Why Should I Do an Internship?

Source: http://byuinternships.org

Source: http://byuinternships.org

This guest post was written by Tricia Dowd, a Career Development Assistant at NU Career Development, and a recent graduate from Northeastern’s Higher Education Administration program where she earned her Master’s degree this past September.

As Northeastern students, the value of experiential learning and work experience before graduation is probably already something you’re well aware of. Most of you will probably go on at least one co-op during your time here. So why do an internship?

Actually, one of the best reasons to do an internship is co-op. As co-ops are becoming more popular, they are also becoming more competitive. This is especially true for students who are applying for their first co-op. Having an internship experience already on your resume not only makes you more competitive, it also makes you more prepared. You will already have work experience in your field, and you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when the first day of co-op rolls around.

Using an internship experience to get ahead for co-op is great if you already know what you want to do, but it is also great if you don’t know what you want to do! Instead of waiting to pick a major (or decide to stay in one) to get work experience through co-op, getting work experience through an internship is an easy way to try out a major or a career without committing to a program or a company for a full six months. Not sure you want to be a Policy Analyst? Try a summer internship to explore the field before committing yourself to it for six months and potentially using one of your co-ops for something you aren’t sure you want to do. We recommend finding an internship the summer after your first year, but it’s never too late to get more work experience or explore a different field.

Internships are also a great way for students who are unable to go on co-op to get work experience. The primary differences between an internship and a co-op are that internships are (usually) unpaid and (usually) shorter in length and more flexible. Therefore, if you’re not able to take a semester off from your major, an internship is a way to get work experience around your schedule, or for a shorter time during the summer when you don’t have other commitments. As someone who regularly meets with students in the middle of a job search, I can honestly tell you that work experience is one of the most important things you could leave college with. I have yet to meet a student who told me that she or he regretted going on an internship!

Finally, internships can also be a way for you to get your foot in the door at a company that does not currently offer a co-op position. Instead of waiting until after graduation to try to break into one of these companies, why not apply for an internship now? Give your dream company a chance to see how hard of a worker you can be! The connections and institutional knowledge you’ll get out of the experience will be a huge asset to a future application at that company.

So how exactly do you find an internship? Check out my previous post for a summary of the top three methods, attend some of our workshops on the topic, or hop right on HuskyCareerLink.

Tricia Dowd is a Career Development Assistant at NEU Career Development, and graduated from Northeastern with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration in September. She is interested in helping students gain practical experiences to complement what they’re learning in the classroom. You can reach her at p.dowd@neu.edu

The Career Paths Your Advisor Forgot About

questionThe field of physician assistant (PA) studies has been cited among the fastest-growing careers (38% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and was named by Forbes as the “#1 Best Master’s Degree for Jobs” in 2012.  But when I sought help in planning my path to becoming a PA, my university’s health professions adviser told me, “We’ll learn about this together.”  There can’t be a framework in place for every possible career, but figuring out the path doesn’t have to be difficult.

Find others with similar plans.  The first real companion I found was a friend from high school who was applying to become a physical therapist.  We were both used to having to defend our career choice; each of us had the experience of people asking, “But why don’t you want to be a doctor?”  With that off the table, we were able to get into the details of what we were excited about, what we were unsure about, and why we were going into our chosen fields.  A supportive environment makes the rough parts a little smoother.

Reach out.  Really, really reach out.  It may be hard to find people to shadow or meet with.  I was able to shadow one of the PAs who worked with my aunt, but after that, I didn’t know how to find others.  The shadowing program set up through my university had plenty of alumni who were doctors, but not a single PA.  Desperate for more contact, I emailed the state physician assistant association and asked for help.  Not long after, a representative emailed me a list of PAs who would be willing to take me on for a day.  I attended a program for emergency medical technicians to shadow emergency room physicians, and when the doctor found out I was applying to PA school, he found me one of his PA colleagues to work with instead.  Take every opportunity, and do everything you can to create them.

Don’t be afraid of nontraditional resources.  There was no organization for pre-PA students at my university, so I went to a few meetings of the fledgling pre-nursing group to figure out where I could take my prerequisite courses. There wasn’t a lot of information relevant to me, but there was enough to get me started.  And just as there are study guides for every possible standardized test, there are “how to get into school” books for nearly every career.  Working from those books and scanning over message boards ultimately got me all the information I needed to put together a successful application.

Mariah Swiech Henderson is a first-year student in Northeastern’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She can be reached at henderson.mar@husky.neu.edu with any questions about working in healthcare and applying to/attending PA school.

What is the Professional Etiquette for an Informational Interview?

This guest post was written by Heather Fink, a former Career Development Intern now working at Wellesley College and the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. She is a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program at NU expected to graduate in May 2015.

So everyone has been telling you that in order to further your career goals, you have to network. Here are some tips on how to keep it professional and ensure success during informational interviews. If you are unsure of what an informational interview is, feel free to check our website for more information about it.

source: staples.com

source: staples.com

Come prepared!

If someone is willing to meet with you for an informational interview, you should come prepared with questions. Consider what you want to learn from the person you are meeting with and bring a pen and notepad to take notes during the meeting.

The questions you ask should be tailored for the person you are meeting with. The questions also should not be information that can be easily found on the Internet, such as where they have worked in the past (which is often on their LinkedIn profile) or what their job title is. Instead use the time to ask questions that are more in depth or are difficult to find out online. You may want to ask about industry trends or what that company seems to look for in their employees.  Be sure to refer to our blog post Strategies for Researching Companies for more advice on that.

Dress Code:

Depending on the field, an informational interview doesn’t necessarily require a suit but if you think that a Boston Bruins shirt is appropriate for an informational interview, you are mistaken. Remember that although a suit isn’t mandatory, you want the person you are networking with to take you seriously and should dress accordingly. Business casual is appropriate for an informational interview. Avoid the jeans and instead stick with slacks or a dress skirt with a sweater, blouse or button down shirt on top. This shows that you’re taking the meeting seriously. Also be sure to wear a watch to keep track of the time, you are conducting the informational interview and should make sure that you don’t make the contact run late for their next meeting.

thank you note ecard

I thanked the contact in person should I bother writing a thank you letter?

Thanking someone in person does not supplement a thank you letter. If someone is taking time out of their day to speak with you and provide advice for your career advancement, than you should take the time to write them a thank you letter. Send the contact you met with a thank you note (via email or snail mail) within 24 hours thanking them for their time. The best way to show your appreciation is to mention something you learned from the meeting so the contact feels the advice they gave was helpful.

Afterwards….

Keep in touch! Networking isn’t about contacting someone once, it is about expanding your professional network. Send the contact emails every few months with articles related to your field or mention updates if you took their advice and was successful from doing so.

Another way to keep in touch is to ask the person you meet with for suggestions of who else you should contact for an informational interview. This increases your chances of someone’s willingness to meet with you since you now have a mutual connection.  If you end up meeting with someone your contact suggested, let the contact know that their advice was helpful. This enables you to stay in touch with the contact and lets them know that their referral was helpful.

Heather Fink is a former Career Assistant at Northeastern Career Development and now currently works as the Interim Asst. Director at the Wellesley College Career Center and as a Career Counseling Assistant at the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. SHe has a passion for networking and empowering others and is pursuing her graduate degree in College Student Development Counseling. Follow Heather on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/HeatherFink and Twitter @CareerCoachHF. 

The Biggest Lie Young Professionals Believe About Career Plans

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, CatchCareers.com on change plans comicFebruary 9, 2015.

