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At a time when jobs are scarce, turning to the campus career center for help

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 12, 2010 - College career centers organize job fairs, group workshops with employers and one-on-one sessions with professional counselors. What’s not to like if you’re looking to gain an edge in a hyper-competitive job market?

That’s evidently the mindset of some St. Louis job hunters who are calling local colleges to ask about career help. Several campuses report  increases in such inquiries from people who aren’t affiliated with the institution – they are neither students nor alumni.

It’s perhaps another sign that people are willing to get creative at a time when jobs are scarce. There’s only one problem; the colleges often aren’t set up to help the unaffiliated.

Teresa Balestreri, director of career services at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said she’s noticed anecdotally that her office is getting more calls from non-students and non-alums.

“Though we aren’t in a position to assist the community just because of who we service, it’s nice to know that in a tough economy people are trying to reach out to as many resources as possible,” Balestreri said. “We’re an urban university and the reality is people would think to call us, so I’m never bothered by the fact that we get these calls.”

The protocol is to point these callers to outside job resources -- other career centers or individual career coaches -- that UMSL lists on its website (though Balestreri notes that UMSL doesn’t make direct referrals). 

Kim Reitter, director of career services at St. Louis University, said she has noticed an increase in the number of unaffiliated people who attend SLU's career fairs. There were about 20-25 more non-SLU attendees (ranging from middle-aged job hunters to students from other colleges) last fall than a year ago. The numbers aren’t exceedingly high, she noted, because of the $10 charge to non-SLU participants and the fact that the fairs are geared toward college students or people who already have an undergraduate degree.

Reitter said she has not seen more unaffiliated people participate in individual career counseling sessions, which are free to students and alumni but cost others $75 for a 50-minute session.

Webster University has not seen an increase in inquiries from people who aren't students or alums, said Tamara Gegg-LaPlume, director of career services. She said the overwhelming focus is on current students, who pay no fees for counseling sessions and assessments. Alumni have free access to online job postings, and the university’s alumni office hosts a range of networking events.

UMSL’s career services used to provide access to its free online employer/job database to students and alumni who were up to two years removed from graduation. But because of the tough economy, a year ago the university decided to give all alumni access to the system. It’s still mostly students and recent grads using the database, Balestreri said.

UMSL’s career office also plans workshops and panel discussions with area employers and hosts four job fairs a year – two for education majors and two for all other majors.

LaPlume, of Webster, is gearing up for the university’s large career fair in March. She said student attendance at a recent fair was surprisingly low given the tough job market. It’s something LaPlume says she hears from other colleges as well. She's not sure how to explain the low turnout -- so it's perhaps a topic for a future Feed post.