By Erica Moss
This post is part of BrandKit’s Next Step Chronicles Guest Blogging series. If’ you’re interested in blogging for BrandKit let us know!
As a freshman in college, you’re constantly in learning mode: figuring out how to get to your classes on time, how to do your own laundry, how to adjust to a new course load, how to make time for your friends and your studies, and much more. Very rarely are freshmen able to think about the big picture things like internships, job shadows, and careers — they’re simply just trying to find their rhythm.
By the time sophomore year rolls around, though, most students feel like they’ve started to get a good handle on things, they feel comfortable with their campus, and have more self-confidence when it comes to what they want in life. They don’t have all of the answers, by any means, but it’s a time when students can begin to map out their futures.
Job shadows and/or informational interviews are great ways for students to get their feet in the door, especially if they are lacking real work experience. But there are many questions to be asked: How early is too early to start visiting companies you’re interested in? How do you choose which ones to visit? What do you wear when you go? What types of questions should you ask?
Also, it can be intimidating to think about sitting with a real-life professional. What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to? What if I say something stupid? What if there are awkward silences?
All of these questions are perfectly reasonable and a natural reaction to embarking on an experience that’s unfamiliar to you. If you’re getting ready to start reaching out to contacts in your field of study, here are a few ways to make sure you’re as successful as possible:
Develop a list of 3-5 companies you’d like to visit.
Have you seen a particular agency in the news a lot recently? Does your sister work at a newspaper that sounds appealing to you? Maybe your mom’s best friend is a nurse at a local hospital, and you’ve visited so often, you’d like to find out more about it. Whatever your criteria are, decide which companies seem like they might be a good fit for you in your particular industry (and if they aren’t, you will have only invested a few hours visiting there instead of jumping in head-first with an actual job).
Then, do some research. Browse their websites top to bottom and Google the company to find out what they’ve been up to recently. Check out their social media presence (or lack thereof). Write down a few key things that stuck out to you (fun company culture, big impact on the industry, legacy, etc.) so you can refer back to them later.
Get introduced to the person who facilitates job shadows.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t list “Job Shadow Coordinator” on their websites, so it’s best to call them directly and ask for the name and contact information of the person who does handle interactions with students. It may seem like an unnecessary step (can’t I just send my email to info@CompanyABC.com?) but not only is it always better to address your emails to actual person, it also will show initiative on your part. If your siblings or parents already have a connection within the company, ask them to kindly make a phone or email introduction on your behalf.
Get a date on the calendar.
Depending on how eager you are, you may be reaching out to these people sooner than they’re prepared to schedule something. That’s OK. Just being on their radar and expressing an interest is a great start. Some companies have a very formal intern/job shadow/informational interview policy, and others are more lax. Some may accept students year-round, and others may limit it to a few months out of the year. Your contact will fill you in on his or her policy, and you can coordinate from there. It’s better to be jumping the gun then begging for a visit at the last minute.
Prepare a list of questions.
This is your chance to get any and all questions you’ve ever wondered about answered. Nothing is off limits (as long as it’s appropriate), and the answers you get may help shape your future resumes, cover letters and interviews with future employers.
Ask company-specific questions, as well as industry-related ones. For example, if I were visiting a PR firm, I’d ask them questions like:
- From your point of view, how has PR changed in the past 5-10 years?
- How have you begun to integrate social media into your organization?
- What qualities are you looking for in an assistant account executive or account executive role?
- What’s the culture like in the office?
- What does a “typical” day look like for you?
- How do you account for the time you spend on each client?
- What tools do you use most on a daily basis?
- What surprised you most after graduating and starting your first PR job?
Write more questions than you think you’ll need. You’ll be able to pull from your master list whether you’re talking to the chief marketing officer or the administrative assistant, and it will ensure a good flow in every conversation.
Treat your visit as if it’s an interview with the company.
Wear business attire: button-down shirts, jackets, dress pants and dress shoes. Also, make sure you’re well groomed, and eat breakfast before you leave your house. Map out the path you’ll be taking the night before, and arrive early, if at all possible. Be enthusiastic — and genuinely so — and always be an active listener. Also, bring fresh copies of your resume with you — if you’re memorable and likable, you never know who you might get a call from down the road.
Have you been through the job shadow process? Are there any best practices you picked up along the way? Share them in the comments.
Erica Moss is the social media outreach coordinator for Georgetown University’s online masters in nursing program, which has one of the nation’s leading family nurse practitioner concentrations. She also loves exploring New York City, photography and meeting new people. Photo uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons.