Glorious graduation

Written by Miriam Taylor, 2018 PRINZ Student Ambassador, AUT University

In a swish of black garb, Sarah readied herself at the base of the stairs. One foot in front of another she mounts the stage, determined that her choice of [fabulous but slightly tight] heels aren’t going to ruin this moment. As she moves in to shake hands with the Vice Chancellor, her cheeks burn and stomach flutters. Another man, who looks vaguely familiar, stiffly smiles and hands Sarah a plastic covered certificate. She takes one last look out toward the crowd, inhales deeply, and whispers, “See ya later suckers.”

Glorious graduation.

For many students, graduation is a momentous occasion that marks the completion of formal education. It means goodbye lectures, all-nighters, toga parties, group assignments, and hello….workforce?

Leaving behind a comfortable university routine can foster apprehension and inertia. If this is the case, the question students should be asking is, “What can I be doing now, prior to graduation, that will make my transition into the workforce a little more bearable?”

Well, as a soon-to-be-grad myself, I thought I would let you in on three hacks that have equipped me to face graduation (and beyond) with positivity and confidence.

“You mean, like, internships? Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before (blah blah blah) ”

No. These tips are far more nuanced, to the extent that doing them could fast track your learning beyond what any work experience has to offer.

They are:

  1. Conduct informational interviews
  2. Find a mentor
  3. Join a club

Here’s the breakdown.

Informational interviews

An informational interview involves arranging a meeting (usually over a coffee) with an industry leader whom you admire. Over the course of the meeting your objective is to find out as much as you can about them and how they got to where they are.

A few notes:

  • Spend time on your initial email. Industry leaders can get hundreds of emails every week from people asking for jobs/work experience etc. I advise using Ramit Sethi’s scripts on how to write an introductory email. Seriously, this is the difference between getting a meeting or not. Don’t screw it up.
  • If you genuinely are looking for a job/work experience, the only time you should ever convey this to your interviewee is right at the end, and it should never be mentioned explicitly.One tactic I use is: “Thank you for your time Mr X…[insert comment about what you learnt/found memorable]. I’m actually looking for some experience in area X, do you know of anyone that can be of help to me in this area?”

    By doing this you aren’t putting them on the spot. You’re giving them the opportunity to offload you to another person or, if they wish, they can choose to give you that opportunity themselves.

    • Always follow up the meeting 12-24 hours later (not immediately...that’s weird), thanking your industry leader for their time. Extra points for outlining what specific takeaways you got from the meeting.

    In summary:

    Informational interviews give insight into the methods and success stories of industry leaders.

    Informational interviews provide you with clarity on whether a certain industry/job is suitable for you.

    Informational interviews expand your network, giving you an ‘in’ with the top dogs.

    Get a mentor

    A mentor is someone who is more advanced than you professionally who­—on arrangement—can give you advice about career development Ideally, as a mentor, he/she:

    • Is currently work in an industry that is along the lines of where you want to work
    • Is someone you genuinely admire
    • Is 10 + years your senior
    • Knows you and/or has worked with you prior to arranging the mentoring. (This is a must. No busy professional is going to want to mentor some random person with whom they have no existing relationship. Even some level of acquaintance is better than none).
    • Is willing to meet you face to face (i.e. not too busy, lives overseas etc.)
    • Has a genuine interest in seeing you develop and excel in your career
    • Has clear boundaries on where your relationships stops and starts.

    For the benefit of you both, you will need to clarify things like:

    • To what extent is this relationship an ‘open line.’ (Calling on weekends etc.)
    • How long do you envision the mentor/mentee relationship continuing.
    • How often do you meet and where? (A note: If your meeting places are in cafes ALWAYS pay for your mentor’s coffee/food. This shows that you respect their time, and input—something that should never be taken for granted).

    Join a club

    In this case, the club should be an extension of something you already enjoy doing. Furthermore, you should be among the least experienced/knowledgeable within the group. As the saying goes, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

    For me, I enjoy public speaking (yes, it’s possible), so I looked into joining a club to improve my speaking abilities. I have now been a member of Auckland Toastmasters for two years and absolutely love it. I’m practicing important skills outside the classroom. I’m surrounded by a group of experienced professionals that I would have no reason to associate with, had I not joined the club. I have exposure to a diverse range of networks, and as the youngest and greenest member, my fellow toastmasters are only too willing to provide support and advice.

    Other clubs to consider include competitive sports teams, business groups (The Networking Club, Auckland Executive Club etc.) and PRINZ (of course).

    Informational interviews, mentors, and clubs. With these tactics, you will:

    • Gain a new level of understanding in areas that interest you
    • Broaden your network
    • Learn to better communicate in the professional world, and
    • Be better prepared for what lies beyond glorious graduation

    Good luck, you won’t regret it.