How professional organizations can help you

black-and-white-city-man-peopleDo you know about professional associations, and how valuable they can be as both educational and networking tools?

A professional association is a non-profit group formed of individuals from a specific career or range of careers that focuses on education, training, and networking within their field. The goal of the association and its members typically is to keep up-to-date with new practices in the field, share ideas, and network with each other. Most associations have regular membership meetings, panel discussions, formal trainings by experienced members in the field, and social events. Many even have groups on LinkedIn, and sometimes you can join the LI group without being a dues-paying member of the larger organization.

Professional associations can be a powerful tool during your job search and ongoing career development. Not only do you learn more about the trends and topics in the field, but it’s a great opportunity to meet other professionals, and build or strengthen your network. Members often share job leads with the group, and are willing to give direct insight on potential positions. You can also find individuals who may be willing to meet with you for informational interviews, and advise you on your job search.

Many professional associations also have information on their website specifically for students or those exploring the field, and some even have events specifically targeted to students. For example, the New England Human Resources Association offers an annual career panel for students considering the human resources profession, and the American Institute of Graphic Artists typically hosts a portfolio review for soon-to-be or new college grads.  Most associations also offer discounted membership rates for students.

Ultimately, it’s a convenient way to meet multiple people from your field of interest.  Expanding your connections with professional peers is essential to your job search success, both in terms of their general advice and the potential to help you get your foot in the door of a particular company or job.

To find professional organizations in your field, try Googling “professional association” and your major or career path, for example, marketing, chemistry, nursing, etc.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

5 things to consider when choosing a graduate program

This guest post was written by our new student blogger, Emily Brown, a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program.

We’ve established that going to grad school isn’t always a good idea and that it is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. Once you’ve made the decision that grad school is right for you, you’re still faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. There are a few key things to keep in mind when working through the process:

  •  Location. An easy way to narrow your choices at the beginning is by location. Are there places that you are simply unwilling to live while pursuing your degree? Do you plan on continuing a job in your current location? I knew I wanted to keep my full-time job as long as possible, so I only researched graduate programs in the Boston area. Conveniently, Boston still has a lot of options, but narrowing my search that way made it feel more manageable.

    Image from fastweb.com


  • Reputation. Just like when applying to undergrad, it’s easy to get caught up in schools’ reputations. Meeting your own academic goals and needs should be your top priority so remember that just because it’s an Ivy League doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Graduate programs can vary greatly within the same school so it’s important to research programs and faculty members specifically to determine a good match.
  • Requirements. There are admissions requirements, and then there are program requirements once you get in. Before applying, you’ll have to compare the program requirements with your own credentials. Is there a minimum GPA requirement or certain prerequisite classes? Do you have to submit GRE scores? Make sure you meet these requirements and include all required documents before hitting send. Additionally, most graduate programs will require some sort of experiential learning outside of the classroom. It might be research, an internship, or other practical experience. Think about what will be most beneficial to you and how you can balance your coursework with an unpaid interning or researching.
  • Passion v. Realism. As a career services groupie, I am all about following your passion when it comes to education and career. However, when making an investment in that passion, it’s important to consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you once you complete the degree. Talk to alumni of the programs you’re considering and ask about their experiences in the program and how it prepared them for their current job. Do their jobs appeal to you? You can find alumni to speak to by asking the admissions office or searching on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, I promise).
  • Cost. Once you’ve hit send on the applications and the acceptances start rolling in, you’ll have more decisions to make. Of course the financial aid a school offers will be a factor in your decision, but it’s smart to also consider the cost of living where the schools are located. Maybe that school in New York City offered you more financial aid, but are you going to spend those savings on one trip to the nearest Whole Foods? You have to be realistic about the cost of school as well as living expenses and make decisions that make sense for you financially.

Once you’ve made it past step one, deciding to go to grad school, make sure you do your due diligence researching programs to find the one that is the best fit for you and will propel you toward your career goals. Location, reputation, curriculum requirements, cost and career opportunities are all key factors to consider and will help narrow your choices and ultimately select the right graduate program for you.

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

References available upon request

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Looking back to high school, I didn’t realize how easy I had it getting recommendations for college applications: one from my guidance counselor, ask two favorite teachers, done and done. With big plans to enter college undeclared, I wasn’t at all worried about the subject matters taught by these teachers.  I also wasn’t worried about etiquette of the recommendation process, since I had explicit instructions from my guidance counselor –  provide a stamped and addressed envelope for each college you’re applying to and post-it with earliest deadline on top.  Send a thank you card no later than that first deadline.  So simple. Looking back now, I realize that these concepts are also relevant for getting professional references.

  • Of course I chose my favorite teachers, right? Why would I even consider that pre-calculus teacher who gave me the stink-eye all of sophomore year for giggling with my best friend through each class (I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t have seated us next to each other). The same concept still applies. Choose people who have positive things to say about you and will be able to speak to your overall character.
  • At this point though, subject matter matters. It is important to consider who will be able to speak to the specific skills that will be required in the position you are targeting. It’s okay to tell a reference which skills you believe will be most important and to ask her/him to emphasize those.
  • Since job references probably won’t be a one-shot deal like mailing a stack of college applications, it’s important to keep your references updated as you apply to jobs. Since you won’t often know when exactly a potential employer is going to call a reference, keeping her/him updated on jobs to which you have applied ensures that s/he can speak knowledgeably about your goals.  In the case of a written recommendation, you should ask about 5-6 weeks in advance of the deadline. However, it’s rare that an employer will ask for a written reference, they usually want to speak to the person directly.
  • The most nerve-wracking part of asking someone to serve as a reference is probably the initial request. Hanging around after class worked in high school, but, as a professional, stopping by someone’s desk unannounced is not recommended. Asking via email ensures that the person knows exactly what you want and has time to think about his answer. It’s important to be clear about what you’re asking – the subject line might read “Job reference for [your name]?” – and you should get right to the point at the beginning of the email before further explaining the specifics of why you are asking this particular person.  It can be helpful to mention specific projects or tasks you’ve worked on with that person that you think will relate to skills needed for the new job. This helps the person understand why you are specifically asking her and gives her some guidance in regard to which of your skills to highlight. Even if you’re 99% sure the person will say yes, it is polite to give him/her an out. Use language like “would you be comfortable…” or “Do you feel you know me well enough to…”
  • I remember seeing classmates being scolded for being late with thank you cards. Though it is unlikely anyone will directly scold you for skipping this step, people will surely take notice and it’s just good manners to thank someone when they do you a favor It’s important to follow up once someone has agreed to serve as a reference by sending a thank you (email or US mail are both ok, but no need to send both). It’s also good practice to update your references on your job search periodically and DEFINITELY let them know once you have accepted a position. Thank them again for their support in helping you reach your goal.

So maybe it’s not quite as simple as it was in high school, but it’s not bad right? There may not be a guidance counselor holding you accountable (read: stalking you in homeroom), but you can totally handle this. Choosing appropriate references and maintaining open communication with them is going to be key for strengthening your job candidacy, long-term professional contacts, and ultimately taking that leap into the “real world.”