What is Informational Interviewing?

So you’re a Northeastern student, full of vim and vigor and enthusiasm for the future. You’ve got classes and co-ops under your belt, and you feel prepared for the working world. But if you’re like most students, you haven’t discovered one of the most potent secrets of career success. What is this magical secret, you wonder? It’s a little something called “informational interviewing.”

What is Informational Interviewing?

It’s only the most useful career-building tool you’ll encounter. The basic gist is that you will reach out to professionals in the industry and set up interviews with them. Instead of the interviews you’re used to, YOU will be the one asking the questions! It’s the best way to network and gain insider industry knowledge at the same time! And your mom thought you were useless at multitasking! Oh how wrong she was.

The Power of Asking

There are two secrets why informational interviews work:

  • People love to talk about themselves.
  • People love to help college students.

At first, I was skeptical. Who would take time out from their busy schedule to shoot the breeze with a bumbling college student who barely knows what to do with her life after graduation? I reached out to professionals at ten different companies, expecting to bug them a week later in an attempt to set up two or three meetings if I was lucky. Au contraire! To my surprise, almost everyone replied immediately! And they wanted to help me! And all I had to do was ask. Many have referred to this as the Ben Franklin effect (see here).

You’ve probably heard this statistic before: 80% of job openings are unlisted, and are filled through word of mouth. With those kinds of odds, how can you afford not to network? Informational interviewing is a great way to start!

BEHIND THE BULLET POINTS: The Hidden Career Advantages of Global Co-op

We’ve all come to love that Northeastern is synonymous with all things global and experiential!  Dialogues of Civilization, Study Abroad, the hallmark Global Co-op program, a large international student body, and many other avenues to name a few, are ways in which our students gain critical exposure to an array of foreign cultures.

Alane De Luca, Peace Corps Volunteer, photographed with two Senegalese friends

To be a university student in America offers a certain right of passage – to ‘find’ oneself – to be able to explore courses of interest, entertain various career options, and take advantage of the many co-curricular options often promoted on campuses across the country.  Now is the time to seize this luxury opportunity – to indulge oneself – to imagine the possible and realize the impossible!  The convergence of this moment offers students multiple of directions from which to chose their path – my advice – be open to the new and different.  I did just that when I joined the Peace Corps, and it was one of the most transformational experiences of my life.

Much discussion about the benefits of Global Co-op revolves around the unique work experiences students can expect and the interesting companies and organizations co-ops are offered.  What many students miss at first glance, is that a Global Co-op also offers invaluable learning opportunities and cultural exposure way beyond the 9 to 5.  It’s the day-to-day living in a foreign culture that cannot be assigned a price tag – the complete immersion into how business is conducted in another country, soaking up the language, and easily overlooked nuances of communication among people. These are the exact bullet points that are difficult to add to your CV, but that are so critical to self-realization. They might be hard to articulate, but so powerful once experienced.

Alane De Luca, Global Employer Relations, here with newly married couple in Indonesia

Here, for example, after a day of meetings, I was spontaneously invited to attend a weekend wedding (not your usual turn of events given that I did not know the family), and what an incredible chance to seize a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be forever imprinted in my mind.  How incredible it would be for a student to have a similar experience – no, this activity is not necessarily resume-worthy, but as a Global Co-op and to absorb and reflect upon these types of cross-cultural interactions, is what will give you the ‘career advantage’ over your competition and indelible passion for diversity in years to come.

I am often struck by the smells of foreign lands.  Burning wood in Bali, simmering curry and saffron in India, barbecue steak in Argentina.  Who would think that something so powerful as the sense of smell would be part of a career blog?

Alane De Luca, Global Employer Relations, here talking to children in central India

 Exactly.  No one.  To my point, when a Global Co-op ventures to their work site across the globe, part of the journey is to relish in the new and different.  Global Co-ops are laser-focused on developing new skills and adapting to their new employer as they should (mapping out resume-worthy bullet points the key goal), however, it would be short-sighted to overlook the permeable grittiness of day-to-day life in a new environment.  Something as innocuous as smell can lend to deeper learning – an up-close-and-personal diary of sorts about society the economic advantages and challenges, the geo-political climate, and the societal norms, to name a few.  When I was in India, for example, I was metaphorically slapped in the face with economical inequities – one that brought me right back to my Peace Corps days.  Knowing now what I didn’t know then made me realize that I could not have put a price on how an experience from 25 years ago would prepare me for feeling so at home in a place surrounded by such rich and contrasting realities.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most profound.  Travel is an education – unbound by walls with endless horizons to take in.  My hope is that this blog will inspire one student (if not hundreds or even thousands) to take a chance on a Global Co-op.  A Global Co-op experience will put you on the front lines of the impossible, where strength is challenged and growth is inevitable.  Impressive CV’s are a common commodity in today’s economy – what will make you different?  How will you stand out?  What will be your story – one that can be told as if you are painting a picture – what impression will you leave your next employer, and employer after that, and so on and so on…?

