Mar 26

Starting a New Job: smooth transitions  

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

 

The search is over, and you’ve accepted a new role. Congratulations! If that doesn’t apply to you now, it soon will. And once it does, a whole new exciting process begins: transitioning from graduate school to your new job. Whether that is in academia, industry, government, or otherwise, there are a few strategies you can use to successfully begin the next chapter of your career.

First, check to see if your new organization will be providing you with any kind of formal mentor during the first year or 90 days? Someone who can help ease your transition, particularly to the sociocultural norms of your new organization and city. If not, seek one out on your own. Part of your supervisor’s support could be in facilitating the connection to someone who would be willing and interested to meet with you a few times as you get settled into your role. Check out the articles pinned on the “Career Advice & Inspiration” board of our Pinterest page for more tips on launching a successful career.

Moving to an unfamiliar city can be daunting as well. Notre Dame provides many opportunities for social support that might be missed once you leave campus. Finding a similar network will be important for replacing those support systems. In an example where you might be moving to Baltimore, you could seek out local young professional groups, or if you enjoy running and fitness you could look into the Baltimore November Project club as a way to meet new people.

Another resource you can access while you’re still on campus is GoinGlobal. One of the best features of GoinGlobal are the “City Guides,” and they have guides for 47 U.S. cities from Albuquerque to Washington DC. Moving abroad? There are business and cultural guides for 41 Countries and 32 international cities. As long as you’re connected to the ND internet (or proxied into the library databases) you can utilize our campus subscription. You can find it down in the list of employer databases on this page of our website.

Finally, don’t forget about the Notre Dame Alumni Clubs as a fantastic way of staying connected to friendly faces.

Please add your own tips for transitioning to a new organization and city in the comments below.

Want to plan a personalized strategy for your unique situation? Schedule an appointment with your graduate career consultant today!

Feb 04

Tips for Career Fair Success

With the Winter Career Fair rescheduled for next week, here are some tips for preparing in advance.

1) Research the organizations ahead of time so you are prepared to have meaningful conversations with the recruiters. You can ask insightful questions based on what you know about the organization, and to have them help fill in any gaps about the company, department, or opportunities. Also, if you know about the orgs in advance you will also be able to describe your previous experiences in ways that will resonate with them. View the organizations who have already registered by logging into Go IRISH.

2) Before you approach a recruiter at the fair (or while you’re in line if applicable), you can review some of the notes you took about the organization to remind yourself of talking points or questions you might have for them. When you talk to the folks who are there, this kind of preparation can help you stand out from everyone else who is walking up cold and saying things like “so, what does your organization do exactly?”

3) When you first arrive at the fair, don’t talk to your dream org first. Instead, have 1-2 warm-up conversations with other organizations that might interest you but where it’s ok if you fumble through a story or two. Then, once you’re confident and ready, approach your top organizations.

4) After you have met everyone you researched ahead of time, spend the rest of the fair looking at the displays of the other organizations with fresh eyes. You never know who might catch your attention that you didn’t notice from the list of companies ahead of time. It’s fine to approach these orgs to learn more about them, you just won’t appear quite as prepared as for the others. That’s fine, too.

5) Don’t be surprised if the recruiters don’t know about their organization’s graduate student level opportunities. Notre Dame is well known for its undergrad programs, and therefore many organizations target their undergrad opportunities when coming to our campus. In those situations, use the conversation to learn more about the organization, and ask the recruiters or alumni in attendance if they could help connect you to someone who oversees master and phd level hiring or more experienced candidates.

6) Get business cards and send thank you notes. Even though it’s not technically an interview and might only be a 5 minute conversation, you still want to show that you appreciated their time and that you are indeed interested in opportunities with them. This will help you stand out from the hundreds of people they talked to who might not even be interested anymore.

7) The slides from a previous career fair prep workshop can be viewed here. “Speaker notes” appear on some slides in a little conversation bubble at the top left corner of applicable slides when viewed in Adobe Reader, or to the right when viewed via Google Chrome preview.

8) Advice directly from an employer recruiter can be found here.

Best wishes for success at the upcoming career fair. Do you have any other tips from previous career fair experiences? Please leave them in the comments below.

Need help preparing for the fair? Schedule an appointment with your graduate career consultant today.

Jan 09

Ideas for Professional References

A student recently asked about identifying individuals who could serve as a professional reference when the job seeker does not have significant experience in the career field. Here are some of our thoughts:

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When it comes to references, the best practice is to use people who have seen your work (and work ethic and professionalism etc.) in action. It’s really nice if they can speak to your directly related skills and experiences, but if you are pivoting that may not be available. They’ll ideally be able to share personal stories of your successes, but at a minimum can confirm that you show up to work on time, come prepared, make productive contributions to the organization, are a pleasant individual, know your stuff, etc.

Professors and PIs work well for current students, as they can attest to your field-specific skills, initiative, preparedness, etc. Working professionals should try to think of other folks at the organization with whom you have had productive working relationships. They could be project managers from teams who relied on your support or contributions, or people at client organizations with whom you have had numerous (positive) professional interactions.

If you left a previous job or program on good terms, perhaps someone from that organization would be willing to be a reference.

Are you involved in any professional or civic associations? When I applied to my role here at ND I had been on the leadership team for our professional consortium. In addition to my direct supervisor, two of my three professional references came from other members of that leadership team, since I had worked closely with them on a number of initiatives over the recent years.

If you completed research or a capstone project with individuals at external organizations, think of someone from that experience who could potentially be a reference.

Professional references should never include family members, and there’s no need to include friends or clergy as “character” references.

Additional information about references can be found on this page of our website.

A note about formatting: Use the same format for your name and contact info at the top of your references page as you use on your resume. And proofread the formatting of each reference listing to make sure things like phone numbers and e-mail addresses are formatted consistently.

Finally: I encourage you to add LinkedIn recommendations to your profile. If someone writes 3-4 sentences about what a great job you did on a project or in their class, other employers will see you as a valuable addition to their team. Just like endorsements, the fastest way to get recommended is to recommend the work of others. While endorsed skills help you appear in employer search results, recommendations hold more value in the eye of actual readers because those people took the time to sit down and write a few sentences rather than simply pushing a button. NOTE: I want to emphasize that these are short, 3-4 sentence, recommendations, definitely not an entire letter of recommendation or anything like that. I have a number of recommendations on my profile if you want to see what they look like. If someone writes you a glowing LinkedIn recommendation with the right context, then perhaps you could ask them to also be a professional reference for you during your search.

  • The fastest way to get recommended on LinkedIn is to write recommendations for other people. Often they will want to reciprocate.
Have you found other successful references from other sources? Please share in the comments.
We are here to assist your job search and career development. Let us know what you need! http://gradcareers.nd.edu

Oct 15

Interviews Over Lunch Or Dinner

A student reached out to us recently for tips on interviewing over lunch. As the fall recruiting season reaches the point where on-site interviews will become more common, and in preparation for the academic flyouts in the winter, here are some tips for successful interviews that take place over lunch or dinner.

1) The meal is definitely still part of the interview process. While you likely will have the chance to ask questions, your interviewers or search committee will probably dig deeper into how you fit with the team and what you bring to the role. Part of that process is gauging how well you get along with everyone at the table, how smoothly the conversation goes, and how at ease they feel with you as a member of their group. They’ll be making sure they’d want to have more lunch meetings with you in the future, so try to feel like you’re part of the team.

2) Should I get the lobster? If they say they’re taking you to a restaurant that has the best lobster in town, that’s your cue to get the lobster if you want. Otherwise, don’t get something too expensive. Order from the “middle of the menu.” Not physically the middle, but in terms of price range. Don’t feel like you have to order the least expensive menu item just to show you’re being sensitive to their budget, but don’t order the most expensive thing either.

