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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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AT LAST!

You finished your summer internship and you’re back on campus. Time to dive into September frat parties, catch up with friends, make sure you’re enrolled in the right classes with the best professors from RateMyProfessors.com. Another college semester is underway!

Not quite. You’ve got a few things to do before your summer internship fades into history…

1. Update your resume. Describe what you accomplished in your summer job, before you forget. If it was an internship, what were your responsibilities, what did you initiate, what did you achieve? If you didn’t have great opportunities to change the world, you still may have gained exposure to how systems work in your field, and that is valuable too. Tweak it later, but at least write it down.

2. Update your LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t joined LinkedIn yet, now is the time: LinkedIn’09GradGuide. If you feel confident enough in your relationship with professionals you have met or worked for this summer, ask them to write you a LinkedIn recommendation. While you’re at it, join a few groups, like your high school and college alumni groups, and professional groups aligned with your field of study.

\3. Show appreciation for internship supervisors and colleagues. Send a thank you note to your boss for the learning opportunity you had this summer. In this economy, internships are hard to come by, and if you were fortunate enough to obtain one, show gratitude!

Stay connected with your supervisor and professionals you have met during your internship. If there is something that you can do for them (i.e., an introduction to a professor who does research in an area they are interested in, a sports event at your college they may enjoy attending, etc.), go out of your way to offer it. After all, they did you a big favor by hiring you and spending time training you this summer!

4. Get your updated resume to your school’s career service office. Before you know it, the recuriting process for next summer’s internships will be underway. So before you become immersed in your fall studies, get an updated resume over to career services. Then it’s on autopilot and you can relax for a few months.

5. File important stuff. A research study or regression you did, confidential information that shouldn’t be floating around your frat, whatever. Get organized. You never know when you might need this stuff.

Now you’re ready for September.

Relevant reading: Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak,  From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher.

Related posts: College Internship and Entry Level ResumesYour College’s Career Center, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart,Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance.

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A recent post from Businessweek‘s daily “Getting In” blog asked, “MBA Applications: Is the Party Over?” Based on the Graduate Management Admissions Council‘s GMAT registration numbers from first four months of 2009, the volume of B-school applications may be leveling off after an all-time high in 2007-08.

Reporter Ann Vander Mey points out the precedent for a boom, then bust in B-school applications during recessions: “During the 2001 dot-com bust, there was a spike in applications as people fled the job market. The spike was followed by falling GMAT test volume for the next three years.” Mey makes a persuasive argument for a similar pattern occuring today: “The financial industry, once B-schools grads’ bread and butter, is in crisis ; many news outlets, including this one, have published articles about MBAs graduating without jobs; and the MBA brand itself has taken a beating.”

Leveling out of MBA applications may be a paradoxical bright spot in the dismal 2009 economy. This past cycle was “not a pretty picture” for many applicants! My clientele fared well, but geographic flexibility was essential: a willingness to consider elite graduate business programs beyond the Northeast Corridor.

According to US News & World Report‘s 2009 rankings of the top 15 B-schools, acceptance rates for Northeast Corridor MBA programs were: HBS 11.5%, MIT Sloan 15.0%, Yale 14.4%, Columbia 15.1%, NYU Stern 13.6% (11th rank but ground zero for financial services!) and Wharton 16.3%. With the exception of Stanford and Berkeley, top schools outside the Corridor had higher acceptance rates: Third-ranked Northwestern Kellogg 19.4%, U.of Chicago 21.9%, Dartmouth Tuck 16.0%, U.of Michigan 20.1%, UCLA 19.5%, UVA Darden 24.6%, Carnegie-Mellon 28.3%, and Duke Fuqua 30.4%.

Recommended reading: The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In by Chioma Isiadinso. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA.

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College is fun. You’re surrounded by smart, dynamic young adults. Constantly stimulated by intellectually engaging courses. Enriched by a convenient array of extra-curricular activities and entertainment venues. What’s not to love? The only thing not to love is that college ends. You have to enter the “real” world. OMG!

How will you be prepared for that? Not just career choice, job search, the entry level job. But the whole enchilada: renting an apartment, furnishing your living space, buying insurance, leasing a car, investing, filing tax returns, finding doctors, figuring out a commute, creating an urban social life…the list goes on.

