Posts Tagged ‘career’

Informational Interviews: The Inside Scoop

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Interview

If you watched this week’s ATETV episode which profiled Cisco Systems and introduced the position of Demonstration Engineer, you may have found yourself interested in the industry and the job. Would that type of company be a good fit for you? Is that type of position compatible with your skills and personality? What is the job like on a day-to-day basis?

One way to get answers to those questions is by meeting and talking with the people who work at the company to get their insights into what their jobs are really like. It’s known as an Informational Interview.

The term was originally used by Richard Bolles, the author of What Color Is Your Parachute? It’s a great way to explore career options and get a better idea of the types of companies and positions that best fit your interests, skills and personality.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the purpose of an informational interview is not to get a job – it’s to learn about a job from someone who is already working in that career. The typical informational interview lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

The following tips from the Occupational Outlook Quarterly can help you get started.

Decide what jobs you want to learn about. If you’re starting from scratch, you might want to talk with a guidance counselor or career counselor, who can help you clarify your interests, skills and goals. You can also browse through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook which provides detailed descriptions of various jobs, work environments and salary ranges.

Decide who to interview. Once you’ve closed in on the job or jobs you’d like to explore, it’s time to identify individuals to interview. Keep in mind that, as much as possible, you’d like to talk with people who are actually working in the positions (rather than human resources representatives) and try to talk with people who have positions at about the same level as what you would have if you were to enter the profession. (So, if you would expect to start with an entry-level position, try to talk with someone who also has an entry-level position.)

Make the connection. The best and easiest way is to get the names of people to interview is to check with people you already know – you’d be surprised how many connections you might have. Family members, friends, teachers or previous coworkers may themselves have worked in the position you want to explore, or may know someone who you can talk with. Other good sources might be high-school or college alumni offices, which often keep records of their graduates’ employment. Professional associations often maintain membership directories and might be able to help put you in contact with a member who you could talk with. For example, IEEE, is a professional organization for the advancement of technology, and a resource for a wide range of engineering positions. Finally, check out trade magazines or newsletters; they often profile employees or describe activities of various members – who might be potential interview subjects.

Reach out. This is the part of the process that many people find most difficult – it’s not easy to ask for career help, especially if you don’t know the person. But, again, you might be surprised at how many people are willing to help students and career changers explore new occupations. If a family member or mutual friend or acquaintance has a contact, you might ask if he or she would make the initial request on your behalf. Then once he’s put things in motion, you can follow up with a call or e-mail to set up a time and date to meet.

If you don’t have a personal connection, a written request is a good way to go. Check out this article in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly for samples of notes and e-mails to use when requesting an informational interview.

Do your homework. Even though your “interview” is for background only, it’s important to be prepared. Knowing something about the organization will help you ask better questions and will demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm. (Furthermore, you never know if your meeting might lead to a real job interview somewhere down the road – so you’ll want to leave a good impression.) Check out the company’s website for background. If they produce an annual report, you might want to check that out and also see what trade publications have to say about the company.

Develop your questions.
This is the most critical part of the interview. Now that you’ve secured someone’s time, you need to make sure that you’ve come prepared with a list of questions that really help you learn about the position and the industry. Keep in mind that your meeting will likely last about 30 minutes – according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Quarterly a good rule of thumb is to prepare about 10 questions.

Questions generally fall into four general categories: The job itself (What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day? What do you like best about your work? Do you work independently or as part of a team?); Questions about working conditions (What hours do you work? Does this position require travel?): Questions about training (How did you find this job? How did you prepare for this career?); and Questions about other careers and contacts (Can you suggest anyone else I could speak with for background information?)

Be professional. Although an informational interview is more casual than a real job interview, it’s still important to look professional and make a good impression. Dress well – a good rule of thumb is to dress the way the person interviewing you will be dressed. Be prompt and arrive on time.

Listen carefully. Remember, that you are leading the interview. Though you might open the conversation with a thank-you and brief mention of your goals and interests, your primary purpose is to hear what the other person has to say. Take notes throughout the conversation, and try to stay on track to ensure that your most important questions are answered. Because you are the interviewer, it’s up to you to keep an eye on the time. Besides thanking your interviewee at the end, be sure to ask if there are other people that he or she suggest you speak with.

Be sure to follow up. After the interview, be sure to express your appreciation by writing and sending a thank-you note or e-mail within a few days, the sooner, the better.

Make good use of the information you receive. Once you’ve finished, go back and think about what you learned from the interview. What did you like about the job/company? What did you dislike? What was your impression of the work environment? Do you think you could be happy in this position/organization? Try not to base all of your information on a single source; if possible, arrange to conduct a few different interviews to learn about a particular occupation, and try to confirm information with multiple sources. You may discover that your dream job isn’t what you thought, and the Informational Interview may have provided you with the opportunity to change course. Or, you may find that the industry/career is exactly what you’d hoped it would be – and that the Informational Interview has given you a head start for your real job search!

Show Off Your Transferable Skills

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Resume

In this week’s episode, Jessie McCoy of Three Rivers Community College, talked about how students who are returning to college are adding to their already-existing skills. In fact, she had a term for it – up-skill. “You’re bringing new skills to skills you already own,” she explained. “You’re enhancing [what you already know.]”

You’re probably skilled in areas that you’ve never even thought about. Can you multi-task? Are you a careful organizer and bookkeeper? How about problem-solving or effectively communicating an idea – are those qualities where you excel?

