Why would complete strangers be willing to talk to me?

Whether you’re job searching or generally trying to learn more about different careers, I usually suggest talking to individuals who already work in your fields of interest (aka networking). It’s a great way to learn more about typical career paths, get insight on which skills and qualifications are the most important, and figure out if a particular career path or industry is a good fit for you.  The process should include talking to people you already know, but should also include introducing yourself to and developing relationships with new people.  Once the look of horror on their face goes away, the most common question that students/alumni ask me is “Why would complete strangers be willing to talk to me?”

Image from www.cod.edu

Here are some reasons why professionals in your fields of interest would be willing to talk to you:

  • Networking is a pay-it-forward situation. Chances are, anyone that you contact for advice has had someone help him or him in a related fashion, and this is their chance to return the favor to the larger professional community.
  • When people like what they do, they often like discussing it with people who share their interest. And not just the same old people they talk to every day at work. It can be interesting to get a different perspective on things.
  • Networking is a lifelong career process, and it’s just as important for an experienced professional to continue building their professional community as it is for a college student or recent grad. One day, you may be able to give them some useful information on a particular company or contact. Maybe their son or daughter is considering Northeastern, and you can give your opinion on what it’s like to be a student here. It also gives that professional a chance to promote their organization and create a pipeline of talent for future positions.
  • People are genuinely helpful. If you are polite and genuinely interested in hearing what the person has to say (and not aggressively trying to push someone into hiring you), people are more often willing to help than you might expect.  You just have to ask. Career Services hosts workshops, panels and networking events all the time, and I am often amazed at how many people are willing to help out and talk to students/alumni about their experiences. And I don’t only mean Northeastern alumni and employer partners.  Professionals who are completely unrelated to Northeastern, that I have no personal connection with and sometimes have never even heard of before, have agreed to come to events, just because I asked.
  • Some people just like to talk about themselves!

As wonderful as the internet is, and as much career and job information you can find online, there are some things that you can only learn by speaking to someone who actually does the job.  Be thoughtful and deliberate when identifying people you’d like to talk to, clear and polite when you contact them, and appreciative of any and all advice they give you, and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by people’s responsiveness. You have much to gain and little to lose by asking.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of Northeastern Career Development, and has worked at Northeastern for 11 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.

You have a missed call, and it wasn’t your mother

Your mom called. How do you know?  You see the missed call on your cell phone, so youmom missed call call her back. You know it’s her, so you don’t have to bother listening to the message, if she even bothered to leave one.

Now, imagine that a number you can’t identify called and left you a voicemail message.  You skip the voice mail and call back, explaining that someone from that number called you.  Turns out that it’s a company where you applied for an internship, co-op or full-time job.  Great!

Only, there’s a problem. Turns out all the company numbers go through a main switchboard, and you’ve just called the receptionist. He or she has no idea who called you, or any reasonable way to find out because so many different people work there.

Now what?

I hope you saved that voice mail message.

Calling back friends and family without listening to their messages is common, and for many people, the norm (though personally, if you don’t leave me a voice mail, then it can’t be that important and I’ll call you back at my leisure).  Doing so with a potential employer, however, can backfire. Here’s what employers may think (assuming you ever make it to the correct person):

  • You’re lazy. I left you a message and you couldn’t be bothered to listen to it.
  • You don’t follow instructions. I told you what to do in the message.
  • You expect other people to do your work for you. You had the info at your fingertips but you asked somebody else to go find it for you.
  • All of the above.
picture source: Lifehacker.com

picture source: Lifehacker.com

Do any of those qualities sound like what an employer wants in a potential employee? (If you said yes, I’m going to be the one calling your mother.)

Listen to the message. Follow the instructions. Make the best possible impression you can.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of NU Career Development, 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.


Tips for communicating with your boss

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.

Developing good communication with your supervisor can help you get the most out of your work experience and help ensure that you continue to be challenged. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a productive relationship with your supervisor:

  • Ask questions. This is probably the most important lesson I learned in my first job out of college. All of a sudden, I couldn’t fake my way through like I sometimes could on high school or college assignments. Having a general idea of what I was supposed to be working on simply was not enough. I can’t tell you how many sentences I started with “This is probably a stupid question, but…” (spoiler: there are no stupid questions!) because I was uncomfortable with the volume of things I didn’t know that I felt I should know. I asked questions despite my discomfort and found that the answers were often things my supervisor didn’t explain because he took the information for granted. I was surprised how many times his answer to my “stupid question” began with “That’s a good question. I should have explained it to you earlier…” So ask away!

    Image from womenworld.org

  • Express interest in projects that you want to work on. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time filing and making copies in my first weeks at that job. I learned that vaguely asking, “Is there anything I could be working on right now?” does not always produce the desired result (exception: when the desired result is a jammed photocopier and paper cuts). It’s OK to ask about getting involved on a project that interests you. In general, extra help is always welcome and it shows that you are interested in more advanced work. Even if it isn’t feasible for you to get involved on that particular project, your supervisor is now aware of your interest and will appreciate that you took initiative, and will hopefully remember that for similar work in the future.
  • Take constructive feedback in stride. You’re bound to make mistakes in a new job – it’s unavoidable. What will set you apart is how you handle a mistake that your supervisor questions you about. If you’re defensive or emotional, then the conversation will be unpleasant and your supervisor might think twice about assigning you challenging work in the future simply to avoid a similar conversation. If you handle the critique gracefully and ask clarifying questions about what you could do differently next time, your supervisor might be more willing to provide more advanced work and to help you grow professionally.
  • Take communication cues from your supervisor. Building a good professional relationship with a supervisor takes time and it should be noted that it is not solely  up to your supervisor. Yes, he might be the one in charge, but you also need to maintain open lines of communication. That being said, it is important to take cues from your supervisor on his or her preferred communication habits. Is he receptive to unplanned drop-bys? Does she seem to rely more heavily on email? Noticing these preferences and remembering that everyone works differently can go a long way towards achieving productive communication.