3) Is that my water or yours? If the place settings at the table are close together, your bread plate is on the left and your drink glass is on the right. You can easily remember by either the acronym BMW (Bread plate is on the left, Main course dish is in the middle, and Water glass is on the right), or by making your fingers into the shape of b and d:

4) Take SMALL BITES of food. Inevitably someone will ask you a question as soon as you take a big bite of food, and then everyone will wait awkwardly while you chew and swallow as fast as possible. 🙂 Taking small bites will speed up that process.

5) Absolutely avoid anything messy. If they take you to a sandwich place, it’s ok to get a sandwich that requires use of your hands, but it shouldn’t be so saucy that it runs all over your fingers or drips down your chin. Also avoid things that can splatter your clothes like pasta. Good options generally include a fancy salad (rather than just a basic house salad…see #2 above), a skillet style dish that you eat with a knife and fork, or a sandwich wrap that would stay contained better than bread or bun sandwiches whose ingredients can spill out the back. And again, small bites.

If you get something like a chicken salad wrap, it can be helpful to eat about 50% of the “guts” first with your fork, then either continue with your fork or pick up the wrap with its more manageable amount of filling that won’t spill out as easily.

 

Ultimately you want them paying attention to what you’re saying and how they feel having you around for a lunch meeting. Ideally they won’t even notice that you’re eating because it will be seamless, but you do have to eat so hopefully the above steps will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of the meal interview.

Additional Resources

If you’re not just meeting at the restaurant and you have the chance to see the office space itself, this Forbes article provides tips on what to look for around the office.

Don’t worry about every minor piece of “proper” dining etiquette (there are far too many to keep them all straight), but this article offers a pretty succinct list of good ones.

 

What other tips do you have for interviews over lunch and dinner? What has worked well for you in the past? If you have any questions or concerns, consider scheduling an appointment with your Graduate Career Consultant.

Sep 13

Q/A: Headhunters and Third Party Recruiting Firms

Recently a student contacted us with a question about a “headhunter” or recruiter who reached out. Here’s our advice if this happens to you.

Question: I was recently contacted by a headhunter for data related positions in the Cleveland area where I am looking to work.  I’m hesitant to trust working with him as he had a very used car salesman-like approach, and I feel like I would be put at a disadvantage applying through a headhunter given that the employer would have to pay a fee in order to hire me through a headhunter. He did not mention having any special connections, so to me this seems like its not a good option for me. I wanted to check with you to see if you agree with my thinking on this.

Answer: First there’s a difference between a “headhunter” and a “third party recruiting firm” (TPRF). It’s pretty common lingo for someone to refer to both as a “headhunter,” but TPRFs are usually legitimate sources of viable opportunities. Companies and organizations do not always have the manpower to conduct their own hiring processes, and may contract with a TPRF to source candidates and to conduct initial screening interviews. They’ve often already paid up front for these services, and if you were to engage the company outside of this TPRF they may end up having to pay the fee anyway depending on how the contract is set up. Some companies in those cases won’t talk to you outside of that process, so you might not ever learn of those opportunities otherwise. It’s just the process they are using, and again it’s usually when they don’t have the human resources team to put in the grunt work (or the capacity to search for a specialized skill, such as working with data). Consider TPRF opportunities as one option within a diversified job search approach. Don’t ignore them, as you’ll miss out on opportunities, but don’t put all your eggs in the TPRF basket.

“Headhunters” on the other hand are individuals or firms that try to collect good candidates and then sell them to companies for opportunities they might have posted. This can in fact be shady, and that’s why they differentiate from TPRFs where companies have specifically requested the services ahead of time.

Additional Notes

  • You the job seeker should never have to pay a TPRF for their services. The hiring companies pay the fee, as you mention. If anyone asks you for money as the applicant, that’s a big red flag and you should move on.
  • If a TPRF believes you are a good candidate for a job they’re trying to fill, they will go out of their way to help you prepare for success in the interview process. It’s in their best interest for you to succeed, since that’s how they get paid (and also if you work out then they’re more likely to get additional contracts in the future). However, remember that you are not their client (the company is). Therefore, there are times when they might drop communications with you completely. As frustrating as that is, try not to take it personally. Continue to follow up periodically with them in a tactful and professional way, and hopefully they will give you the professional courtesy of confirming you aren’t being considered for a particular opportunity anymore. In most cases, though, they’ll just put their time into the people who are still being considered, but the savvy ones will keep their positive relationship with you in case other jobs come through where you would be a good fit.
  • If a recruiter reaches out to you for a job you’re not interested in, politely indicate that this particular opportunity does not align with your current career goals, but that you would be interested in positions that fit [insert your criteria here]. They might have other opportunities you’re not aware of.
  • Understand that sometimes the TPRF cannot tell you explicitly what company a particular opportunity is for until you actually apply and make it through an initial screening. This sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s to keep you from going around them in the event the company would be willing to hire you directly to avoid the fee, and sometimes other kinds of privacy issues are involved. Remember that you might not be able to find the opportunity on your own without the TPRF, so if the work of the job itself appeals to you and “large healthcare corporation in Cleveland” or whatever generic description they provide sounds interesting, you can always apply and decide later that the actual organization itself is not a good fit if that ends up being the case.
  • Try not to be too put off by the used salesman shtick, but do use it as one data point in the overall relationship you would have with the recruiter. They’re in a “sales” field of sorts, though, so that can attract a stereotypical type of sales personality. If you don’t feel like it will be a positive relationship, and enough red flags pop up that you’re not comfortable engaging them in the process, then definitely don’t feel like you have to work with them. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for any kind of fine print obligations to make sure you don’t get stuck doing something, and also any kind of confidentiality agreements where you agree not to go separately to a company once they’ve disclosed the name of the organization.

Use your judgement, but don’t rule them out without getting all the info. Good luck, and happy “hunting”!

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Have you encountered TPRFs before? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Sep 04

Fall Recruiting Season is Underway

Fall is one of the busiest times of year for organizational recruiting, and this year is no different. Below are a few opportunities to know about, and here are some additional resources to get you started:

1) STEM Coffee & Careers. This is a great opportunity for graduate students with STEM backgrounds to engage with employers in an informal setting to better understand their organizations, cultures, talent needs, and to showcase research and academic training. More details, including the list of registered organizations, can be found here. 10:30am-12:30pm Wednesday 9/5.

2) Fall Career Expo. Over 250 organizations are expected to attend this year’s Fall Career Expo from 4:30-8:30pm Wednesday 9/5. Find the list of companies in Go IRISH under Events à Career Fairs, and target 5-10 employers that you particularly want to speak with at the fair.

3) Employer Information Sessions. Throughout the fall semester, organizations come to campus to provide workshops with information about their opportunities, hiring processes, culture, etc. These are great ways to learn more about the companies and build relationships with recruiters, alumni, and other reps. The sessions are publicized in Go IRISH under Events à Information Sessions.

4) On-Campus Interviews. Throughout the fall semester, employers come to campus to interview candidates for their opportunities. While many of these will target undergraduate students, there are some for which graduate students are eligible. Search for jobs in Go IRISH (you can set up alerts to notify you when new ones get posted), and apply for any that interest you. Ones with on-campus interview schedules will be noted.

Have you had success recently or in the past through these fall recruiting initiatives? Please share your stories and advice in the comments below.

Aug 16

Welcome Advice From Our New Director

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s post comes from our new Director of Graduate Career Services, Rob Coloney.

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Welcome (back, should it apply to you) to the University of Notre Dame! Since 1842, the campus has always been most exciting when you, our students, grace it with your presence. Like some of you, I am new to the Notre Dame family; joining the Fighting Irish family after spending my entire life in the Northeast. It is my distinct privilege and honor to serve as the new Director of Graduate Career Services.

