Finding Career Success: Advice from the Career Center

Counselors help Berkeley Connect students develop their careers


On March 5, Berkeley Connect sponsored a workshop  to help Berkeley Connect students majoring in the arts and humanities explore their career plans. The event kicked off with a keynote by the Honorable Susan Breall, a San Francisco Superior Court judge who got her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in English (see previous post).  After Judge Breall described her career journey, counselors from the Career Center took to the stage to help students begin their own. Sarah Backes-Diaz began on an encouraging note. “You are the driver of your career,” she exhorted the students in the audience. “Many of you have probably been asked, ‘What are you going to do with that major?’ We want to flip that question and ask, ‘What can’t you do with that major?'”

Sarah and her colleagues stressed that career development is a lifelong process. “A job is a one-time decision, but a career is a continual one,” Sarah said. She shared that statistics show that most college graduates only stay at their first job for about two years. “A lot of people use the phrase ‘career path,’ but we find that too limiting and linear,” she added, suggesting that students instead imagine themselves leaping from one lily pad to the next, on a journey that may go in many directions. In order to help students take their first leap, Sarah asked students to answer three questions: “Who are you?” (looking inward to identify their passions and strengths),  “Where are you going?” (looking outward to explore their options), and  “How will you get there?”

“Know what to do here at Berkeley to prepare,” Sharron O’Connor told the students. “Know yourself, but also learn about the world of work. I often hear students say, ‘I’ll do anything.’ But without any criteria, it’s hard to find a job that will be satisfying to you.” Some components of self-assessment she mentioned were interests, skills, values, and personality. Sharron noted that helpful assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs test, are available to students at the Tang Center or online. Sharron then asked the students to break into small groups and talk to one another about their skills or interests and how to potentially turn them into jobs.

Afterwards, Sharron provided students with online resources to explore the job market. She also urged students to do informational interviews with professionals to learn more about potential careers. “Be proactive!,” she said. One great way to find these professionals, Sharron told the room, was to use the alumni network  to connect with Cal alums in different fields or to apply for the externship program. “There is also a great network right here on campus – of professors and GSIs – to talk to!” As Sharron noted, this is also a great way to build connections. “You need to have mentors and allies.”

Finally, Chris Gavin helped students learn how to market themselves. “Being persuasive is important,” he said. He reassured students,” You already do it everywhere. If you find something that you care about, and you can communicate why, that’s an incredible skill. No matter where you are, you need to know how to do that.” He encouraged students to think beyond their majors. “A major is great, but a lot of students leave it at that. Think: what are the projects or courses that demonstrate your skills?”

“Be intentional,” Chris stressed. “Seek out opportunities, and think in the language of skills. We think of coursework as just taking classes, but skills are developed there too.” Another thing Chris emphasized was that outside experiences are important and that all experiences are valuable. “Everything from internships to student organization involvement to volunteer work can be equally important,” he said. “Sometimes, I hear students say, ‘Oh, but that was just a volunteer position.’ Don’t sell yourself short.”

“The most important part of outside experiences is figuring out what you want or don’t want to do. It’s better to spend a few months at an internship that you hate than to work for several years towards a particular career goal and only then realize how much you dislike it.”

Chris also reminded students that they need to create a good resume and cover letter, develop an elevator pitch, learn how to network, and practice their interview skills. “The Career Center has resources that can help with whatever you need. But it’s you who will have your career – so you might as well enjoy it.”

Returning to the lily pad analogy, Sarah concluded, “Imagine you are a little Berkeley frog at the edge of the pond. A lot of people think that their goal is getting all the way to the end of the pond. But really, the goal is just to get to the next lily pad.” And your career counselors (and Berkeley Connect!) are here to help.

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant