By Ali Rodriguez

If you want to buy a car, you typically do some research ahead of time. The same goes for renting an apartment, buying a new home, or taking that dream vacation. So why doesn’t everyone do a significant amount of research before committing to a career?

Research sounds boring, right? Think of it this way, research allows you to make informed decisions.  I can think of numerous occasions when alumni have come back to see me for career advising. They had this image of what a “real job” would look like after graduation. Oftentimes, the pretty picture they had painted was not realistic. They had seen their dream job on TV and pursued their college major based on a fantasy. My first piece of advice, do not decide to be an entrepreneur because “Two Broke Girls” are starting their own cupcake business and it looks cool!
When I think about research, my mind immediately jumps to networking.  We have all heard the term networking thrown around quite a bit. At times, this tends to elicit fear and intimidation. How do I get started? Who do I ask? What do I do once I get there? Pause, take a deep breath, and reboot! Networking is really about meeting new people and finding out more about their interests. And to be honest, most people love to talk about themselves, so it may be easier than you think. Networking is also a key part of your research when identifying people that you want to talk to about how your college career leads to the real world. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go at it alone. The Toppel Career Center is here to help you, and these tips will help you get the process started. My second piece of advice, visit the Toppel Career Center and utilize the fantastic advisors who are there.When deciding on a major/career path, there are so many options, it may seem overwhelming. We all know there is great information online for researching potential careers, including the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O-Net. While this important, I believe that nothing can compare to actually talking to people who are happy and successful in their respective careers.  You can do this informally at networking events, but also during an informational interview. This gives you the opportunity to talk to a professional in a field of interest, and is a great way to find out more about what you may like in a job or career. It is also a good time to evaluate a specific company. Take a look at our handout for Informational Interviews. It includes questions how to prepare, questions you can ask, and how to follow up.

You are still struggling with whom to conduct an informational interview with, right? If you are shy, start with a family member or friend of the family to practice. Maybe it has been always been your dream to be an attorney. Set up an informational interview with someone you know, so you are not too anxious. Once you get one under your belt, you will be a pro! As I mentioned, Toppel staff can help you identify contacts, but you can also utilize an outstanding resource we have on called Career Shift. This search engine allows you to search for contacts based on industry, location, and company size. It also had a feature that allows you to search for UM alumni. I know that if I get a call from a student from my alma mater, the first thing I want to do is help them. I have never said to no to someone who wants to connect! You are students and we want to help mold you into wonderful professionals.

My third, and last piece of advice, is to take what you have gleaned from these professionals to learn more about yourself and the career you want to have. Informational interviews can help you when evaluating internship opportunities.  They may give you an idea of the type of work settings that are comfortable for you, especially if you visit the professional on-site. Do you like an office setting? Do you like to travel to visit clients? By learning more about others, you learn more about yourself and that is why informational interviews are your gateway to success. Happy interviewing!