A favorite phrase in the job world is "It's not what you know, but who you know." The phrase is flawed, of course, because if you don't know
enough to do the job, networking will not help you keep it.
Still, like all cliche's, there's some truth to this one. It helps to know the right people. Certainly it's easier for someone to get a job if his or her father or mother is president of the company but even if you don't know a single soul in the field that interests you, it is possible to open that door just a little bit yourself.
What you need to do is find a "consultant," someone you can talk to, someone whose brain you can pick, someone who knows the field you are exploring.
Suppose, for example, that you're interested in getting into law enforcement, as Tim is. Tim found out that filling out job application forms and taking tests is not the only way to learn about a profession. So he sought out a professor of criminal justice at a local community college and questioned the professor. "Are there any tricks to taking the oral
exam with the Los Angeles Police Department? he asked.
"No, there are no tricks," the professor replied. "But what they really want to know is whether you'll stick to your decisions. For instance, the examiner may ask you, "If you stopped the police chief's daughter for speeding, would you give her a ticket?" If you answer 'yes,' then you may be questioned further to see if you would change your mind. They want to find out how mature you are, how articulate you are, and if you'll stick to your decisions."
Tim's "career consultant" also pointed out the importance of studying criminal justice before attending the police academy. "They teach you the same things, but you're also undergoing vigorous physical training at the academy, a boot-camp environment. Several students have told me how helpful it was to have studied criminal justice before taking on the academy. They were so tired from the physical demands of training that they coundn't hear the lecture the teacher was giving---but they'd had the same lessons in my class, so they could
pass the academy tests," the professor said.
This firsthand account from someone within the field who knew what was going on helped Tim make decisions.
If you really want to know what a job is all about, talk to someone who does it---who has worked in the field you want to go into.
The Shadow Knows...
Many high schools conduct shadowing programs (see Career World, April 1986) in which students visit a job site and watch a (shadow a worker, usually for a day. The worker you shadow, however, may not be able to take the time to answer lots of questions while on the job.
If this is the case, ask if he can meet again, at the worker's convenience. Explain that you need to consult further with him or her.
An internship provides another option in finding your own career consultant. Many high schools have internship programs in which you can earn credits while spending time with a worker.
An example is Executive Internships; a national program. Students meet periodically with a worker at the executive level over an entire semester's time, keep a journal of the
experience, and earn English credit. Talk with your counselor to find out if internships are available in your community.
If a shadowing-consultant or internship is not an option, don't give up. Here are other ways to find a career consultant.
Tell family members and friends of the family, including neighbors, that you are in the market for a career consultant. Ask them if they know of anyone who would be willing to talk with you.
Use the telephone to contact would-be career consultants. Call places of business in your community where employees in more way of saying you appreciate who you know. your
field of interest could be found. Be concise and honest. Tell the person who answers the phone
exactly what you want. An example; "My name is Jennifer Smith, and I'm a high school student exploring career interests. I need to find out more about the work a lab technician
does. Could I visit your lab tomorrow and talk to one of your technicians?" The worst tesponse you can get is a "no." More likely, your enthusiasm for the field will win you a
meeting with a "Career consultant."
You Pair Up....
After you get an appointment with your consultant, prepare for it.
Most workers are flattered by attention given to what they do. Nevertheless, they want well- thought-out questions that show you take the work seriously. Write out your questions ahead
of time and take them with you. When your meeting is drawing to a close, ask your consultant if it's all right if you telephone at a later date, should another question come to
Don't expect the consultant to give you a job or help you get a job. It's a serious error to mislead anyone. Never lead your job expert to believe you are simply collecting information---and then change your intentions midstream. If your career consultant likes you and realizes you are serious about this kind of work, he or she may be open to future consultation. And your expert could be helpful in leading you toward future employment, when you're ready.
You'll remember to send a thank-you letter after your meeting, of course. It's just one more way of saying you appreciate who you know.
from Ralph Cooper, April 24, 2008