The Thanksgiving holiday is here – which means a break from classes or work, and an opportunity to return home for many students and graduates. While students may welcome a reprieve from coursework, early careerists need to use their holiday break to explore career options with the help of family and friends. It is a terrific time to do what is traditionally called “informational interviewing” or job shadowing, though we prefer the term “networking visit” simply because interviews are stressful for all involved, while “visits” are risk-free and fun.
Learn To Listen
At Early Stage Careers, we guide people to find their first job, while helping clients build a framework of life-long skills. One crucial skill is being a good conversationalist, someone who listens well and has confidence to bring other people’s perspectives into the dialogue. The holidays are a slower time of year for business people, and as the New Year approaches, people are taking stock of what they are doing and making plans for change. This is the ideal time to ask people to openly discuss their personal career path choices – and to simultaneously practice and develop those conversational skills.
You need a plan for this. Think ahead to who you will likely see over the course of the next few weeks and what you would like to learn from them. Reach out in advance. If you let them know you would like a few moments of their time at an upcoming party, they will likely seek you out at the outset to connect.
Where And Who To Meet
It is a “visit” so you need to be person to person. While over-the-phone networking is great, seek out in-person engagement. While the office might seem more formal, you will see first-hand the environment and the dynamics of colleagues.
If you do meet someone at a holiday party, ask if you might continue the conversation with them, or a colleague of theirs, at their work location. It is even more important to invest time in this type of engagement if you are considering any profession or specialty that requires an extensive investment of your resources in education, such as medicine or law. This is when asking for the opportunity to truly shadow the person for part of a day makes the most sense.
Networking visits are usually best held with the person doing the job now, rather than an HR contact. HR professionals might host you, speaking very broadly about the roles and mission of their organization; but unless you are looking for a career in HR, it’s better to seek out professionals working in line positions.
Asking the Right Questions
While the informal relaxed nature of your meeting and the absence of pressure will help both of you get underway quickly, it is up to you to provide structure to get things started. As part of your planning, make sure you have questions prepared. These should be leading questions that refer specifically to the job/workplace, and must be questions you cannot look up the answers to. Pick the two that you feel most comfortable asking and that you feel will elicit the most information. You will be rewarded for your preparation.
What do you like most/least about the work you do?
What aspect is the hardest for you to fulfill?
What literature would give me insights into the issues you face?
How do you see this job changing in the next 10 years?
People love to talk about their work. It helps them reflect and even relieves some stress. If you are already pursuing this career path, share with them the steps you have taken so far, and ask for additional advice. If it feels like the conversation is going off track, perhaps the person you are speaking with starts reminiscing about the distant past, it’s okay to politely interrupt them, and say, “That is so interesting and I would love to hear about why you have been so successful in this field in recent years, with all of the changes that have occurred?”
Embrace the Informality
Stay flexible. You are not being interviewed; ask questions and listen with sincerity. Perhaps, you are trying to decide on a career direction, a route to obtain your first role, and are eager to gather leads who might assist you in the journey. You might want to consider that you don’t have to do this solo, if a friend has common interests, you can engage them in the conversation as well.
After your visit, show your appreciation. Actively follow up on ideas they raised, reach back out to them to express your gratitude, and if their suggestions are fruitful, be sure to let them know. Be helpful in return by offering to help them in the future. And if you see something of interest, take time to forward it to them.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Networking!