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March 10, 2009

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If you're still in school, you have golden schmoozing opportunities all around you that can help you find internships and jobs. Many students forget that there are numerous people at their university who already know them and are predisposed to want them to succeed - their professors. If you think your history professor only knows about the French Revolution, think again. He's probably pretty savvy about life in this century as well.

Make sure you are on a first name basis with each and every one of your professors. Even if you're enrolled in huge lecture classes and can barely see the prof, figure out when his or her office hours are (hint: they'll be printed on the syllabus or posted on the office door) and go. Most professors only see students when they're begging for extensions on papers or explaining how they slept through the midterm. Your schmoozing will come as a welcome change.

Introduce yourself to your professor at the beginning of the semester. Tell them you're looking forward to taking the class, and if you're majoring (or thinking about it) in the subject, let them know that too. If you have any questions about something in a lecture, or are curious about something you've read, ask. But make sure to ask non-class related questions as well. How did they get interested in sociology? What research are they doing now? Can they recommend any other good classes?

Because, after all, you ultimately want to get a job after you graduate, ask your professor for advice about that too. What have other students in his/her subject done after graduation? What does the professor recommend you do? You'd be surprised how many professors consult with companies part-time. If you're at a larger university, you might want to consider taking a class at your university's business or law school, as professors at professional schools often have an even wider variety of career contacts.

Tap alumni resources

Other woefully underused routes to schmoozing for a job in school are career counselors and alumni.

Career counselors want to help you get a job. That's their job. At the same time, they also have to find jobs for the other couple of thousand students at your university. But you, smart schmoozer that you are, have an advantage - not all those students are going to bother to schmooze their career counselors. As early as possible in your school career, go to your school career center, introduce yourself and discuss your career goals. Thank your counselor for any particularly good advice or leads he gives you. Most students neglect career counselors until April of their senior year. Don't make the same mistake.

Alumni already have a point of similarity with you. Ron Nelson points out, "Just having that little thing like a school connection takes you from 'Who the hell are you and why are you calling me?' to 'Oh, okay, you went to Vanderbilt too, what can I do for you?' It's not a big thing, but it's enough."

Tamara Totah, the headhunter for the Oxbridge Group, also recommends using alumni contacts from your school, although she cautions that you should never directly ask them for a job. "The minute they hear that they get worried," she says. "Talk to them about what different opportunities may be available in the industry. People will spend 30 minutes with you. They know how tough it is."

Always intern

Internships are an essential component of the job hunting process. Part of the reason they are so valuable is that they give you work experience that can be later used to help you in a job search.

Once you get inside a company as an intern, you should not feel restrained by the department that you're working in - or even by your assigned supervisor. Figure out what you most want to do in the organization and schmooze the person who does it. A good way to do this is to ask this person to lunch. A good line is: "I'm trying to absorb as much information as I can in this internship, and what you do seems particularly interesting. I wonder if you are available for lunch anytime this week."

The person will almost always say "Yes." When he or she describes what they do at lunch, try to relate the skills that he employs to skills that you have. For example, if he tells you about the press release he is writing for company X, slip in how that's similar to your college newspaper writing experience. With any luck, your schmoozee will then offer you a chance to draft a press release. If not, try to give them another gentle nudge: "Oh, writing press releases seems like so much fun!"

When you are given menial errands to do, take it in good cheer. No one likes a whiner. If you feel like you must say something, couch it in humor. One State Department intern remembers telling his boss: "Although being a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Photocopying has its moments, I was wondering if I could do more substantive work here?" The question got his message across without rancor - and the intern received some interesting assignments. Remember: as long as you do a few things that look impressive, you won't have to put on your resume that you ran errands and photocopied stuff 99 percent of the time. So instead of complaining about your menial tasks - or even non-verbally grumbling by acting dour - express an interest in doing specific, substantive work.

But perhaps more important than the experience you get as an intern are the people you meet. Make it your personal assignment to meet as many people as possible at the place you intern, as well as anyone who works with the people there. Keep in touch with your co-workers, supervisors and fellow interns after you leave your internship. Ensure they are up to date on your educational and career progress. You can do this through a number of methods - send holiday cards, call once in a while to see how things are doing at the "old homestead," and if you're in town, stop by the office or meet for lunch. That way, when a job opening appears, you'll be sure to hear about it.

But what if you do an internship and, a few days or weeks, decided that public relations or pet grooming just isn't for you? Should you then give up, slack off, and forget about it? Should you not bother keeping in touch with the people you met at your internship? No, no, no! We shouldn't have to tell you that, even if you've suddenly decided you want to be an astronaut, the people at your internship may know someone who works at Kennedy Space Center. Or, unbeknownst to you, that woman at the next desk is the niece of Buzz Aldrin. But even if nothing and no one at your job connects to your current career passion right now, the people there should remember you as a cheerful, hard-working, friendly person - so when they do meet someone who's the human resources manager for NASA, they can tell you about it the next time you call.


Search the Vault Internship Board
Discuss internships at the Internship Message Board
Read job search advice at Vault's Job Search Survival Center

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