Networking and Interviewing: An Art in Effective Communication

Article excerpt

It was not too many years ago that attainment of a bachelor's degree almost guaranteed employment upon graduation. However, an increasingly complex and rapidly changing labor market has created a very competitive environment for today's college graduate. Employers are looking for individuals with a high probability of success. Both CEOs and human resource directors alike speak about listening skills, team playing, communication skills, work and travel experiences, the ability to network, people skills, and a global perspective as important elements of success. Students who have had the opportunity to develop these skills will have a clear competitive advantage in the job market. To help students develop these skills, apply business communication theories and strategies, and to provide practical experience, I have expanded on employment projects typically taught in the field of business communication. This expanded employment project has been an avenue to assist students in receiving internships and part-time or full-time positions. It has also helped enhance students' networking, writing, listening, interviewing, and presentation skills.

The Employment Project

This project spans the entire semester and is accomplished in several phases.

Phase 1: The Role Model

Students are required to find someone in the community who is doing what they would like to see themselves doing once they have completed their degree. This is the beginning lesson in networking. I suggest that students use their current network system (for example, parents, friends, roommates, faculty members, career counselors, or academic counselors) to locate this person. In addition to their at-hand network base, students use the Yellow Pages of the telephone book, the university career resource center, and professional association rosters as ways to locate prospective role models. In the past 12 years of implementing this project, I have found the professional community to be very open and willing to help students in this endeavor.

To help students get a foot in the door, I provide them with a one-page letter that fully explains the entire project to the student's potential role model. Each semester I collect data about the role models (title, company, phone number, and student mentee) and add these to my role model database. I make notes about who is particularly helpful and willing to repeat this role as well as notes about those who would like a semester or two sabbatical, but are glad to do it again in the future. With this growing list, I am better able to guide students who need assistance in locating a well matched role model. On a rare occasion, one or two students out of four sections of 25 each will need special assistance in locating a person who matches their skill level. On these occasions, I gladly make the phone call to help assure a successful exchange for both the student and the employer.

Phase 2: Company Research

Research strategies, including how to read an annual report and how to locate company information in sources such as Standard and Poor's, Dun & Bradstreet, and Moody's, are discussed; and each student begins to research the organization of his or her role model. In addition to the typical sources, students also begin to track the industry by reading journals and periodicals that pertain to their field of interest.

Phase 3: The Job Inquiry or Information-Gathering

Interview

With a list of questions in hand, students arrange to meet role models for 30-45 minutes. The goal of this meeting is to ask everything they wanted to know about Career X but were afraid to ask. Examples of these questions include:

* How did you prepare for this career? …