For many employers, good grades and the right college major are just not enough. They seek employees who have paid their dues in the working world. Some of the most important benefits to students include: gain career-related work experience, develop your professional skills and preferences, evaluate a career without committing yourself long-term, expand your professional network, and exposure to workplace situations not typically found in classroom experiences.
A process of gathering facts about people, activities, and occupations related to a particular career field.
Begin by identifying the organizations and people that appear to do what you want to do. You can get names from many sources including the Yellow Pages, business directories, chambers of commerce and newspaper articles. A personnel department may be helpful, especially if you want to find out about a particular field within an organization. However, they are sometimes not current regarding who is performing what duties and can be a little suspicious because they will assume you are looking for a job. You may find a department or job title that sounds intriguing. Be a bit wary of titles; they can mean quite different activities in different places, but they can offer clues. You may already know someone who can answer your questions. Who do you already know? A conservative guess is about 200 people including friends, family members, teachers, and people with whom you have professional relationships, such as doctors and bankers. Membership lists from your college's alumni association, fraternities or sororities, service organizations to which you belong, and membership directories from professional associations are sources of potential contacts. Another way to establish contacts is to look for people whose interests are similar to yours. Cut out interesting newspaper and magazine articles and put them in a file folder or desk drawer. Also take notes as you watch television and listen to the radio. These articles and notes contain the names of people who are doing what you want to do; go talk to them.
You may want to begin with a telephone call to the person you want to interview. Your conversation might start like this. "Hello, my name is your name, I am interested in learning more about the job name, and I would like to make an appointment to talk with you about what you do and the field in general." Remember to state your business clearly. If you are asked about whom you are representing, reply that you represent only yourself. Another approach is to go to the place of business, explain to the secretary or receptionist that you are seeking information (NOT A JOB) about a particular career, and ask to speak to the appropriate person. This has worked quite well for many people. At some point, you are likely to encounter a very protective secretary who will refuse to let you see the person you want. Do not become angry; always be polite. Try asking the secretary the questions you need answered. He or she may have the answers. If not, chances are that he or she will then suggest that you talk to the person you wanted to see. A busy appointment schedule may preclude the possibility of a face-to-face interview. It is perfectly all right in such cases to do your information gathering over the phone. Another possibility is to include your questions in a letter. If you decide to write a letter, be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
It is important to make it clear that you are not looking for a job. You are looking for information to aid you in making career decisions or in locating future employment possibilities. The key to the whole process is your enthusiasm. If you are truly interested in the topic, the person with whom you are talking will usually respond positively. The following are some suggestions for information interview questions.
Some of the following supplies might prove helpful:
An information interview can sometimes be a disaster. If you have a problem, it can probably be attributed to one or more of the following factors.
Do not hesitate to discuss any problems with a career counselor. He or she will help by going over your stumbling blocks with you and by making suggestions for successfully conducting your next interview.
Ask yourself the following questions after each interview:
If you can answer most of these questions, you have gathered some valuable information and developed a clearer picture of the kind of work you want to do. This information will help you make a better decision about what you want to do with your career. After you have written a resume directed toward a specific career or job, you may want to communicate with your contact to ask for advice about who might be able to use your skills. You can either send your resume or go in person. You may find that your contact or someone he or she knows needs a person with your skills. This kind of interview is the most interesting and exciting method of collecting information on which to base a career decision. Nevertheless, it is not unusual to be apprehensive or nervous about initiating and conducting an interview. If you follow the suggestions outlined in this handout, you should have few problems. Remember to prepare adequately and to let your interest and enthusiasm show.
Learn how to network. This skill may potentially contribute to your successful career development!
To begin your career-related networking efforts, inventory all the formal and informal groups of which you are a member. To help you get started, consider the following list: friends, relatives, college classmates, high school classmates, former or current faculty members, alumni who have majored in your field, former or current employers, sports partners, campus or community club members, staff members of the Career Development Center. Can you think of more categories? Be sure to compile an exhaustive list of the names and addresses/phone numbers of individuals you know for each category. Never underestimate the value of any group or person. Each can potentially contribute to your successful career development.
