Your career questions are answered in this first of a series connecting alumni with our expert career coaches.
How can I get experience in my chosen field while still in school?
While acquiring classroom skills and knowledge is critical to obtaining a career in any industry, experiential work can be just as important. For example, job seekers in the field of information systems and technology often find that along with a degree, employers are asking for a number of years of experience in the field.
There are many ways for you to gain experience while going to school. You can begin with class assignments and expand those into personal projects that will help you learn additional skills. For example, you can download programs like VirtualBox® from Oracle, a popular cross-platform virtualization software that enables you to run multiple operating systems on your Mac, PC, Linux, or Oracle® Solaris machine. Visit sites like CodeChef and Coderbyte to practice programming in different languages. You can also refine your hardware skills by building or setting up computer systems; you can purchase low-cost, outdated equipment and set up a lab where you can practice. Offer to help friends or family with their computers: Fix their email systems, create websites and provide technical information.
Next, look for opportunities to volunteer with local nonprofits. Many types of organizations need tech support, even for just a few hours per week. This will allow you to gain additional experience and use skills you have learned in the classroom. Nonprofit volunteerism also looks great on your resumé.
Joining local IT groups is a great way to expand your network and learn additional skills. You can find groups through Meetup®, LinkedIn®, as well as through local business journals.
Internships are another great way to gain hands-on experience, although they do require a weekly time commitment, and often last three to six months. If this is not an option, post-graduation externships are generally shorter in duration and may be fewer hours per week. Many companies have structured internship programs listed on their human resources pages, and there are also listings in the Phoenix Career Guidance System™ (career.phoenix.edu/alumni). If you do not see any in your area, research local organizations (any that might need technical help) and reach out to ask about the possibility of an internship or externship.
I just had a job interview; what should I do next?
Interviews are a crucial piece of the job search process. After an interview, there are some important next steps.
1 | Send a thank-you note. Send a note to everyone who took part in the interview, and personalize each message. Email thank you notes are acceptable; written notes are a nice touch, but are not as immediate. If you do not have contact information for everyone you met with, email your main contact for their email addresses.
2 | Evaluate the opportunity. Consider all aspects of the position you learned from the interview. Does the position meet your career goals? Does it fit with your educational background and experience? Do you think you would like working for this organization? These are just a few factors to consider.
3 | Evaluate your performance. Think about the questions that were asked and how confident you feel about your answers. Were there any questions you could not answer or struggled with? Reviewing your responses will help you prepare for a second interview or interviews with other organizations.
4 | Follow up. In some cases, the employer will tell you the timeline for second interviews or decisions during the initial meeting. If they do not provide that information, inquire about it. It’s also a good idea to reach out after one to two weeks to check the status of your application.
5 | Decline if you’re not interested. If you evaluate the opportunity and decide the position is not a good fit, it is your responsibility to contact the employer to respectfully withdraw your application.
6 | Until you have received and accepted an offer, you’ll want to continue your search. Once you accept an offer, it is time to stop looking and decline any further interview offers you may receive.