To determine how to get to the next step in your career, you need an idea of where you are going. I often advise job seekers to build and prioritize a target list of companies where you want to work. This should in no way be limited to companies that you know personally or those you drive by each day. Where do you turn to help build your target list?
Linked In – Review your connections on Linked In to see where people you admire and respect are working. Look in your Linked In groups as well to see where fellow alumni or previous co-workers are now working. Make note of the companies that interest you. A first step in your research will be talking to your connections about their experiences at those companies.
Lists –Fortune and other magazines prepare multiple lists of the course of the year on leading companies by revenue, number of employees, work-life balance, etc. These may trigger your thinking but unless you are prepared to relocate other parts of the country or the world, these lists may be more frustration than assistance. Consider more local lists. Boston Business Journal includes lists in each weekly edition with an annual Book of Lists. Find the local lists for the area where you hope to work. You can look by industry, by size, etc. to identify companies of interest to you. Look online as well. Databases such as Hoovers allow to search with a radius of major cities by industry, size, etc. Keep an open mind. Many of the fastest growing companies are small to mid-sized firms that you may not be aware of today.
Competitors – As you start identifying companies of interest, do a little research and consider their competitors. They are in the same industry and may be a good fit for you as well.
Professional Associations – If you are clearly focused on a particular industry or business function, identify relevant professional associations. Attend meetings and see where other members work. Listen to how they talk about their work and the companies they work for to see if there is something of interest to you.
Social Networking – Do not overlook families and friends. They may work at interesting companies or may know people at companies in which you have interest. At social events, ask about what someone does for work and for what company. You can always set up a networking meeting later, but start to build a web of connections.
As you start building you list, review it on a regular basis to keep it fresh. You will learn more about companies as you network and some companies will move on or off your list. You then want to prioritize your list to help focus your networking. Consider companies that interest and excite you the most. Do you have contacts at those companies or someone who can introduce you to contacts at those companies? Has the company posted positions in your area of interest in the last few months? When you use this prioritized list to guide your networking, you are building valuable insider connections in the companies where you hope to work.
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.
For many, summertime is a bit more casual and flexible at work and in their personal lives. While the official hiring process tends to slow a bit to accommodate vacation schedules, summer time is the perfect time to step up your networking activities. Ultimately networking is most likely going to lead you to your next job.
Burgers and More – next time you are invited to a cookout or other summer social activity, seek opportunities to build your network. Ask people where they work and what they do. Rather than dominate the cookout with work conversations, ask if it is ok to follow-up to schedule an informational interview.
Family Reunions – do you really know where aunts, uncles, cousins and more are working? Use your family summer time events to reconnect. Find out who is working at a company on your target list and make arrangements to follow-up for more in depth discussions.
Reach Out and Connect – this is a great time of year to reach out to former colleagues, alumni connections, etc. to build your connections at your target companies. Reach out to schedule a meeting for coffee or lunch.
Professional Associations – Most professional associations continue to meet through the summer and many often have more social events in the summer. Take the plunge and check out a group you have been considering. Meet as many people as you can and identify people you want to follow up with for more conversation.
Be Prepared – Before your information interview sessions, do your research. Learn about the company by reviewing their website and other business sites. Have questions prepared. Think about what you want to learn about the company and to gain perspective on what it is like to work there.
Say Thank You – Don’t take summer’s casual nature to the extreme. It is still important to say thank you to those who share networking time with you. A quick email is fine but it should always be followed with a handwritten thank you note.
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.
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
Recommendations for professional associations you should join
Gain insight into your career options
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
The holidays were made for networking. Take advantage of the holiday season to expand your network and to reconnect with contacts.
Make Networking a Priority — Many managers have a bit of breathing room around the holidays if their job doesn’t require significant year end activity. Their phones ring less often, they receive fewer emails and they are in fewer meetings since many colleagues and customers take time off. Take advantage of this opportunity to significantly ramp up your networking. Identify contacts in your target companies. Reach out to them and ask to meet over a cup of coffee. They are more likely to take the meeting when things are quiet. This is an outstanding opportunity to make more connections in a short period of time. Use the opportunity to make key connections in the companies you are most interested in as a future employer. Set networking goals for yourself each week and hold yourself accountable.
Low Hanging Fruit – No everyone enjoys networking but it critical to career success. Take advantage of the many social events during the holidays to network in a friendly and safe environment. The holidays bring low hanging fruit – family gatherings, celebrations with friends, social events with professional associations and even the office holiday party. With little effort, you can meet a large number of interesting people over the holidays.
Prepare for Opportunities – The key advantage of all this yearend networking is that employers have new positions approved with the start of the new year. Maybe the person you met with will have a need and will remember the positive impression you made. Maybe the position is in another part of the organization but your contact can forward your resume with a note of recommendation. Maybe you will even be given a heads up about a position that will be opening soon. While the formal hiring process may slow down a bit with key players on vacation it is a critical time to move your search forward with some strategic networking.