Posts Tagged ‘Career Advice’

Informational Interviews: The Inside Scoop

Friday, October 21st, 2011


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!

Secrets to Getting a Great Job and Building a Financially Rewarding Career

Friday, December 10th, 2010

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you NOTHING. It was here first.” ~Mark Twain

Why would someone hire you?

    Understanding the real world of work: 3 secrets to your success

The first secret to getting a great job and building a financially rewarding career is to understand that you need to be contributing to “the bottom line” (success/profit) every day. Unless your employer is better off with you than before you were hired, you probably are not needed. If what you are doing does not require you to think, analyze, make decisions, collaborate with co-workers and/or customers and make things happen, it is possible that a robot can do the job. Here is the pertinent question: what have I done today to contribute to the success of the organization and make it more profitable? Your personal success and financial gain can only be realized if your employer gets there first.

The next secret is to equip yourself with the right skills and knowledge. Enroll in a college program for which graduates are in demand. Engineering Technology programs produce graduates that are always in demand. Engineering technicians are essential for much of the work that must be done right here in the USA from power generation to building roads, bridges or buildings to manufacturing. Get really good at understanding how systems work, with hands-on technology, and with trouble-shooting and problem solving. You will be in demand.

Did you know that 80% of people who fail on the job fail due to lack of interpersonal skills— not lack of technical skills? It should not be a surprise that the last secret is to exhibit attitude-related behaviors that employers expect and reward:
• Take responsibility for yourself
• Contribute to others’ success
• Put customers first
• Be a “team player”
• Volunteer and show some initiative
• Follow the rules
• Work the hours you’re paid for
• Exceed expectations
• Keep your commitments
• Get with change
• Be considerate of tohers
• Don’t “Whine” or spread negativity
• Give, and earn, respect
• Embrace diversity
• Keep learning
• Ask for feedback
• Be patient
• Be appreciative
• Think “safety”
• Think “health” Look your best Keep the boss informed
• Act like an “owner”
• Focus on the big 2: increase revenue, decrease costs
• Perform with ethics and integrity

    Getting there from here

Starting in high school is perfect. Sign up for classes that expand your experiences and thinking beyond the core required subjects. Take advantage of dual credit when you can so that you earn college credit while still in high school. Be strategic in choosing your electives. Try anything available that involves hands-on technology or applied science. See what you like and what you seem to be good at doing. Math, science, technology, and engineering (STEM)-based careers have the greatest demand for workers and pay the best. STEM-based career choices are growing daily, moving into new and emerging technology fields that did not exist just a few years ago. You can be on the cutting edge for the future just by choosing to make STEM your focus. Meanwhile, don’t blow off your core subjects. You need strong foundation in basic math, science, and English. Your future success depends on giving these subjects your best effort. You don’t have to love them, but you do need to achieve the highest level of mastery possible. Doing so will pay off time and again in your future. You don’t want to have to study these core subjects at the same level again in the future, so get it right and soak it in the first time!

Choose an engineering technology or related program at your local technical or community college. Investigate options that may be new to you such as robotics. Look for a program that provides internship, co-op (cooperative education), or apprentice opportunities while you are in college. Having an opportunity to work for a local employer while you are in college is the single best way to land a job upon graduation. Paid internships are ideal because you can earn while you learn, but any on-the-job experience will give you a competitive advantage when you look for a job after graduation. In an internship, you will get to know the employer and work environment and the employer will be able to assess your attributes and see how well you fit into the organization. Also, you may discover what you really don’t want to do the rest of your life. It is better to find out sooner than later.

Work at developing the broadest skill set possible. Consider a double major (mechanical engineering technology and robotics, civil engineering technology and engineering graphics). Choose your electives to enable you to acquire special knowledge and skills. Your unique combination of knowledge and skills may give you the competitive edge when interviewing for jobs.

Observe those who currently work at the company when you are seeking employment (park nearby and watch people coming to work or leaving work). Then, go home and look in the mirror. If your appearance and dress are dramatically different than those you’ve observed, you may need to consider what this means for you. As the old saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” It is human nature to be suspicious or to misunderstand those how appear radically different. Specific dress, hair, etc. codes may be required at a company for safety or other reasons. Can you adapt? Is it more important to get a job than to make a statement?

If you provide a telephone number so that a potential employer can reach you, make sure that your voice message is appropriate for the business world. What may seem to be fun or cute to your friends may be totally inappropriate for handling business calls. Failure to demonstrate that you grasp the basics of the business world and associated etiquette will de-rail you on the path to success.