Created by: Katie Smith, 2012-2013 Career Advising Fellow
Almost all of our student appointments and presentations address, however briefly, the topic of networking and informational interviews. It is this type of networking that most often leads to job search success due to knowledge gained and connections made.
So, what is an informational interview?
Broadly, an informational interview is an intentional conversation regarding professional interests. Typically the student or job seeker identifies a person of interest and reaches out to him or her requesting time to meet, ask questions, and learn more about the interviewee’s job, career path, and relevant advice.
When we have these conversations with students, we most commonly direct them to the Elon Mentor Network or LinkedIn. The Elon Mentor Network is an opt-in database of over 800 alumni and parents who have volunteered to serve as contacts for students interested in learning more about certain industries, geographical areas, career opportunities, etc. The Elon Mentor Network is a fantastic resource allowing current students to connect with people who have “been there” and who can share their experiences throughout their own job path. Similarly, LinkedIn offers an even broader pool of professionals from all over the world in a wide variety of industries. We encourage our students to use these tools to connect with professionals and to conduct informational interviews to learn more about their fields of interest and building a relevant network.
Along the same lines, Mikki and I have had the opportunity to travel to a number of local institutions to meet other career professionals and to learn about how their offices operate. In our travels, we were able to meet with career staff at North Carolina State University, William Peace University, the University of Chapel Hill, UNC Law, and Meredith College, as well as additional institutions that we visited or professionals who we spoke to independently. In doing so, we have gained an increased understanding for a variety of successful career models at different institutions.
WPU, a small and newly co-ed private institution, requires each of its students to complete an internship and an accompanying career-focused class, with the career office integrating career services and curriculum planning and design. Meredith College, a small women’s college has incorporated academic advising and career services into the same office. With approximately 20,000-30,000 students each, UNC and NC State both have specialized career professionals who focus on students in specific majors or industries, with some career professionals working in decentralized branch offices specific to a particular college or area.
In comparison, the Student Professional Development Center at Elon University is largely centralized, with three small branches, the Porter Center (for business students), an office for communications students, and, most recently, the Station at Mill Point office for SMP residents. Additionally, our team is split into career services and employer relations functions, while other institutions have a different model or an employer relations focus may be absent altogether.
In each of our campus visits, career professionals were warm and welcoming, eager to share their career paths, their position responsibilities, the operations of their office, and any advice they had for us as new professionals. In turn, many were interested in our fellowship roles at Elon and in some of our significant projects and responsibilities. Staff from Meredith College had visited Elon earlier this year for the same reason and our office is also currently hosting career staff members from The College of Wooster who are also looking for new ideas and connections. We are discovering that the world of career services is small and well-connected.
Through our conversations with a variety of professionals, Mikki and I have a better understanding of our field, new trends, common challenges, and skills and experiences that will make us marketable as we eventually continue on to our next steps, wherever they may be. We encourage students to get out and have intentional conversations with professionals and we have taken the action to do the same!