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

So, Why Do You Want To Be A Nurse?

It’s the most common question any nursing major will receive during the interview process, whether for school or for co-op positions. “Why do you want to be a nurse” is ubiquitous, and with good reason. Your answer says a lot about you and your motivations, not to mention where your passion lies. I’ve heard many variations on a theme in the answers to this question, ranging from sincere to predictable and fake. Here are the two best ways to answer this question if you find yourself without a “classic” response!

1.       The Heartfelt Approach

If you became a nurse because of a personal experience, this answer is for you! For example, if you spent time in the hospital when you were young due to your own illness or a relative’s, and that’s where you discovered your passion, your answer will come across as genuine and give the interviewer a great idea of who you are. But beware! This way of answering can backfire if you stretch too hard to make a connection. If you didn’t have an epiphany in the midst of a medical crisis, please don’t try to make one up. You will just come across as phony, and nurses can spot an exaggerated story a mile away.

Example: “When I was twelve, my best friend John was diagnosed with cancer. I visited him every day in the hospital and found myself fascinated by how the nurses cared for him. They saw him more than the doctors did and always took the time to make sure he was doing OK. I knew then that I wanted to be a nurse someday so I could help people the way my friend was helped.”

2.       The Realistic Approach

Let’s face it, there are many benefits to nursing that have nothing to do with patient care. There’s the flexible scheduling, the many varied career paths and specialties, not to mention the job security. So if you became a nursing major for any of those reasons, good for you! These are perfectly valid reasons for entering the nursing profession. The problem, however, is that flat-out stating this in an interview makes you come across as caring only for the money, not the patients. Many interviewers see nursing as a lifelong passion, not “just a job,” so if the realistic approach is not taken tactfully, this answer could set a sour tone for the interview. One way to prevent this is to explain your evolving passion for nursing alongside your practical thinking, proving that you are pragmatic about your future career, but also have a passion for it.

Example: “I first applied to nursing school because I liked the flexibility involved in the profession and the job availability in my area. But now that I have been in nursing classes, I realize how much I love nursing in addition to all of the practical benefits it provides. I am excited about my career choice and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else!”

My story mixes the two, and I’ve found that my answer works because it feels real. I always had a passion for science and taking care of others from a young age. I also really loved working with kids in summer camps and after school plays. When high school started and I began thinking about my career and college, nursing jumped out at me. When I volunteered at my local hospital, it all clicked for me. I loved making people feel better, and to me, the nurses were superheroes. The same spirit of discovery that I loved about science is at the heart of nursing as a profession. Being a pediatric nurse means caring for the whole family, not just the patient, and that appealed to me. I applied to NU Nursing and never looked back because I knew I had made the right choice and found my life’s passion.

No matter what your reasons are for entering nursing, just know that this one question does not define who you are or who you will be as a nurse! Whether you decided to be a nurse for the practical benefits or the emotional rewards, what matters most is what you do at the bedside for the patient every day.

Julia Thompson is a second year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and is currently on her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at thompson.jul@husky.neu.edu with any questions. You can follow her on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/juliavthompson) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/juliavthompson).