I am a fan of the word “free.” It is my distinct pleasure to attend an event where t-shirts, prizes, and the like are given away just because people decided to show up! It has been my experience that college students miss out on an important aspect of their professional development by not taking advantage of career centers. I understand that not every campus has an effective center, but these centers do offer valuable services and information for free.

When I left high school to attend college, I wasn’t too concerned about working, considering I had the rest of my life to work. I can honestly say that I didn’t utilize the resources that were available to me and I wish that I would have. I regret not meeting with career counselors who were familiar with resumes, cover letters, and companies who might be interested in giving someone like me a position in my field of study. If you have the opportunity to visit your career center, please do so and here are a few reasons why you should:

1. Career centers on college campuses have information about jobs. The information has been gathered, posted, and presented by someone else, which ultimately saves me time. I missed out on an opportunity to speak with someone who knows where to find open positions and could advise me on how to seek employment with a prospective employer.

2. Career centers have great networking contacts. The manager of the career center is the person organizations contact about jobs. It would have been worth my while to build a relationship with employees in this office so that my name comes to mind when an opportunity in my field of study presents itself.

3. Career centers conduct mock interviews. I am a firm believer that people who prepare for interviews perform better than those who don’t. I’ve met people who say that interviewing is easy; it comes natural to them, therefore they don’t need to prepare. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All of us, me included need to practice with someone before an interview so that we can receive feedback ahead of time. It’s better to make a mistake in practice so that you don’t mess up when it’s time to perform; an interview is no exception.

4. Career centers review resumes and cover letters. I typically review my own cover letters and resumes, but having a second set of eyes is more effective. Being able to receive suggestions on how to tailor your cover letter and resume to specific roles within an organization is an effective strategy when you want your information to stand out. When I am the person writing and evaluating, there is a chance that I might overlook something within my document.

5. Career centers have printed resources such as books and periodicals. I enjoy some of the benefits of technology and take advantage of these benefits as needed. However, sometimes I enjoy being able to read a book, conduct research, and/or browse printed material. The career center allows me to partake in all of the above, at no additional charge.

Ericka Spradley is the President and Founder of My Next Level. She has many years of leadership experience and her understanding of the multi-faceted leadership realm has provided a level of expertise in human resource management and career growth. Among her significant accomplishments, Ericka has served as Vice President of Professional Development with The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Strayer University Chapter, she was a columnist for Classroom to Cubicle, an online magazine for college students, and she is currently a Yahoo! Contributor columnist. In addition, her works have been found in Today’s Charlotte Woman and she has also been quoted by The Charlotte Observer.

Visit Ericka’s website, My Next Level, for more information and you can find additional articles she’s written at http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/1044868/ericka_spradley.html.