Boost internship and career prospects with informational interviews
By Robin Reshwan
“Plan for what it is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” – Famous Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu was likely not thinking about careers after college when he penned this, but his sentiment is spot on motivation for college students and new grads facing a daunting job market. My career has involved coaching, advising, hiring and mentoring thousands of professionals in a wide range of industries, professions, locations and levels. One unifying trait among those that are repeatedly satisfied and successful in their career is the dedication to expand knowledge and relationships BEFORE actually needing to use them. In other words, people who are expansion focused have a much wider network and range of options than those who keep to themselves. Not only does proactive outreach reap great benefits, but less energy and stress are required to develop relationships before they are actually needed. So, in the spirit of Sun Tzu, here are three simple (but impactful) activities for college students and new grads to expand their professional prospects.
First, initiate (or schedule) a conversation outside of class with a professor, administrator, career center or university employee. Relationships are the turbo-booster to professional endeavors for many reasons. You can get “insider information” to have a deeper understanding of a process, business structure, job, profession or industry. You can research pathways in a more personal and relatable manner. You can gain a needed reference for job application. At the very least, you can gain confidence in speaking to professionals with a range of seniority and interests. And, as an extra bonus, hopefully you will meet and learn about an interesting person who can become part of your long-term network. Sounds simple, right? It is—yet most college students don’t do it. A college campus is filled with an entire village of professionals who have chosen to add benefit to the lives of students. Helping you is not only in their DNA, it is in their job description. Don’t let your nerves regarding “What will we talk about?” deter you. You can ask: How they chose their career? This job? Their college major? What they would do differently? Their take on the job market? What dream job they would pursue? How things have or will change in their field? What things you can do to figure out a career you love? Etc. The list is endless—the key is to pick any question, ask a chosen contact if they have a few minutes for some advice, and have a conversation. Be sure to be a polite listener (since you did seek them out), show up early for your meeting, and thank them at the end of the conversation and via email or LinkedIn later.
Second, identify and interact with a local CAAA alumni chapter using One Aggie Network - Connect with an Alumni Network (ucdavis.edu) Did you know that UC Davis’ alumni network is over 250,000 people strong? If you start with a local network, you can see who is posting, what activities are upcoming and more. Of equal value, you can post that you are a current student or new grad who would like to learn more about X. X could be a job, a major, an industry, a job market or anything else career related. You will likely get responses from other network members who are open to a conversation or have suggestions of what you can do next.
Third, use LinkedIn to look up UC Davis alumni that work within targeted roles, companies and/or industries. LinkedIn has incredibly powerful searching tools. You can start in the University of California, Davis page (https://www.linkedin.com/school/uc-davis/) and then access the Alumni section. Within that section, you can filter students and graduates by a range of attributes including location, key words (like majors), companies, dates attended UC Davis and more. Once you locate a couple of interesting professionals, send them a message that you are a fellow alum and would love to know if they would be open to an informational conversation. Expect about 1 in 20 professionals to respond due to how busy everyone is these days and the possibility of messages going into SPAM. However, you only need a couple of conversations to have a much deeper and realistic insight into targeted roles. If you are bold in reaching out, professional in the conversation and polite in thanking people for their time and assistance, you will be on your way to creating a very useful network. The great news is that expanding your opportunities is a very manageable endeavor if you act on the “little by little” approach. Seize the simple, available activities whenever you can. The results will have a major impact on internship and career options.