I firmly believe that life and our purpose therein becomes clearer as you allow yourself to embrace change, challenge, and faith. As I navigated to South Bend to begin a new chapter in my life, many of you are doing the same; either for the first time, or to continue a journey of exploration, striving to have a profound impact on the world around you. Much like Father Edward Sorin, each of you have seen beauty, promise, and a future in the University of Notre Dame, and yourselves. Upon arriving on the banks of the St. Joseph River, and writing back to Father Basil Moreau in 1842, Father Sorin knew of the tremendous potential, believed in the opportunity, and in turn, founded our University…YOUR University. As we begin this academic year, we, the administration of this University, see that same tremendous potential, and believe in your opportunity to enact positive change on our nation, and our world. Throughout this year, and your time at the University of Notre Dame, I encourage you to stand by a few principles (from a career perspective, and beyond):

  • Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. Allow yourself to be challenged. Go beyond the realms of where you’ve ventured before. Say “YES,” more than you say “NO.” By allowing yourself to experience all that the University has to offer, you will be immersing yourself in the tremendous educational opportunity you’ve afforded yourself through your tireless effort and work to this point. To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice your innate gift; experience everything.
  • Find a Sherpa. No one would dare climb to the top of Mount Everest without one. In turn, no one is expecting you to navigate a challenging journey alone. Find a mentor, administrator, staff member, faculty member, or better yet, all of the above. Ask questions! Graduate School is challenging, but we’re all in this mission together. We want you to succeed, and want to ensure you have every tool available to you in order to make that dream a reality.
  • Failure is not permanent, unless you allow it to be. Each one of us, at one point or another, has been humbled in this life. We’ve all succeeded, but, personally, I’ve learned far more from my failures than my successes. In fact, I attribute any success I’ve had to the learning experiences that bloom from failure. In the words of the inspiring Randy Pausch, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

When Father Sorin founded Notre Dame, and corresponded with Father Moreau, he recognized that while the future was unclear, and the undertaking significant, the potential was tremendous. “…this college cannot fail to succeed…Before long, it will develop on a large scale…It will be one of the most powerful means for good in this country.”

Since 1842, the University of Notre Dame has held true to those incredibly powerful words. Now, YOU are tasked with continuing the mission. I encourage you to take advantage of this very special place – we are lucky to have you, and cannot wait to work with you on achieving your dreams, and realizing your full potential.

Your Research Matters. You Matter. Be a Force for Good.

Robert J. Coloney

Aug 02

Personal & Professional Development

Today’s blog post was written by Liz Loughran, Graduate Career Consultant for the College of Science. Liz also has her Ph.D. from Notre Dame, and provides her perspectives below.

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Why engage in personal & professional development (PD)? There are multiple ways to consider this question. From a holistic perspective, engaging in PD can lead to a happier, healthier, more fulfilling graduate education. A more pragmatic perspective is that fantastic research and publications alone may not be enough to land you a job or career you want in a dynamic economy after graduating. Not only does PD lead to a well-rounded graduate education and a smoother transition to your first destination post graduation, it provides the opportunity to develop skills, perspectives and relationships you will carry past graduate school into the rest of your life. In this post, I share about two of my PD experiences from my Ph.D. at Notre Dame and give a few tips for engaging in PD as a graduate student.

Ethical Leaders in STEM

Ethical Leaders in STEM was a precursor to LASER (Leadership Advancing Socially Engaged Research). These are amazing opportunities and I encourage all graduate students to consider applying for LASER. Two among many highlights of EL-STEM were:

  • Crucibles. Over the course of the year, each fellow shared a reflection on a crucible, or a challenging moment or experience that allows a person to grow through reflection on values, motives, assumptions and judgments made. Crucibles are often pivotal moments in the life of a leader. This practice of sharing crucibles helped me adapt a framework with which to understand and make use of difficult events or experiences in my life. I became quicker to recognize that difficult situations can help me grow. I now have more hope that difficult situations will produce something new.
  • Career Uncertainty. EL-STEM provided a forum for conversation with peers and speakers about the uncertainty involved in career discernment. More often than not, the road to our goals is circuitous. Learning to expect the unexpected, accept uncertainties and to stop worrying has been really valuable to me.

3MT

The Graduate School Shaheen Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is an opportunity to showcase your research to a general audience in 3 minutes. This is why I chose to participate in 3MT and how it benefited me:

  • I wanted to enhance my ability to communicate my research to a general audience.
  • I used some of the content and my slide (which I spent a lot of time on!) in my defense introduction. It was a great way to engage my audience, many of whom were not scientists, right off the bat.
  • If you are a finalist, you will have a published link of yourself presenting that you can share during a job search. Even if you don’t make it to the finals, you’ll have a recording of your first round presentation that you can share.
  • Both in high school drama productions and graduate school presentations, I always got the jitters for the first 5 minutes of presenting. After that, I calmed down and enjoyed presenting. 3MT was a unique challenge for me because it’s only 3 minutes! There’s no time to settle into presentation mode. I knew I wanted to learn to manage adrenaline and nerves at the beginning of presentations more effectively, and practice makes perfect.
  • 3MT is fun. It affords a chance to meet other grad students from diverse fields and do something challenging together.

A few tips from Liz

  • Think of professional development as part of your graduate education. During my dissertation work, I had a piece of copy paper with a green outline of a shamrock. In each of the 3 leaves was written Research, Writing, Professional Development. This served as a visual reminder to engage in PD and “gave me permission” to take the time to engage in activities other than my research.
  • Connect with other graduate students, including from other disciplines. Graduate school can feel isolating at times, with large amounts of time spent in your library carrel or laboratory. Know you are not alone! There are many people eager to connect with you. Gradlife events are great way to connect with others, as are professional development opportunities through the graduate school, departmental clubs and associations like AWIS and SWE.
  • Pick 1-3 personal/professional development items each month. Keep an eye on the professional development webpage of the Graduate School and come meet with your Graduate Career Consultant.
  • The unexamined life is not worth living. Carve out time to engage in self-reflection. In June, Erik Simon wrote a blog post stressing the importance of reflecting on and understanding ourselves. Reflections on our values, skills and interests and how they intersect is an important piece to your career development. Engage in assessments on gradcareers.nd.edu as well as through myIDP (STEM) and ImaginePhD (Humanities).
  • Apply for Grants and funding early and often. Applying for funding is critical whether or not you plan to stay in academia or pursue a career outside academia.
  • Go out to lunch with faculty candidates, attend their job talks and participate in student-led interviews within your department.
  • Apply for a Common Good Initiative (GGI) seminar with the Center for Social Concerns and reflect on how your discipline can benefit the common good. I participated in CGI Haiti 2015 and it was a profound experience.

What are ways you engage in PD and how do you think about PD in the context of graduate education? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below.

Jul 19

Resource Spotlight: ReferenceUSA

One of my favorite resources is a database called ReferenceUSA. I’ve been telling so many students about it during one-on-one consultations recently that I thought a blog post might come in handy.

ReferenceUSA is a database of companies and organizations. Students can use it to identify potential employers, and it’s particularly helpful when you are interested in a particular industry or field and have a particular geographic location of interest or necessity. Here’s what you can do:

  • Visit www.referenceusa.com (NOTE: You must be connected to the ND network or use off-campus proxy access like any other ND library database).
  • Click the “U.S. Businesses” link (see screenshot above), and then the “advanced search” tab.
  • On the left submenu that appears, under “Business Type” check “Keyword/SIC/NAICS.”
  • In the search bar that comes up, search for different keywords related to your interests, and select the related fields that pop up. You should be able to select as many different ones as you want, and some of them can get very specific/niche. Note: the “industries” are based on what the company does, not on what the job would be. You might have the opportunity to do communications-based work at a company that manufactures engines, for example. Think of the contexts you would enjoy writing about.
    • Advanced tip: start with a quick search and look up a company you know you’d want to work for. See how the database classifies them through the SIC or NAICS codes. Then use those codes rather than keywords for your advanced search.
  • After you’ve selected your industries, go back to the submenu on the left and expand “Geography.” Select the geography type that fits you best, and define your geographic search parameters. If you’re open to relocating anywhere in the country, don’t feel obligated to narrow it down geographically, I’m just offering it as a suggestion. You could also do a few different places, like all of Indiana, and part of Chicago.
  • If you want to preview how many results you will have, click the blue “update count” button first. That can tell you if you need to narrow or widen your search parameters.
  • You can also narrow the results by size of company (# of employees).
  • Once you’ve got your fields and locations, click the green “view results” button on the upper right.
  • On the results page, you can simply click the name of the company to learn more about that company. The database has a lot of information, but it’s not infallible. If you don’t see a website listed, for example, just google the company. Chances are they actually do have a website.
  • To download your results to excel, click the blue “download” button at the top of the results page. You can download up to 100 results at a time, and go back for the next 100 after each download. The only kind of downloading I have done is to excel, but you can do the others if you prefer.
  • If you find a company you like, look at their “industry profile.” You can use the SIC codes to look for similar companies in step #3 above in lieu of keywords.

Have you used ReferenceUSA yet? Any other great resources you have found? Share your stories in the comments below.

Jul 05

Networking: Your Tactical Advantage to Stand Out from the Crowd

Today’s blog post was written by Larry Milks, Graduate Career Consultant for the College of Engineering.

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Whether you are a 1st year grad student looking for an internship, or a 5th year student approaching the last stages of degree completion, or somewhere in between, at some point you will face the sometimes daunting challenge of seeking meaningful employment among scarce options in a highly competitive environment. So how can you set yourself apart and stand out from the crowd? How can you gain a competitive advantage?

The answer is NETWORKING! Forbes senior editor Susan Adams cites data that show 42% of 59,133 job seekers obtained their position as a result of networking. The next highest source of obtaining work was internet job boards at 21%. Networking is twice as productive as job boards in this survey and far more effective than any other single job search strategy such as using a search agency or online system.

However, as I talk with students I find that many are reluctant to network and find it a bit intimidating, particularly when they are considering asking for an informational interview, perhaps the richest form of networking. They have some fear that they will be rejected, that the person they reach out to won’t have time for them or even want to talk with them. Others are not really sure how to go about it. So be encouraged, you are not alone, and there are good antidotes to these issues.

First, consider for a moment that an undergrad in your department approached you with something like this.

“Hi Feng, I’m an undergrad in electrical engineering and getting ready to graduate next year. I’m thinking though my future and am wondering if a PhD in EE would be a good fit for me. Would you be willing to spend 15-20 minutes with me to help me understand how you decided to take that route, and what it’s like to be a grad student doing research? Maybe I could even meet you in your lab for this conversation so I could get a sense of the environment and get a peek behind the scenes.”

I’m quite sure that most of you would be happy to help out such an earnest and thoughtful student who is interested in considering the path you have taken. You would probably even find it rewarding to be able to share a bit from your life with a younger student. You would also likely be quite supportive and speak positively with your DGS if they did apply in the future.

If you had pressing deadlines at the moment, then you would politely decline the student’s request, but likely you would have an idea of someone else who could help. Alternatively, you might just suggest a delay in the meeting to accommodate your schedule.

Now reverse the roles, and realize that those people you would like to do an informational interview with will generally want to be helpful, just like you would be for the undergraduate. When they understand you are not asking them for a job, but seeking to understand their career area and how to best prepare for a move in that direction, they might even be honored that you asked them. They will also remember you when a future position becomes available in their organization.

In my own recent job search this past year I reached out to 8 different college career advisors. These were all cold call emails with no one to introduce me to them first. I received “yes” responses from 4 of these 8! Imagine the improved response rate that you will get if you can find a bridge person to introduce you to the individual you hope to interview!

Irish Compass is a great resource which can connect you with ND alumni who have already agreed to do informational interviews for ND students! Additionally, they could possibly be a bridge person who introduces you to the individual at their company who would be a perfect fit for an informational interview given your specific needs.

So be bold! Reach out! You have nothing to lose and much to gain!

Do you have a story to tell about how networking has worked for you? Please share below!

P.S. For more on this see strategic networking

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