, and science and technology. “Overall, I am very much satisfied with the career services available at Harvard. I believe that not only are they very accessible to students but they are more than well equipped to help students with any career interests.”

Harvard senior Stella Safo was also impressed with the OCS staff, saying, “What they’re really good about is brainstorming and just helping you get a sense of what’s out there.”

According to a CAPS study conducted in May 2004, 40 percent of last year’s graduating fourth-years did not know what they were doing the following year. 21 percent planned to go to a graduate school or professional program, and 38 percent planned to join the workforce. These statistics were not available for Columbia or Harvard’s graduating classes. Officials from the CCE and OCS said that such studies had been unsuccessful because students had not returned them.