A good way to learn about your school, your college major, and your prospects in your chosen career is to reach out to alumni. Alumni have much to offer students: advice, career direction and networking. They can help you apply your school subjects to real world career options. To glean some of their knowledge, get up close and personal by setting up an interview with an alumnus. Start by contacting the alumni association at your school. Sample interview questions are provided below.
“Alumni live in the broader world, have the best interests of the institution at heart, and are connected to the currents that are changing American society,” noted Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, Director of the Edvance Foundation, in the October 16, 2012, post “Where the Alumni Can Help Most” post in HuffingtonPost.com.
What can alumni share?
- Real world experience
- Advice for undergraduates on career choices
- Networking opportunities and contacts within the industry
- Knowledge so you can make an informed decision about your career path
- Interaction with other departments and majors to make you a well-rounded future employee
- Commencement speeches to inspire graduates
- Donations and contributions to your school to improve learning
- School spirit
Alumni at University of Wisconsin Alumni Association offer first-year students some advice: “Tell them the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason. You’re supposed to look ahead more than you look back… You won’t forget the lessons of the past; just know that there is so much more waiting out there for you to discover.”
Interview an alumnus
As a special project on your own, interview an alumnus. Talk to a graduate of your school who has had a career in the major that you are studying and who is willing to sit down and discuss life after college. Ask your alumni office to find someone local who would like to speak with a student. Maybe the school newspaper will want to print your interview.
Here are some tips for a successful interview:
- Be professional: Dress appropriately in a clean button-down shirt with slacks or skirt. No jeans or T-shirt. Arrive on time. Be prepared. Don’t joke inappropriately. Thank your interviewee for agreeing to the interview. Email a thank you note afterwards.
- Relax and be yourself: “The most important thing is someone who is genuine… the interview is a conversation, so it should not be scripted,” said Jonathan Cohen, an alumni interviewer for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported by Laura McMullen, November 4, 2011, in “9 Tips for Mastering Alumni Interviews” in USNews.com.
- Be flexible with your questions: Spend your time listening to your interviewee rather than worrying about asking specific questions. If you listen, you’ll be able to ask follow-up questions and organically move the interview in its logical direction, rather than forcing it with prearranged questions.
- Practice a mock interview with your friends to prepare yourself for the real thing.
What questions to ask?
The “Ask an Alum: Sample Informational Interview Questions” on the Fisher College of Business in Columbus, OH, website suggests asking:
- What would you say is the best path to this career?
- What aspects of your career have you found most and least rewarding?
- What are your primary responsibilities?
- What skills are most critical to your success?
- What have been your biggest surprises in this field?
Keep in touch with your alumnus so he or she can follow your progress through your studies and so you can learn more about advances or changes in the industry.