Consider a School's Career Services Before Applying

Consider the breadth of a school's career services before you've finished your applications.

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2. Tap into supercharged websites. Students and alums at many schools can create a password-protected online account through the career center to access online podcast seminars, post résumés and profiles, view job and internship listings with contact information, sign up for career center appointments, and get the latest news on job fairs and recruiter visits.

At Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, for example, the career center provides the technology to take part in an interview using Web-based software or videoconferencing from the career center or a candidate's own computer so recruiters can meet M.B.A. students—regardless of where the firm is located.

The advantage: Fast, up-to-date, one-stop resources that save you the walk across campus.

A number of schools, including Drexel University's LeBow College of Business's Office of M.B.A. Career Services, offer InterviewStream, an online interactive simulation program that allows you to hone your interviewing skills. Once you create an account through the center's website, you can practice answering interview questions at home using a computer with Internet access, a webcam, and a microphone. Interview­Stream allows you either to select a set of standardized interview questions or to customize your interview by choosing from a list of 1,000 varied questions.

3. Ask for startup help. When jobs are scarce, opening your own business may be appealing. A growing number of recent college and grad-school graduates are doing just that, according to more than a dozen center directors interviewed by U.S. News.

In response, career centers are offering space and computer hookups for students and alums to tinker with start-up ideas with fellow students. They're setting up meetings to help make connections across disciplines, say, between engineering and business schools, and are bringing venture capitalist alums back to campus to hear pitches and give feedback.

Many graduate schools have start-up competitions—such as the Be Your Own Boss Bowl at Temple University's Fox School of Business—that offer consulting, legal, and Web services; cash; and software to winning business plans. And a burgeoning number of schools have incubators that help students—past and present—sharpen business ideas. In some cases, the incubators support students financially or with other resources.

The advantage: Starting a business is fraught with challenges. Having university resources at your back is a bonus.

4. Return for alumni services. Alums and would-be grad students are tapping into online Web refresher courses on résumé writing, interviewing, and even navigating social networking sites. Many schools offer free career coach meetings and welcome alums back at job fairs and for company informational meetings. Some schools assist alumni in scoring interviews. Graduates can also tap into a school's LinkedIn alumni network.

The advantage: Consider it added value—a degree that keeps giving back. You can bone up on job-hunting skills—free of charge in most cases—and link to a vast network of people predisposed to want to lend a hand. A hail-fellow-well-met relationship with alumni is priceless.

At Duke, Fuqua School of Business M.B.A. alums have not been bashful about asking the career management center for help. The seekers are generally unemployed, recently laid off, or sensing that job stability might be a little shaky with their current employer. "Our guidance ranges from strategic assistance for those who want to move in a different direction and are looking for support and counsel on how to get there to a very tactile need to dust off résumés and get started again," Dirks explains. "That's what we're trained to do."

For soon-to-be grad student Bonney, that bodes well. "I'd love to be a professor one day, but no doubt, I'll be the one hounding the career center when the time comes to find a job," she says with a laugh. Chances are, she's spot on. And she'll be in good company.