Alane De Luca, Global Employer Relations, watches as boy and his mother buy ice cream on a busy street in Hong Kong

In closing, I will leave you with this – I was struck by seeing this simple ice cream truck on the side of a busy road in Hong Kong.  The little boy and his mother were rushing and hailing their hands to make the truck stop for them (just like we would do here).  What struck me is that I would not necessarily notice this seemingly traditional pastime of buying ice cream from an ice cream truck in my own neighborhood – but, given I was in a new culture with senses heightened, to me, observing a mother and child buying something as simple as ice cream seemed so poignant in a foreign land.  Definitely not a bullet point for the resume, but oh how cool it was to witness on that hot summer day….

Alane De Luca oversees the Global Employer Relations team and global lead-generation initiatives within Career Development and Cooperative Education.  She comes to Northeastern with 25+ years of experience working in the international education arena.  Alane’s passion for global experiential learning began when she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, where she worked alongside NGO’s and native Senegalese in rural parts of northern Senegal.  Upon returning to the states, she assumed a position funded by the United States Agency for International Development focusing on initiatives set forth by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and administered at Northeastern.

Alane De Luca, Director of Global Employer Relations, Northeastern University

She also has experience directing global and experiential learning programs within academia at Merrimack College, Salem State University, Suffolk University Law School, and Saint Anselm College.  She is a dual citizen of Italy, holds an M.Ed. from Northeastern University and a B.A. from The College of the Holy Cross. www.linkedin.com/in/alanedeluca

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Combating the Culture-Vulture

Overview

“This is how things get done here”. How often have we come across this phrase at the office? This one simple statement opens up a can of worms for many organizations regardless of size and structure. In the contemporary work setting more and more companies are focusing on something called finding the “cultural fit” when recruiting or evaluating a candidate’s performance. This terminology covers a gambit of themes ranging from hiring decisions to firing decisions. To help me establish my point better, I would like to quote from Schein (p.17 2004) who defines organizational culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems ” Keyton, J. (2011).

In theory, this definition conveys that organizations, nowadays, prefer having someone on board who is like them. Over a significant period of time, defining organizational culture has become essential for organizations in not just sourcing talent but also for its very existence!

Elements

Every organization is established on certain principles and values that it wishes to find in its workforce. If they don’t find it during their search the companies will try to instill the same principles by driving the narrative throughout the organization. Apple; a large organization with a diverse workforce is a wonderful example of this. The company focused on Steve Jobs interest in calligraphy in the early part of his career. This shaped his company and pushed their limits to be more aesthetically pleasing. From product designs and features to product innovations, Apple products are always ahead of the learning curve.

In order to drive this narrative, it is vital that companies realize their own ethos which is central to the very existence of the organization. This in turn can be channelized through various methods to reach the end users, the employees. An employee will more likely be encouraged to try and perform the same function using a new method in organizations that focus on innovation and encourage free flow of ideas throughout the organization.

When Nokia was at its zenith, the company focused on making phones that were push-button, robust and had a great battery life. However, by the turn of 2010, the company couldn’t match up to the smart phones manufactured by Apple and Samsung and Nokia fell apart. This saga brought to light the conservative and reserved culture that existed at Nokia, where senior leadership refused to question the status quo. On the flip side companies like Google are built on not just questioning the status quo but even changing the existing dynamics. The Google Innovation Lab and other research centers are delegated with the responsibility to try, fail, learn, and innovate path-breaking products and its results are inimitable such as google glass, project loon-X, and the self-driving car.

The factor that sets the tone for the narrative in the organization are its people. People define, execute, transform, and establish how things get done at any organization. As a new employee in any organization, I’m curious to understand the work environment in the office. It’s not just about having friendly co-workers or having casual Friday’s. It’s much more whether or not I’m allowed to work independently, what are my decision making powers and most importantly how easily can I get my grievances resolved without ruffling too many feathers. These are various factors one needs to consider when assessing the culture. In my experience there aren’t any textbooks available that can teach potential and even current employees about grasping the work culture. I believe that only experience will allow you to understand it. Although portals like Glassdoor and Linkedin do a splendid job in giving candidates a clearer picture, but it is only so much that these portals can do.

Cultural Alignment

More often than not even factors external to the organization play a vital role in defining the organizational culture. A company faced with competition may re-define its policies and change the entire method of the climate. Managing the change is where most employees and the organization face a steep task because many employees resist change. Even if the change may be beneficial to the organization as a whole in the long run, managers and leaders aren’t able to align company objectives with the individual goals of the employees. Whatever may be the principles of an organization, it is imperative that the company propagates adaptability and flexibility as major components of the organizational culture.

So as companies wade through industry trends, market demands and customer preferences, it is essential for employees and potential candidates to ‘culturally-fit’ in the work setting. Doing so, enhances job satisfaction, increases growth potential and paves the way for a long-standing association with the organization. Also by rewarding, monetarily and otherwise, a workforce that accepts and embraces the company’s vision, organizations have a greater control in retaining their best talent. The only method that this can be attained is by recognizing the objectives of both the stakeholders and jointly planning to establish an inclusive, ethical, and stimulating environment in the organization.

References:
Keyton, J. (2011). Communication & Organizational Culture: a key to understand work experience (2nd ed.). California: SAGE Publications, Inc.