An illuminating research study known as the "Small-World Problem" (Stanley Milgram, Psychology Today, May 1967, pp 290-299) reveals the extraordinary power of having and using personal contacts. Milgram estimates that any person of adult age has accumulated between 500 and 1000 personal contacts. That total increases dramatically when you estimate the potential number of referral contacts that might be generated. Referral contacts are easily developed when you ask someone you know for the name of someone they know. The skill of expanding a personal network is the skill of connecting with people. By stringing together enough contacts and referrals, you can reach ANYONE!
The next step to successful networking is determining your objective. What do you want to learn, share, or gain from contacting others? Clearly define your needs so that you may focus your activity. Perhaps you want to conduct informational interviews to learn more about a particular career field. Be sure to generate a list of questions you would like to ask each contact before the meeting takes place. Also, be prepared to offer some information in exchange. Networking is a two-way street. You must be willing to share contacts and resources, as well as receive them.
To better illustrate the networking process, let's use "accounting" as an example of a profession you may want to investigate. Who do you already know in the field of accounting? Begin your list with the names of faculty at CSULB who teach the subject and ask for the names of students they know. Consider attending a meeting of the Student Accounting Society on campus to develop additional contacts. Who prepares your tax return, and what additional referrals can he/she give you?
Be sincere regarding your networking motive. If your primary goal is to locate specific job vacancy information, be honest. Ask your questions, listen carefully to the answers given (take notes, if necessary), share some relevant information which may be of use to the contact, thank the individual for his or her advice and always ask for a referral name with whom you may repeat this process.
Building a personal network takes time and effort. Some referrals may ultimately lead to a dead end. At some point, you may wish to get involved in a formal, professional network to replenish your contact sources.
Professional networks/organizations exist to promote a particular field, provide a forum to discuss issues of mutual interest and, most importantly, to link people together with common goals. As a student or graduate, you need to identify a professional association in your local area with which to get involved. Your major department or Career Development Center can help you identify relevant groups. Are you a psychology major? The American Psychological Association holds local chapter meetings regularly.
There are hundreds of other such association meetings related to your major or career objectives from which you might choose.
When selecting a professional association, there are some questions you should answer:
When you have identified a network organization, determine the time, date and place of the next meeting and inquire as to whether you can attend as a guest. Make a reservation, if necessary. Some meetings are held during lunch or dinner so be prepared to pay the designated meal fee.
When you arrive at your first meeting, find out who is responsible for coordinating the event. Explain to him/her that you do not know anyone and are interested in meeting some of the members. It may feel uncomfortable to introduce yourself to others, but keep in mind that everyone in the room had to begin in a similar fashion. Try to make meaningful contacts with as many individuals as possible. You must establish a professional connection between yourself and each person with whom you converse. Dress and behave accordingly. The best way to establish rapport is to listen carefully to the issues that are discussed, express interest, and communicate your point of view on the subject. Remember the information you want to obtain. If appropriate, create an opportunity to share information about yourself and career needs. Remember to ask for the names of others. In networking at such meetings, conversations tend to be brief because individuals tend to circulate.
Many individuals you meet during a networking meeting will offer their business cards. Be sure to keep them and pencil notes regarding the individual on his/her card. These notes will serve as helpful reminders for follow-up purposes. Your professional impression is enhanced, if you also offer a card to others in exchange for theirs. If you do not have a business card, have a simple calling card (listing your name, phone numbers/address) prepared at a local printing shop.
After any meeting you attend, decide which individuals you may wish to pursue further. You may wish to record notes of these network contacts in a journal. A follow-up phone call, letter, or visit is best determined by the type of relationship that you have established with him/her at that point. In some cases, you are building friendships that will continue long after your information gathering or job seeking goals are met.
A network is like a spider web, spinning further outward as you make additional contacts. Be careful not to press too hard at any one contact point or the web will collapse. You are at the center of the web and it is up to you and your efforts to keep this network up and functional.
Many resources are available in the Career Development Center's Resource Library which will be useful in beginning your networking endeavors. Some of these resources are: