Alternatives to the Summer Internship

College students look forward to the summer break as an escape from the classroom and often as an opportunity to earn money.  Finding a paid summer internship can be very competitive but don’t panic if you don’t land an internship.  There are other opportunities to add value to your resume and prepare for your future.

  • Gain Work Experience – Even if it isn’t paid.  Gaining experience is the most important goal, whether you are being paid or not. This also shows future employers that you are motivated and focused.  While it is ideal to gain some exposure to your field of choice, for this year, it is critical to be employed.  Doing most anything is better than doing nothing.  Retail or fast food experience at least exposes you to customer service skills and time management.  Before settling for those options reach out to non- profits organizations and offer your services.  They often need assistance but have no budget.  Ask your contacts if you can shadow them for a day or work on a project as a volunteer.  Be creative and find ways to build your work experience even if you are not receiving a pay check.
  • Networking – It is time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do for your career.  You may have selected a major already or you may still be considering your options.  Either way, this is a critical time to begin networking.  Talk to people who work in fields that interest you or companies that interest you.  Start with the “low hanging fruit” – parents of your friends, people your parents know.  As you get comfortable with information interviews, reach out to alumni of your school.  Many people will make time to talk to a student and they often have some flexibility in their schedule in the summer.  Learn what skills are necessary for success in the field you are interested in.  Send a thank you note to each contact you meet.  Invite them to link with you on Linked In and ask if you can keep them posted throughout your next three years.
  • Informational Interviews- As you identify possible career options reach out to people in your field of interest and request an informational interview.  This extends your networking efforts but helps you gain valuable insights into your chose field.  What skills are critical>?  What does an employer expect from an entry level hire?  What is necessary to succeed longer term in this field?
  • Professional Associations – Identify a relevant professional association for your chose field and join as a student member. Attend meetings and start building your professional network.  During your informational interviews you can ask for recommendations of the best associations in your field.
  • Prepare Your Tools – Be ready. Sometimes companies have last minute summer needs due to students who changed their plans or unforeseen business needs.  Be sure you have your tools prepared so you can jump on those opportunities.   Update and edit your resume and ask several people to review it for you to ensure that it is flawless.  Practice writing cover letters to jobs in your field and ask for feedback to improve them.  Practice interviewing with a friend, colleague, family member or your career center.  Ask for feedback.  Anticipate frequently asked questions and consider your answers in advance.  Practice researching companies of interest to identify questions you can ask in your interview.  The more preparation you do now the easier the process will be.
  • Develop a Plan – Build a list of target companies you are most interested in working for.  Use your summer to research and identify alumni and other connections at those companies.  Prepare to maintain your networking even while you are back in school but get a good start during the summer.  Start reviewing job postings at your target companies to get a feel for the types of positions they post for entry level.  It is too early to apply but it gives you a better sense of what to watch for in the months ahead.  Commit to attending on campus career fairs, company recruiting events, etc. when you are back in school.  Manage your time wisely so you don’t miss these valuable opportunities.

Having your eye on the end goal throughout your four years in school increases the likelihood of employment at graduation but it also helps you focus on the best opportunities for you.


The Power of Networking Luncheons

All the data supports the fact that the best path to a successful job search is networking.  Meeting people at companies on your target list helps you learn more about the company, their products and services, their hiring process and career paths in the organization.  While most students will at least reluctantly agree that networking is important, taking the next step to make a connection and book and informational interview can be a daunting task for many.

At the D’Amore-McKim School of Business Graduate Career Center, we make it easy for students to make these valuable connections.  Our full-time MBA students are currently participating in our fall series of executive luncheons.  Up to six students meet with our guests to learn more about the company, the industry and the guests’ personal career paths.  Students come to the session with questions prepared as well.  The result is an informal yet informative conversation over lunch.  Guests include both employers and alumni.

Students leave these sessions with valuable insights into a company on their target lists and a contact within the organization.  While these sessions are conducted for networking purposes, we often see connections made that lead to corporate residency and full-time opportunities.  For students, the comfort of being in a small group makes it easier to talk about themselves and to ask questions of the guest.  They also do not have to do the outreach – we bring the sessions and the guests to them on campus.

Never underestimate the power of a good conversation over lunch.

2016 I Found A Contact

Congratulations!  You successfully identified a contact at a target company and your contact agreed to a twenty minute meeting.  Now what do you do?


It is critical that you do your homework prior to the meeting.  Gather information to demonstrate that you respect your contact’s time and be conversant on the company.  Use the company website and other business website to learn more about the company, including recent events, competition, financial results.  Google the person you will be meeting with to see what you can learn in advance.  Review the individual’s LinkedIn profile.  This research helps you identify questions to ask.  It also demonstrates to the contact that you are well prepared and professional.

Informational Interview

The most successful networking meetings are information interviews.  You should be prepared to ask your contact questions to learn about the company, the work environment, specific functional areas and jobs, the industry and critical skills for success.  You should be doing significantly more listening than talking in an informational interview.  Ask for advice from the contact.  Be prepared to offer assistance in return to show appreciation for their support.

Talking About Yourself

Rule #1 of networking – never ask for a job!  You need to build a relationship and hopefully as a result that person can recommend you in the future for appropriate openings.  In the meantime, you are trying to learn as much as you can.  You may be asked a few questions such as:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why are you interested in this organization?
  • What about this industry appeals to you?

You should be prepared to answer questions about yourself if asked but you don’t start the meeting focused on you.  Your goal is to gather information from your contact through an informational interview.

Show Appreciation

Keep the meeting to the agreed-upon time frame and end with a sincere thank you for their time and insights.  Always send a handwritten thank you note.  This helps make you more memorable and gets the relationship off to a strong start.




Let Your Target List Focus Your Job Search

As a Disney fan, I can’t help but think of a scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice approaches a fork in the road and asks the White Rabbit which road to take.  He asks Alice where she wants to go but she doesn’t know.  The wise White Rabbit then replies, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”  This applies in your job search as well.

Many job seekers “manage” their job searches by checking job posting boards every day and applying for any job that looks interesting or appropriate.  Needless to say, this does not often yield positive results.  They are missing several critical steps in the process.

Create and Refine a Target List

Seriously think about where you would like to work next.  Which companies are most appealing to you?  What industry is your preference?  Do you have a specific geographic target?  If you have a specific industry and role in mind, do some research about companies in that field.  Often many exciting mid-sized and smaller companies have great opportunities but the company is not on your radar screen.  Build a target list of 30 – 40 companies that most interest you for the next step in your career.  As you work the process and learn more about these opportunities, some companies may fall off your list and you might discover new ones to add.  This should be a dynamic list that evolves as you work through your search.

Use Your Target List to Drive Your Networking

Networking is the single most important thing you can do in your job search.  It is critical in finding your next opportunity.  However, random networking does not yield the same results as more targeted networking.  You should focus your networking on the companies you identified on your target list.  Prioritize your list and start working your way down the list by utilizing Linked In and your alumni network to identify former colleagues, friends, neighbors, alumni, or even friends of friends in your target companies.  You will be able to gain significant insights into your target companies from these contacts.

Unlock Valuable Information with Informational Interviews

Reach out to those connections to set up informational interviews.  You are not asking for a job.  You are tapping in to their experience and insights to learn about the culture of the organization, the hiring process, career paths in your chosen field, etc.  Get people talking about what they like about their job and the company they work for and you can gain significant insights.  Ask them who else you should be speaking with in the company or the industry.  Ask them what professional associations they find most helpful.

Leverage Your Network and Knowledge for Success

The insights you gain from your information interviews will help prepare you for success when the right opportunity opens up at your target company.  You may also have established trusted relationships with your connections who would share your resume with the hiring manager.  This significantly increases your chances of someone actually reviewing your resume over one that simply comes through the online posting.

Heed the advice of the Wise White Rabbit and know where you want to go so you will take the appropriate road to get there.

Informational Interviews for Job Search Success-Part 1

Informational interviews are critical to a successful job search.  Many job seekers don’t do them at all which puts them at a significant disadvantage in the search and others do not do them well so they miss a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves.  Informational interviewing is the goal of most networking connections.  When you ask for a networking meeting you are requesting an information interview.

Why do an informational interview?

  • Learn about the company, the culture, current issues, career paths, specific roles, etc. from an insider
  • Gain insights you may not be able to find online
  • Build an advocate within the company for future support

What can you gain from an informational interview?

  • Learn about the contact’s industry, company and/or work environment and culture
  • Gain insight into specific jobs, roles, functions and departments
  • Hear advice on how you can translate your skills and experience to new industry, company or role
  • Obtain names of other recommended networking contacts
  • Gather recommendations for professional associations you should join
  • Gain insight into your career options
  • Establish an inside contact within the organization

What an informational interview is not

  • It is not asking for a job or applying for a specific position, instead it is an information gathering adventure and hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial relationship

How should I prepare for an informational interview?

  • Be respectful of the contact’s time and position yourself positively and professionally by being very well prepared
  • Research the company in advance – overview of products, services, target markets, competitors, financial performance, recent news, etc.
  • Research the person you will be meeting with – google them, check Linked In, the company web site
  • Think about what you can offer the contact – can you share networking contacts, professional association connections, information based on shared interests, etc.
  • Define your goals for the meeting clearly
  • Identify questions you plan to ask to support your goals

Should I bring a resume to a networking meeting?

  • It would be better to bring a networking profile to share.  It highlights and summarizes your past experience but also includes what you hope to do and your target companies.  It makes it easier for a contact to identify opportunities to assist you.
  • If you bring a resume, keep in your portfolio until asked for it.
  • Never open the meeting with a resume.  It could ensure a very short meeting.

How can I ensure a successful information interview?

  • Arrive a few minutes early.  Be sure you know in advance how to get there and be prepared with a photo id in case it is needed at security.
  • Dress as the successful business professional you aspire to be.  Make a good first impression.
  • Bring business cards and a note pad so you can take notes.  This demonstrates that you are engaged and that you value the information and insights being shared.
  • Establish rapport with the individual and thank them for meeting with you.
  • Find common ground – the person who referred you, alumni connection, etc.
  • Clarify the purpose of the meeting, this assures them you are not asking for a job.  Instead focus on expanding your professional network, learning more about specific careers and companies.
  • Ask questions and take notes.
  • Ask if they would be willing to connect via LinkedIn.
  • Answer their questions.  Don’t ramble.
  • Ask for advice and information.
  • Request referrals – who do they know that might benefit you.
  • Always thank them for their time and insights.
  • Keep them posted down the road.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note – it will help them remember you.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm – remember to smile.
  • Pay attention – you can pick up clues about the work environment and the culture.
  • Remember, one person’s opinion may not be representative of the whole company.  Talk to multiple people in the same organization if possible.

What are the next steps?

  • Always send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting.
  • If you asked about connecting via LinkedIn and they said yes, send a customized request to connect.
  • Keep them posted periodically on your process and let them know if something they recommended is very helpful to you.



Making the Most of the “Coffee” Interview

If you are a job seeker the single most important activity in your search is networking.  You should have a target list of companies and work to build networking connections in those organizations to support your search.  A critical aspect of your networking activity is the “coffee” or informational interview.

Once you identify a contact within a target company ask for twenty minutes of their time for an informational interview.  Try to find an alumni connection, a referral, or some connection to give you a starting point.  Prior to your meeting it is critical that you prepare.

  • Research the company online to learn about their products and services, review recent press coverage, get a general sense of their financial position, identify key competitors, etc.
  • Research the individual on Linked In or google them.
  • Prepare questions in advance so you can maximize your time together. Think about what else you want to know about the company, the functional area that interests you, the core competencies for the role you aspire to, the typical career path to your dream job, advice the contact can share.
  • Be prepared to take notes during the meeting.
  • Be prepared. Have your resume updated and ready in case you are asked for it.  Do not lead with it.
  • Ask the contact who else they think you should speak with for additional networking.

An informational interview is about gaining valuable insider insights on the company and your career choices.  It is not asking for a job.

After an informational interview, you should send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours and you should reference something specific you discussed.  This helps the contact remember you.  If the contact provided referrals, reach out to update the contact when you have met with the referrals and thank them again.

If you are on the other side of the “coffee” interview and people want to come “pick your brain” here’s some advice.  You want to provide valuable insight to those who are truly looking to learn but don’t let others waste your time.

  • Set a specific time limit on the meeting.
  • If the individual is not well prepared, let them know that your time is too valuable and suggest that they prepare before their next meeting. Time for them to learn a valuable lesson.
  • Do not waste time telling them what they could have found by looking at your website.
  • If the individual starts the meeting by asking for a job, tell you have no openings and end the meeting.
  • It is ok to say no. If you are too busy, you can tell the person that.  Is there someone else you can refer them to instead?

When done correctly, coffee interviews are a valuable networking tool to support your job search and career advancement.

Asking for an Informational Interview

You’ve read that networking is critical to your career and job search success and that information interviews are a valuable way to build your network.  So take a deep breath and commit to starting the process.  It is not as scary as you may think.

  1.  Identify and prioritize companies on your target list.  Be sure to identify companies of different sizes in your target industries.
  2. Identify contacts in each of those companies using LinkedIn, your alumni networks, etc.
  3. Reach out to introduce yourself either by phone or email.  If you are an alum of the same school mention that.  If you share a common friend or connection, refer to that.  If you are a student, let them know.  Express your strong interest in learning about their career and their current role with the company.  Ask for 20 – 30 minutes for an informational interview.
  4. Wait three days, if there is no response, reach out again.  If still no response, give it one more try a week later.  If you reach out three times with no response, stop pursuing this contact and more to another.
  5. Agree on a date, time and location for your meeting or telephone call.
  6. Do you research in advance so you have background on the company and the individual.  Prepare questions in advance.
  7. During the meeting take notes.  It demonstrates interest and provides valuable reference material for your search.
  8. Be sure ask the contact who else they think you should talk to in order to learn more about your areas of interest in the company.
  9. Always say thank you at the end of the meeting and send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.
  10. Keep the person updated on your progress.  If you have a successful meeting with someone the recommended, say thank you again.

You will learn a great deal about your target companies, how they hire, what competencies they value and what work is like in the functional area of interest to you.  Later when  you see a position posted at one of the target companies, ask your contact to forward your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.  While this does not replace the need to apply online, it greatly increases the likelihood that someone will look at your resume.  Informational interviews are a great investment in your career so get started today.