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Communications alumni boast benefits of informational interviews

The semester before graduation is usually an anxious time for seniors, particularly those who are still hunting for a job in earnest. On Feb. 13, a panel of School of Communications alumni implored soon-to-be alumni and undergraduates to use informational interviews, specifically, to make professional connections and improve their job search success.

Bettina Johnson, ’06 G’11, said she enhanced her pursuit for employment toward the end of her master’s studies in Interactive Media by visiting with media professionals.

“Informational interviews are golden,” said Johnson, digital editor and online community manager at Pace Communications in Greensboro, N.C. “You need to do those. Talk to someone there, write to someone there. Don’t waste your time sending out hundreds of resumes for jobs posted on job boards. I’m a huge advocate of informational interviews.”

The other panelists largely agreed, including Maggie Landy, ’10, a field publicity and promotions assistant at Fox Searchlight Pictures in New York, and Alexa Milan, ’10, an education and features reporter for the Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C.

Both Landy and Milan said they carved out time during their final spring breaks to meet with pros and soak up knowledge about the industry they hoped to enter.

“I used spring break to go to LA to set up informational interviews, and even though I wound up in New York, it was time well spent,” Landy said.

Milan similarly made a trip to the Durham Herald Sun, where she spent the day copy editing and talking to reporters and the managing editor. While a job wasn’t available there, the connections she made helped because the company that owns Herald Sun also owns the Sanford Herald, where she now works.

But panelist Stephen Herbster, ’93, a video editor with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., warned students not to expect professionals to be available for them whenever they decide to call. Being respectful and courteous does make a difference.

“When you call, make sure they have time to talk to you,” he said. “We all remember where you’re at. We all remember how hard it is to get your foot in the door.”

And after the informational interview ends, the contact and communication shouldn’t stop, panelists said. It’s important for students to remain connected to the professionals they meet during internships, informational interviews and casual conversations. Dropping an email here and there or paying an informal visit to a former employer helps maintain relationships.

“When you find someone, stay connected with them,” Herbster said. “It’s about maintaining the contact.”

Still, students should be careful. Don’t be overly aggressive, or you may turn people off. Herbster said students should ask themselves, “Am I being persistent or a pain in the (butt)? You have to find the balance.”

And what of the skills students should have before graduating? They vary depending on the job, panelists said. But some common themes did emerge. In Herbster’s field, knowing Photoshop is a foremost priority, for example. Landy said she expects new employees to be thorough and reliable.

But across the board, writing skills, digital media talents and social media knowledge will be important.

“You need to have good written communication skills,” Milan said. “Don’t let writing go by the wayside.

And, Johnson added, students should be prepared to learn long after they’ve enjoyed their Commencement ceremony.

“Learning how to learn and how to teach yourselves to do things (is vital),” she said. “Technology in the digital media world changes rapidly. You have to learn how to ask the right questions. You need to know where to look.”

Colin Donohue,
2/14/2012 7:44 AM