If this post suffers from link overload, it’s because there’s so much help out there! Every young adult is a unique individual, whose life will unfold mysteriously, serpendipitously, sometimes quixotically. But once in a while, a book, website, or personal story can offer a clue.

SELF-DISCOVERY: Books: What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, and Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Career by Nicholas Lore.

CAREER EXPLORATION. Books: The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, and How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.  Websites: Careers-in-Business.com, CareerTV , and WetFeet.com/Careers/Industries.

PERSONAL BRANDING & POSITIONING. Students often cringe at “personal branding” lingo because it sounds like  “packaging” or “selling out.” But it is really about knowing your authentic self, putting your best foot forward, and being true. Books: Man aging Brand You: 7 Steps to Creating Your Most Successful Self by Jerry Wilson & Ira Blumenthal. Websites: Dan Schwabel’s Personal Branding Blog.

JOB SEARCH & FIRST JOB: Books: Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career by Sheila J. Curran, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit, and  From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher.

Websites: CollegeGrad.com, WetFeet.com, ResumeBear.com, QuintessentialCareers.com, SimplyHired.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com(College), and  CollegeBuilder(CBCampus).com.

GETTING AN “AFTER COLLEGE” LIFE: Books: How to Survive the Real World: Life After College Graduation: Advice from 774 Graduates Who Did by HOH Books, The Quarterlifer’s Companion: How to Get On the Right Career Path, Control Your Finances, and Find the Support Network You Need To Thrive by Abby Wilner, Ramen Noodles, Rent & Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life by Kirsten Fischer. Websites: Gradspot.com and LifeAfterCollegeForum.com.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart,Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance.

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My favorite: Careers-in-Finance.Com. They claim to “demystify” jobs in finance, a great word, because college students who major in economics still ask, “What does an investment banker actually do?” The site describes key career paths,  offers great sitelinks, recommended books, key players, job listings, a place to post your resume, headhunter list, and job outlooks. BTW, it’s up-to-date! This site identifies opportunities in a field that has changed dramatically this year. Yes, there still are opportunities, if you know where to look!

Another “fave” is WetFeet.Com, offering profiles of careers, industries and companies. It covers a wide range of fields. It has sections for undergrads, MBA’s, entry level and experienced professionals. Wetfeet publishes Insider Guides, terrific booklets on careers, industries and companies. Another site I recently discovered is CareerTV, a global TV programmer and interactive website designed to help college students and young professionals explore careers, industries, and companies. Watch a video, you’re ready for the interview. 

What have your experiences been like in financial fields over the past year? I would like to hear from twenty-somethings who have faced difficulty finding positions, or those who have dealt with job uncertainty and loss. How have you been affected by these experiences? If you spent time laid off, what have you done during that time period? What nuggets of wisdom would you offer to students coming out of college who are interested in economics or finance?

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real WorldWhat I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?

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You’re a college junior, composing a paper on your laptop, FaceBooking and IM’ing at the same time. You have a text from Mom asking you to check  email because she sent you vital travel info but you never check. What other communcation tools do you need?

LinkedIn? What’s that? Oh, that boring site for business contacts. Put up a profile? Oh, puhlease…

But you’d like to get a summer internship, and a job when you graduate, in a tough economy. The career placement office made you put together a resume, and it might be good to have a public, professional presence online. Employers may be looking, and you’d have a high Google rank with an instant profile. Ok, so there are some benefits for college students on LinkedIn.

Some of your friends have websites or blogs. The artist with the online portfolio, the biotech major with his posted research, the journalism major with her active blog. LinkedIn can instantly link to those collections of a student’s work!

That guy that graduated last year, he’s working for the company you’re interested in, and maybe he could pass your name along to somebody. But how to find him? Oh, he’s probably on LinkedIn. He could forward your profile or recommend your work, because you were on that team project together.

Come to think of it, LinkedIn might be a good way to keep in touch. They have all these Groups: High school and college alumni, the company you worked for last summer, professional associations for your field, people from your hometown, or summer camp. All those people grow up, find jobs, become important—just like you. It might not be a bad idea to keep up with them, or be there so they could find you.

Ok, ok, you’ll join. LinkedIn has a 2009 Grad Guide to help get started (has not been updated but it still works).

Relevant reading: I’m on LinkedIn: Now What? by Jason Alba, What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit, Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: College Internship and Entry Level Resumes, Your College’s Career Center,So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance, What Is Informational Interviewing?

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Summer internships, especially paid ones, are tough to land in any economy. But it is especially difficult during a period of  high unemployment. And you are competing with the huge population of baby boomlet students, just as you did in the college application process. So it is possible that you were not able to get an internship for this summer. However, there are many valuable alternative ways to spend a college summer, which will be personally gratifying and resume-building as well. Here are ten ideas:

1. Take a course. Get a requirement out of the way, especially a hard one. Give it full focus, perform better, and have an easier workload this fall. Or take an elective at an accredited school near home if your college will give credit. If you attend a private college, take summer courses at your state university to save money on tuition. For exposure to elite academics in a stimulating urban environment, consider Harvard Summer School, London School of Economics, Georgetown, GWU, Columbia, NYU, or USC, to name only a few.

2. Attend a workshop. Gain professional tools as valuable as an internship, or perhaps more.  If you didn’t land that Wall Street summer gig, how about four weekends at the CFA-accredited Investment Banking Institute, offered in ten U.S. cities? Its student price is a bargain compared to executive education at prestigious universities, and you’re free during the week to do hourly work to pay for it.

3 Beef up your technical proficiencies. Add to your professional toolkit for a future job. Let’s say you are a fine arts student interested in exploring applied visual arts, such as digital graphics, videogaming, web design or animation. Buy a software program through Academic Superstore, which offers reduced prices for students. Or enroll in a non-matricultant online course (i.e.,  Academy of Art University.) The fine arts metaphor translates to any field.

4. Do volunteer work in your field. For medical, education and helping professions, it is essential to develop your human contact capabilites, not just academic skills. Volunteer work can help you assess the rewards and frustrations of dealing with clients in your prospective field, as well as different working environments. It may strengthen your grad school application. And it will undoubtedly enhance your experience as a human being. You will never have more time than you do right now to “give back.”

5. Do research. What about approaching a professor  to do unpaid research? Structure an independent study for academic credit. Undergraduate research is expected for graduate school applications in academic, science and medical fields (see Science Magazine‘s Science Careers and Student Doctor Network). If you plan to go into the workforce after college, research demonstrates your initiative and deep knowledge of your field. Your professor may also have connections that may lead to an entry level position.

6. Travel. Do one of your own college’s study abroad programs led by your own professors, other schools’ renowned programs (i.e., NYU, Syracuse, Boston U), or external programs that partner with universities (i.e., IES, CSA). You will enrich your experience in your major, or in your life, and you will never have as much time as you do now.

7. Take grad school prep courses and exams. If you plan graduate school straight from college, take advantage of this time window (vs. during a regular semester). If you plan to join the workforce and are considering eventual graduate work, take the test now. Tests are valid for five years. You’ll never be “smarter” than right now! Click here for GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, or GRE.

8. Learn a foreign language. Master a language for an employment edge in the future, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hindi. Enroll in a college course or Berlitz program, or buy Rosetta Stone (this incredible software could even teach me, the most “unlikely to succeed” language student!). Consider Middlebury‘s renowned language schools, University of Chicago’s intensive language program, or University of Virginia’s Summer Language Institute.

9. Do informational interviews and job shadowing. What do you want to do when you grow up? Finally you have time to find out! Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family, family friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors: and people they know. It’s a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree to an informational interview, since you are not specifically asking for a job.

Ask about rewards and frustrations, long term career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to tell their story and give advice, so let them!  Ask to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like. The bonus of this approach is, it often leads to landing a project, internship or job later on, directly or indirectly. Every time to meet with an adult professional face-to-face, you will learn something that will help you in career exploration, job interviews, or career decision-making.

10. Earn money. If you can find a semi-skilled summer job, that can also fit the bill. You may be able to take a workshop or online course in your spare time. The money you earn may allow you to do some educational travel at the end of the summer. Working during the summer may free you from having to do part-time work during the school year, resulting in stronger academic performance.

There is nothing more noble and than self-sufficiency, responsibility and elbow grease, and you can be sure future employers will be impressed with a proven work ethic. A summer job requiring physical labor in an outdoor environment can actually be a refreshing break from academia. There is always something to be learned from every experience, from supervisors, co-workers and customers. Soak it all in.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn? Does Your College GPA Matter? and What Is Informational Interviewing?

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