Today’s blog post comes from first year MPA student, Caitlin Holmes
Printing off resumes, ironing my suit, heating up my coffee. Preparing for a career fair or information session can be stressful. It was the first Career Exploration trip hosted by SPEA’s Career Development Office, and it was hard not to be nervous. The Career Exploration trips bring together professionals from the cities that SPEA has strong alumni networks – Indianapolis, Denver, Washington D.C., and Chicago, and allows students the opportunity to network with the local alumni, while learning about internships and job opportunities. At the Indianapolis event, there were representatives from Cummins Inc., The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Attending the event felt like speed dating. You know a few things about the alumni representatives: they graduated from SPEA, they are successful, they work in public affairs, etc. But what if they don’t like me? When I meet them should I open with my elevator pitch? Or should I tell a funny story? What should I wear? All of these questions ran through my head the days leading up to the event in Indianapolis.
I had all of my notes about each of the professionals I was meeting that day, with specific questions about the kinds of skills that the organization looked for, or the advice that they would give to students interested in the field. I felt prepared. After all of the stress and planning, my first conversation was about New Jersey and how our families were from the same place. Conversation about internships, jobs, and class recommendations just organically came up in the discussion afterwards. It was a lot easier than I had anticipated. I was able to relax once the conversations started because I had done my research prior to the event and I had additional topics prepared in case any awkward silences arose (i.e. the funny story about my molars). As the day progressed, I realized that these professionals and SPEA alumni wanted to be there, and they wanted to meet me. Most of the professionals were fellow SPEONs and they were excited to talk to current students and lend advice about their experience.
The professionals and alumni were encouraging and gave us great insight about finding internships and jobs. Professionals that I met at the event urged us to contact them with questions about classes or advice on our careers. It was nerve-racking writing those follow-up emails. It was like trying to construct the perfect text message after a date: you don’t want to be too forward, you want to let them know that you are interested, but not desperate (even though you might be desperate). What do you say? After working up the courage to contact them, every one of them emailed me back. One representative has been especially helpful and has supplied me with further contacts for finding a summer internship.
The Career Exploration trip helped me learn a lot about how to network with alumni and professionals. I know the experience will help me in my future at SPEA and in my career afterwards.