These are all examples of “transferable skills,” and if you’re considering a change of careers, these are features that you’ll want to emphasize to a potential new employer. Transferable skills are the essential skills and qualities that are valuable in any employee – no matter what the specific job or industry.

The term was first used in the job-hunter’s bible, What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers. The phrase refers to skills we take from job-to-job, which book author Richard Bolles Nelson originally broke into three broad categories: people skills (communicating, teaching, coaching, supervising), data skills (record keeping, researching, translating and compiling data), and a more amorphous category called “things” (operating computers/equipment, assembling and repairing).

And, if you’re planning a career change, it’s especially important that your resume reflect your transferable skills. There are several ways to do this.

According to the SC ATE National Resource Center, there are three popular formats used in preparing resumes. While the chronological resume (which lists work experience in reverse order) is the format that most people recognize, the other two types may be more effective at highlighting transferable skills – and therefore, may be a better choice if you’re changing careers.

A functional resume breaks out job skills by function, rather than dates of employment, providing the opportunity to emphasize transferable skills and particular abilities that you want to highlight. According to career website Monster.com, showcasing transferable skills up front helps prospective employers see the key words they may be looking for. You could, for example, include a list of transferable skills within a “Qualifications Summary” near the top of your resume. (Example: “Highlights of my related skills include” followed by a bulleted list.) Your resume can then go on to offer examples of how you successfully used these skills in a list of Experience Highlights. (Monster.com recommends using the “CAR” — challenge, actions, results — approach: Briefly describe the challenges you faced followed by a brief description of the actions you took to overcome the challenges and another brief description of the results.)

Another alternative is the combination resume, which is a hybrid of the functional and chronological styles This format may be particularly suited to job hunters who have a solid work history in a different career area. By enabling you to emphasize particular skills, a combination resume can also be useful if you spent a significant amount of time in a workplace, and had diverse job responsibilities.

Whichever resume style you choose, the SC ATE National Resource Center reminds job hunters to always place their contact information at the top of the page, followed by their objective. And don’t forget to show off your transferable skills. As Jessie McCoy notes, “These are the skills you already own.”

An Ocean of Career Opportunities

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Ocean

Did you know that 20 percent of our economy is based on ocean-related activities?

There are well-known sea-faring ventures — fisheries and aquaculture, transportation, and recreation and tourism. But there are plenty of less obvious areas that also rely on the ocean, everything from energy and exploration activities, to national security and defense, to telecommunications, search and recovery operations and scientific and medical research.

If you’re curious to explore this sea of opportunities, check out www.OceanCareers.com. According to Deidre Sullivan, OceanCareers.com Project Director at the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California, it’s a one-stop web site for anyone who’s interested in learning more about ocean occupations.

“When we first created the web site, in 2004, there was almost nothing out there for [students and job-hunters] in terms of ocean-career resources,” Deidre tells us. “OceanCareers provides four comprehensive databases with hundreds upon hundreds of resources.”

Whether your primary interest is to find a job or internship, or to understand what type of educational programs are available in marine science and technology, you’ll find it here. The first database provides detailed information on the more than 300 educational institutions around the country that offer ocean-related academic programs; the second offers descriptions of more than 50 ocean occupations, including overviews of the positions’ tasks and duties, the salary ranges and workforce trends; the third is a full overview of educational competencies needed in 24 different disciplines to be able to get a job; and the fourth provides users with links to more than 200 ocean-related professional societies.

“Students from all over the country use OceanCareers,” (www.OceanCareers.com) says Deidre. “We’ve found that people really go through a lot of the information on the site. It’s easy to navigate, you can get anywhere in the site with just two clicks. It’s been rewarding to have people tell me that it’s the most important tool they’ve used [in their search for career information].”

What are users most often looking for in their searches? “Not surprisingly, people want to know much education they need for a particular career and how much salary they can earn in a particular field,” she says, adding that all content is frequently updated and kept current. (The MATE team has also put together a print version of the site’s educational content, “The Guide to Marine Science and Technology Programs in Higher Education.” You can download it at https://www.mtsociety.org/publications/higherguide.aspx, or can order a copy for $5.)

Take a look!

ATETV Episode 11: Learning at Any Age

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

This week we meet students with three different circumstances: a recent community college grad out in the workforce, a returning professional changing careers, and current students who got a jump start on their ATE classes during high school.

First we meet Travis Blackwell, who’s putting his ATE degree to use as a field service engineer for ESAB, an international Swedish industrial company with welding and cutting equipment manufacturing facilities located throughout the world. Travis earned a 2-year degree in electromechanical engineering technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College.

As part of his studies, Travis completed an internship, where he worked with the same equipment that he now maintains in the field. “College essentially taught me how to think for a higher level, problem solving and to do any sort of analysis whatsoever,” he says. “The hands-on training did help a lot with establishing good fundamentals for the lectures.”

Next we meet Susan Clark, who has gone back to school to pursue a certificate in biotechnology. After the job that had kept her busy for 12 years ended, Susan decided to act on her love of science and study for a new career, and she says she’s not alone in doing so. “There were several people in my class who were just about my age. One was retired looking for something else to do. Another one, he was switching jobs, due to layoffs.” Susan’s biotech studies will prepare her for a new high-tech career, possibly in environmental quality monitoring.

Finally we return to Florence-Darlington Technical College, where several of the current students actually started earning college credits while still in high school. “We need to begin to develop the technical expertise and the technical skills in a much younger child, so that they have the chance to help us create a global competitive environment,” says Jill Heiden of ESAB — the same company that now employs Travis Blackwell. By starting early, students are setting themselves up for successful careers like Travis’.