The biggest lie young professionals believe about career plans is: that you have to have one. The second biggest lie is that the plan is set in stone and can’t be changed. Whoa, hold on; don’t X me out just yet. While having a general life plan is great, making a plan so solid and rigid that you do nothing else only diminishes the great world around you and wonderful experiences to be found if you let yourself have the freedom to explore. Here me out…

I started writing this blog at 25 and while still aimed at young professionals, I have found that the issues I face and the concerns I have in my career have changed over these 3 years.  You are no longer fresh and brand-new to the working world, but not yet settled into exactly what your path will be. There are still many unanswered questions to your career path (please your ENTIRE life) and it can suddenly feel like you have to have it all figured out. This phenomena of “having it all figured out” (and it is all perfect) is further pressurized by social media and the onslaught of perfect photos and posts from friends, kinda friends, people you went to school with, and people you met once. THEY have it all figured out; great jobs, a significant other, a puppy, a baby on the way, a brand new home. There is nothing wrong with having or wanting those things. I want them. Most people want them. The problem is our need to put them on a timeline of life milestones we must achieve by a certain age. We become dissatisfied with our great lives when we focus on the things we haven’t achieved yet.  And why, oh why, do we create these life plans and beat ourselves up when things don’t go according to plan? Isn’t the reason why life is so exciting is because we can just live it and enjoy it and see where it takes us? Why do we bind ourselves to this plan?

One of the hardest things in life is letting go.  From that tattered old sweater you love, to a favorite menu item being discontinued, it is hard to accept that something that was once important to us is now gone. Beyond physical objects, there is also the letting go of emotions and plans, that is equally, if not more so, difficult. It can be heartbreaking to try to accept that something you craved or wanted will no longer come to fruition.  Further it can be difficult to accept for ourselves that something we once wanted, we no longer want. Maybe this is why it is so hard to step back from the plans we made and say “this is no longer what I want, and that is OK.”

What do I mean by all this rambling? Well, 5 years ago at the age of 23 I was: scared of dogs, was SO done with school (who needs graduate school?), thought my life’s career would be in manufacturing, and thought I’d be all Carrie Bradshaw like in my singleness.  Here’s a little update from 28 year old Christina: while I don’t want my own dog, I do love them now. I’m in graduate school and I love it (great decision to go back). I started dating, and it was wonderful. And I’m happily employed as a consultant in the finance industry, read: not manufacturing or even close to it.  While I do have some new life goals at 28, it very well may be that 33 year old Christina has changed them. AND THAT IS OK. Life plans are NEVER FINAL and NEVER DONE.

Embracing the unknown scares us. Even acknowledging it really; we like to pretend it isn’t there. Plan the best you can with the knowledge you have now, and be open to letting new ideas, experiences, and plans into your world. It is ok if last year you hated sushi, and this year you like it. That doesn’t make you weak or indecisive. People change, grow, find new interests, and grow tired of old plans and activities. Isn’t that why life is exciting? Remember the saying “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” If we get so hung up on trying to live according to this plan we’ve laid out for ourselves, we miss out on the opportunities and experiences we didn’t see coming which can be just as, if not better than, what we planned initially. We may lose the chance at an even better life by trying to stick with our predetermined script.

Take Away: If you change plans or change course in your life, that doesn’t mean you are weak. It doesn’t mean you gave up. It doesn’t mean you are no longer destined for greatness. It doesn’t mean you failed or copped out. It simply means you grew and changed in your life and you need to refit your plans to best fit you in today’s moment.

Further Reading: http://www.careerealism.com/professional-development-plan/

Christina Kach is an Associate Consultant on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, MA. Prior to this role, she spent five years at a Government Defense Company focusing on Lean and process improvement in a manufacturing environment, while also completing an Operations Leadership Development Program. Christina holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management, also from Northeastern.

Christina invites you to connect with her via Twitter (@ChristinaKach), email (Cfkach@gmail.com) or at her blog for young professionals www.catchcareers.com

Image source: MealsandMiles.com; 5 Confessions

LGBT Job Search Tips

Job searching in general can be its own challenge for any student and let’s face it, deciding how “out” you want to be during your search and in your career can be another variable to throw in the mix that you may not have previously considered.  On the other hand, you may be thinking about identity a lot in the workplace, but are unsure of the best way to address it during your job search. Never fear – Career Development is here! Here are a few things to start thinking about:

How does the company celebrate LGBTQ employees?

Photo source: https://twitter.com/pridenu

Photo source: https://twitter.com/pridenu

Working for an organization that supports you not just as an employee but as a person (identities included) is paramount for some graduates today. Does the company you want to work for have an affinity group or resource group that is active and valued? This is a great way to take a temperature of how supportive a workplace can be. These groups allow for positive celebration and inclusion of identities, and act as a way for employees to voice their opinions within a business. It’s also a great way to meet other likeminded employees who identify in the LGBT community.

How does the company protect LGBTQ employees?

While celebration is important, having appropriate rights is equally critical! Refer to the organizations antidiscrimination policies to see whether or not there is specific language for LGBT individuals. How about benefits packages? Are partners covered under insurance plans? What about hormone treatment for medical coverage?

Still having trouble finding information?

If you are unsure of where a workplace stands on LGBT rights, find some current employees and pick their brains. A good old fashioned informational interview is always a simple approach! If you aren’t comfortable talking about LGBT specific topics in this situation, try asking more general questions like “What kind of diversity initiatives does your company support?”  There is a plethora of online resources that can be found on our website. Consider getting involved with NU Pride, the student organization Northeastern for LGBT students.  Don’t forget about making appointments with our staff. A majority of our counselors are Safe Zone certified and would be happy to work with you to begin your job search right!

Mike Ariale specializes in disability employment, self- advocacy, disclosure and accommodation strategies for the workplace. You can schedule an appointment with him through MyNEU or by calling the front desk at 617-373-2430.

First Impressions, Or How Job Interviews Are Like Tinder

tinder gifSwipe right or swipe left? Most users of the dating site Tinder take mere seconds to decide whether to connect with a potential partner or to banish that person to the reject pile.  Would you be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take a potential employer much longer than that to form a strong impression of a job candidate? Being invited to interview for a job means that you and just a few other candidates were chosen, possibly out of hundreds of other applicants, to make your case in person.  Given this chance, it’s important for your in-person performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And that begins, and unfortunately sometimes ends, with your first impression.

gross cher reactionIn one study, 33% of hiring managers surveyed said that they knew within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they would hire a candidate. In the same study, conducted by Monster.com, 65% of bosses said that appearance could be a deciding factor when two of the candidates being interviewed are otherwise very similar.  Appearance includes not only clothing but hairstyle, hygiene, makeup and jewelry.

What you wear must fit well and be clean and in good repair, including your shoes. Select and examine your outfit before the interview so if cleaning or mending are in order, you will have time to do it.  If you’re planning to wear something new, make sure you remove the tags and stitching in the pockets or pleats. Be conservative with makeup unless the job you’re after requires big floppy shoes and a fake red nose.  Likewise, jewelry should be unobtrusive except if the norm for your industry says otherwise. Regardless of industry, skip the cologne or aftershave; you have no way of knowing whether any of your interviewers have allergies or sensitivities. If you smoke, you may not be aware of the tobacco smell clinging to your coat, clothing or hair, but your interviewer will be, and most likely will not be impressed.

Knowing what to wear can be tricky. Your goal is to dress like you belong in the organization where you’re interviewing, preferably on the more formal side. For consulting, financial services and legal positions, that means wearing a suit for both women and men.  In other fields, it is up to you to do a little sleuthing to find out what is the norm. You may look crisp and professional wearing your suit, but if you’re meeting with people in a much more casual environment, they could take one look at you and decide that you don’t understand their culture. Dressing up may not score in your favor if it isn’t what other employees do, since an interview is largely about determining fit.

When you walk into the interviewer’s office, be aware of your posture. Convey a confident attitude by standing up straight and walking purposefully. A natural-looking smile is also important, as are a firm handshake, a heartfelt “Pleased to meet you” and good eye contact.  Practice these things with a friend until they are second nature.

If this seems like a lot of work for the first 90 seconds of your interview, don’t forget that without that great first impression – swipe left! – your well-prepared interview talking points may fall on deaf ears.

Author Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2015. Email her at s.loffredo@neu.edu.

Image Source: Tinder Gif; Cher Gif

Procrastinating Your Job Search? Tips To Get to Work, So You Can Work

You return to your laptop with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand determined to finally complete your resume. You just saw a job opening that looks pretty close to perfect, but every time you sit down to write your resume, you find something just a little more pressing to do. Three hours later, you’ve arranged your closet by color, talked to your grandmother, favorite aunt, and high school BFF, and bought two books for next semester at half price, but still haven’t worked on your resume. Job search procrastination has struck again.

Does this kind of procrastination sound familiar? It can be frustrating and easy to beat yourself up when you know that you should be progressing in your job search and instead keep putting it off for another day. If you find yourself stuck in your job search because of procrastination, follow these steps to get back on a path to success.

1. Break down your goals into concrete and manageable tasks

Sometimes we procrastinate because our goals are too overwhelming. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take each big goal and make a list of all of the smaller tasks that go into completing the goal. Then tackle each of these “mini-tasks” one by one. These smaller tasks often feel more do-able. For example, instead of setting out to write your resume, your mini-task might be to write the bullet points for one co-op position, outline your computer skills, or even just create the resume heading. If you work consistently on these smaller tasks, they will add up, and soon you will achieve your goal.

2. Set individual deadlines for each mini-task.

Unlike classwork, the tasks associated with looking for a job often do not have clear deadlines. It can be easy to procrastinate when a professor isn’t going to dock your grade for each day that you don’t begin to network, but as time elapses, opportunities will pass you by. Outwit this common trap by setting your own deadlines. Once you have broken your goals into mini-tasks, assign a deadline to each item. Put these deadlines on your calendar and treat them with respect.

3. Schedule an appointment with yourself to work on each task.

While you have your calendar open, schedule times to work on each of your mini-tasks. Without a time set aside, there is always some other work that can take precedence. But by assigning a specific time and treating the time as an appointment, you are more likely to stick to your plan.

4. Acknowledge stress and find positive ways to cope

For many of us, job searching is stressful. Writing your resume, polishing your LinkedIn profile, researching a company—all of these activities can stir up anxiety. It is natural to want to avoid tasks that create distress and so job searching is often put off for activities that are more pleasurable—or at least less painful! Recognizing that you may be putting off your job search because of the stress that it provokes is the first step in overcoming this challenge. Next, think about ways that you have dealt with stress successfully in the past and draw on these same techniques to help you succeed in your job search. These stress-relieving activities are different for each person, but whether it is going for a run or talking to a friend, these behaviors can help you through your job search. Finally, some people also find it helpful to reward themselves for each completed task. Set yourself up for success by scheduling fun activities as a treat after you finish a challenging task in your job search.

5. Let go of perfectionism

A common cause of procrastinating is perfectionism. Of course, you want all of your job materials to be error-free and completed to the best of your abilities. But when your drive for excellence is making it difficult to even get started, it is time to step back and reboot by lowering your standards. Most written materials of job searching, such as resumes and cover letters, go through numerous drafts. So that first draft of your cover letter—it doesn’t need to be the most brilliant cover letter ever written—it just needs to be a rough draft. The same holds true for other parts of your job search. If you are not reaching out for informational interviews because you want the interaction to proceed perfectly and you are not sure if it will, take a deep breath and do it anyway. Have that slightly awkward first conversation. It will only get easier with practice and soon you will be networking like a pro.

6. Ask for help

You don’t need to do this alone— Career Development is here to help. Come during walk-ins hours, attend a workshop or schedule an appointment using myNEU or by calling 617-373-2430. Procrastination during your job search is a common pitfall, but it doesn’t need to be yours. Take advantage of these tips and the opportunities offered by Career Development and before you know it, you will be well on your way to success.

Kate Basch is a Career Counselor Assistant in Career Development at Northeastern University. With a Master’s degree in Expressive Therapies and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University, she enjoys helping people discover and obtain work that aligns with their strengths and values. You can reach Kate at https://www.linkedin.com/in/katebasch​.

How Can I Really Improve My English Skills During College?

eng pic

This guest post was written by Maria Martin, an international graduate student currently on co-op.

When I fist came to Boston, about three years ago, I started to study English and I spent a considerably part of my time and money in writing, listening, speaking and grammar classes. I don’t regret what I did. But after being here for a while, I realized that the best way to learn English is through real experience with Americans. Here are a few tips that will help you to improve your overall English skills without spending tons of extra money and time.

1. Talk to your professors.

Do not be afraid to ask as many questions as you can during classes (what’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing!). Many international students do not raise their hands because they do not have the words to say what they are thinking. Don’t be afraid. If you already got into college, then you are capable to find the words even if you make mistakes.

2. Volunteer.

I love to volunteer. There is nothing as gratifying as helping others. There are a lot of positive aspects of volunteering; first: you are helping someone, second: you can use it in your resume (for those who have no experience at all), third: it helps to improve your English skills. Boston has plenty of organizations you can work with. Google them, ask your advisor for help or connect with the Center for Community Service on campus. For example: I am volunteering as a Mentor in the Big Sister Association of Boston.

3. Mentors.

In my first year in Boston I found a really good person who mentored me for a few months while transitioning from my English course into my Master’s program. We spent hours and hours talking about a variety of subjects, and even thought it was difficult for me to understand, I tried my best to keep track of our conversations. Now, I can understand my friend perfectly and I can talk as if it were my own language. I encourage you to find a mentor in your area of study. There are a lot of professional organizations that offer mentorship programs, one being the Boston Product Management Association. Speaking with your mentor not only will help you to improve your English skills but also your career and networking.

4. Wise commuting.

Most of our commuting time is spent on our phone texting, listening music, etc. but do you think that this is worth your time? Why don’t we listen to NPR (National Public Radio) or read one of your favorite books in English? We need to realize that we have a barrier: language. So we should do everything we can to reach our goal. And if your goal is just going back to your home country as soon as you graduate, it will be pretty good to have a resume with a working professional proficiency level of English. On the other hand, if you are planning to get a job, well spoken English is a must.

5. Follow your instincts.

Most professionals recommend avoiding talking in your native language in order to perfect your English, but I believe that is a not realistic advice and honestly just 0.0001% of students apply it. It’s important to talk to friends and family back home and when living abroad, its comforting if not necessary to hang out with friends who share the same language and cultures as yourself. The key is to have balance. Make practicing and improving English a priority, but also make time to speak in your native tongue.

6. Small talk.

Every culture has its own small talk topics when networking. In my country, talking politics is common- that’s not the case in the US. There are plenty of topics you can talk about in American culture.

One of the most important: weather. It might not seem too interesting and very broad but Americans love talking about the weather- how can you not bring up the blizzard we just had?! Another topic: sports. Personally, I think talking about sports is boring. I know all of the major American teams and I can muster basic small talk around sports, but nothing too deep. If you don’t feel attracted to those topics you might want to get the Metro Boston Newspaper (Free in most MBTA stations) or just go to CNN.com. Small talk will help you make new friends and learn more about American culture- while simultaneously practicing your English!

7. Change your devices. 

Finally, change all your devices to English. Your phone, ipad, computer, etc. Everything should be in English. And be careful: Do not get use to just one American friend; there are a lot of accents (even inside Massachusetts).

Implement all of my tips, or start with just one that works for you. In a few months you will be able to understand and speak better. There are things that can’t be taught; practice is the only way to achieve what we really want.

Maria Martin is pursuing a Master in Project Management at Northeastern University. She is currently doing a full time paid co-op at NSTAR in the Marketing and Sales Department. You can contact her at mariajesusmartin13@gmail.com

Start Early and Set Yourself Apart: An Interview With an NU Alum

Jay Lu received his BSBA in Accounting and Marketing in May 2014 and MS in Accounting this past August, 2014. During his time at NU, he held numerous positions both on and off campus and internationally. Jay successfully completed three separate co-ops at large multinational companies with experience in audit and assurance, tax and operations. Jay recently completed the CPA exam and his currently working in audit and assurance at a CPA firm. In his spare time, he enjoys volunteering, reading and sports. To learn more about his professional background- check out his LinkedIn profile.

When did you first come to the Career Development office?

It was for the Career Fair, freshmen year.

Why go to a career fair? Most freshmen would wait until later for this.

I had no risk.  I didn’t feel pressured.  I didn’t need anything out of it.  I wanted the practice of the experience. It’s kind of like a festival, with everyone dressed up.  It can be a fun event when there isn’t pressure.  I didn’t have a suit back then.  But I went in and just talked with a couple of recruiters.  At this point I didn’t have a resume.  But later on I learned how to create a resume, and how to make a good impression.

What else did you do early on?

Early on I went for an appointment about career direction.  I wasn’t sure how to explore my options.  Through my career counselor I learned about informational interviews.  In fact I even did one for an RA position.  Ended up getting the job because I was more prepared and had someone recommending me from the info interview.  I also got into LinkedIn early on.

From these early experiences, what do you recommend that students do in their 1st or 2nd year?

Don’t think that just because it’s your first year that you have all the time in the world.  You’ll be graduating in a flash.  When you start early, you’ll be ahead for when you need it. When there is less pressure, when you don’t need a job yet, get advice then.

How can students have an impact on potential employers?

A lot of employers want to know if you want them.  It’s not just about your skills.  To stand out, make a good impression early on with them. Be genuinely interested in the field, which should be a natural feeling if you chose a major you are passionate about. Have people warm up to you, and your personal brand early on, even if you might not be fully certain what that is yet.  The idea here is to build your network before you need it.  Things get a lot more competitive, when you are a senior.  Everyone is going after these connections.  By starting early you can set yourself apart. They will be impressed that you are being so proactive.  Another point is that there is more leeway if you mess up, employers will more likely overlook this when you are younger.

How can students make more employer connections?

Go to career services and alumni events.  Do these while you are still on campus.  Once you graduate, it’s harder to fit these in.  Also, the further along you get in college, there are more expectations put on you (from recruiters, parents, peers), compared with when you are in your 1st or 2nd year.

What can you gain from this early networking?

When you chat with recruiters, they might open you up to other career paths that you didn’t know about or hadn’t thought of.  The more exposure and more conversations, the better.  You can never know what you’re going to do, exactly, but you can learn more early on to help.  It’s great if you can find out sooner what you might value in a career, while you can still make changes to your academic or co-op path.  You might save yourself time and heartache.  The more people you talk to, the more confident you’ll be with your choices.  You want to find those people that are in your potential career path, since they’ve already been there and you can learn from them.  Would you want to be in their shoes? Talking to them gives you a chance to find out.

During your senior year, how did you approach your job search?

I didn’t have too much trouble.  I had already been to 3 or 4 career fairs, and I already had quite a few connections from co-ops and various other events. If you have done everything early on, at this point it should be a relaxing year. At my last career fair, I received an interview call in less than an hour after the fair ended.

How do you maintain your network?

Always follow up after any professional encounter. Send a thank-you note after meeting someone at a campus event or any professional encounter.  For example, after attending the Global Careers Forum I sent an email to one of the guest speakers saying thank you.  I didn’t ask for anything in that moment. It might come later. Northeastern makes sending thank-you letters after co-op interviews almost religious, I try to use this same mindset. I always like to think of the story of one interviewee’s thank-you letter being a PowerPoint that showed how he would tackle a current problem facing the company. Now that’s hitting the ground running!

Is there anything you wished you’d known sooner?

Don’t take your professors for granted.  They can be some of the best resources.  They are there for you, and they want to help you.  I made a habit of seeing my professors every semester, even just to chat with them (while you are in the course and sometimes even after).  One professor sent me details about an internship that had been sent in by an alum.  I was given the details about this opportunity because the professor knew me well, and he had confidence in me. In addition, if I had more time, I would’ve joined more organizations that were related to my major.

Anyone you stay in touch with?

One of my accounting professors I went to see a lot.  He had great industry advice about how to get started, he recommended good organizations, and even suggested events to attend.  I sent follow up messages to thank him and to let him know I attended the events he had mentioned, I also shared some information that I thought would be useful for his current students.  It’s important to let people know that you followed their advice, and if you have something you can share, then include it.

What’s your finally advice to students, especially when it comes to networking?

Start early and don’t stop.

Biology and English: Making a Combined Major Work

duel major

This guest post was written by Sarah Sherman, a combined English and Biology major here at NU. 

Choosing a major is a unique experience for everyone. For a lucky few, it is barely a choice at all. There are those who have wanted to be doctors or teachers or business managers since they were young, and who understand what academic roadways they want to travel to get there.  However, for many people, (including myself) the journey is rarely straightforward.

I entered Northeastern as an Undeclared student, and although I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, I knew that I was fascinated by  Biology and English.  For a while my thought process alternated between trying to figure out which one I wanted to focus on and trying to figure out if it was possible to double major in Biology and English.  I soon found out that the latter wasn’t feasible without overloading classes for at least one semester or by taking classes for more than eight semesters, neither of which appealed to me. Despite this realization, I still felt no closer to making a decision.  This brings me to my first bit of advice-never underestimate the value of figuring out what it is you don’t want to do.  Sometimes a decision doesn’t come in a flash of inspiration or from a deep inner knowledge of what it is you want.  Sometimes it’s as simple as exploring around and figuring out the things you don’t want to do, until you hit on something that ignites your enthusiasm.

My first breakthrough came when I was attending an Undeclared event, and I had the opportunity to talk to the head of the English Department. I mentioned how I’d been struggling to decide whether I wanted to study Biology or English. She replied, “Why not do a combined major with the two?”  “I can do that?” I asked.  “I don’t see why not” she said.  I would later learn that a combined major was different from a double major in some important ways.  A double major is two degrees, and involves completing all of the courses for each one.  A combined major is one degree, and some of the courses from each discipline are removed to make a more compact curriculum. It also includes an interdisciplinary “bridge” course, making it easier for the student to understand how their two fields of study connect and interact. This brings me to my second piece of advice-don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone at the university about what it is you’re interested in or looking for.  They are likely to be much more familiar with the resources and opportunities that are available than you are.  You may end up learning about possibilities that you didn’t even know existed!

This five minute exchange started me on an almost two year journey to pursue the education that I was passionate about. Although the combined major I wanted did not yet exist, I knew there was a process in place for creating it.  This process included countless meetings, paperwork, curriculum revisions, and several roadblocks.  This brings me to my third piece of advice.  When you find what it is you’re looking for, pursue it with persistence, patience, and passion. The idea that I was so excited about-a new major combining English and Biology-often came across to others as strange and sometimes even nonsensical.  However, I knew it was what I wanted.  I stood my ground even when I could sense disapproval from others.  I may have been met with skepticism at first, but I wasn’t met with a “no” or “we simply can’t do that”.  So I kept pushing forward. The journey was long and sometimes discouraging, but it was worth it because I had found my passion.

Your own journey to declaring a major might be more conventional than mine, or perhaps even less so.  No matter what the case, it is important to keep in mind one overall truth-there is no one “right way” to land yourself a certain future.  In talking with professors and with other adults in the working world, I have learned that there are multiple paths that lead to the same destination.  The important thing is to do something that you get excited about, and to do it well.

Sarah is a third year student at Northeastern University pursuing a Combined Degree in Biology and English. She has completed one co-op at the Boston Center for Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. She traveled to Italy in the summer of 2013 for a Dialogue of Civilizations, and is looking forward to traveling again during an ASB trip to the Dominican Republic this March.  Contact Sarah for more information about her combined major or her experiences at sherman.sa@husky.neu.edu.

Image Source: Carol Simpson Cartoon Work and Illustration; I want to graduate with a dual major…fiction writing and corporate accounting.