Just finished with school and not sure what to do with yourself? Same — that was me one year ago.
I loved what I learned with my degree, but I had no idea what positions I could land with it, other than a few standard jobs I didn’t see myself pursuing. If you’re like me, you have no idea what to even type into Google when starting your first serious job search. There are SO many occupations in the world that I don’t even know exist, or what they entail. (What even is a “business analyst”? Seriously, it’s like an umbrella term that never seems to have the same definition at any company.)
Another option is to apply to more schools and further your education. But what opportunities does that open up? Is the trade-off worth another 1-2 years of potentially earning a salary and paying tuition? One of the best ways to learn is through understanding others’ life experiences. However, learning how to network can be very cringeworthy. Here are some helpful questions I used to start exploring my options.
6 questions I always ask when networking
1. Currently, I have [specific degree/work experience] ; what other certifications/education requirements/skills should I start to acquire for a better future with your company?
Growing up, my parents drilled into me that the more education you get, the better. But this isn’t necessarily true.
After chatting with multiple people in my field, I learned that it would be a better option for me to do my MBA after working for a few years. Many people have told me that it is good to get an MBA if I considered getting a management position later on, and it would make it easier to ask for a higher salary. In an entry-level position, they could consider both bachelor’s students and master’s students; however, they would have to pay more to the master’s students. This sometimes makes bachelor’s students more favorable for entry-level positions. Generally, many people recommended studying for my MBA 3-5 years after finishing my undergrad, so I can build experience first in order to leverage asking for a higher salary.
I understand this is different for some fields. Some entry-level positions will not even consider a candidate with just a bachelor’s. In this case, it may be better to do your master’s right out of school.
2. If I wanted to get my master’s/a certification, would this company compensate for a portion of it?
After you’ve decided what level of education you need, asking this follow-up question could save you some serious money in the end. This can also help you decide whether to pursue a master’s right after school and determine how much the company invests in their people.
For me, I chose a company that was willing to compensate for $100,000 of my master’s degree. This really deterred me from doing my master’s degree right out of school. If I had rushed into doing my master’s degree, I would never have found this position with these benefits. This was one of the deciding factors on why I chose my current company.
3. “I’ve read/heard that your company is doing _____ in order to expand. What other growth strategies are planned for the next 5 years?”
A company’s growth strategy will factor into your future income and position. If the company makes more money, you may have more opportunities to make more money. And from their perspective, it also shows that you think long term and are considering staying at the company to help make their goals happen.
And if you do start working for this company, these goals are good to keep in mind. If you’re proactive with making these company goals happen and keep track of your contributions, you’re more likely to be promoted. For instance, my company is currently growing the most in their technology service line. This happens to be the service line I applied for, out of the many they offered. If that was the service line they were focused on growing, then there would be more opportunity to be promoted later on.
4. With many competitors, like ___, ___, and ___, why do you think this company has a competitive advantage?
In my opinion, it is really important to know if the company has a one-up on their competitors. If they don’t, they may eventually be wiped out — along with your new position. Imagine not asking this question while interviewing for a position at Blockbuster when Netflix was up-and-coming. Yikes.
I learned that my company was different because it helped with the implementation of the projects they sold to clients (instead of just selling the project plan, like their competitors). To me, this means that my company cares about how the project plays out, and is there to put out fires if something doesn’t go according to plan.
5. Why do you personally work in your position and with this company?
After asking many questions that are more company-wide, it’s also good to get to know the person who is spending their free time helping you! For them, it’s easier to talk about their own life events than company values and standards. For you, it will help you discover aspects of the job that are beyond the job description, such as flexibility, work-life balance, and working from home.
I reached out to one of the managers working at a company where I had interviewed. We grabbed coffee, and he talked about how his job can be challenging and different between projects that rotate year-to-year. We also got off-topic and talked about how I was leaving on a backpacking trip and how he had lived in Japan for a year. After accepting my interview and starting my position, I reached out again. During our second coffee, he wanted to make sure my onboarding was going smoothly and that I was always welcome to reach out to him if I ever needed help.
Because we had already gotten to know each other and built a relationship, I was comfortable reaching out again, and he was more than willing to meet up and help again. Also, our coffee chats are more bearable because we talk about things other than work!
6. What are some challenges you face with your position, and how do you deal with them?
I always want to know what’s not to like about a position I’m considering to pursue. It’s better to know the risks you’re taking or avoiding than to find out one month into the job and want to quit. When you don’t have a lot of experience on your resume, a bunch of one-month work positions doesn’t look good. Remember, there are pros and cons to every position, and you have to decide the tradeoff that works for your lifestyle.
For example, I was looking into a job that travels from time to time. Travel can be taxing if you have kids, but I’m a woman in her early twenties with no commitments. Plus, I love traveling. At times, there are parts of a position that are cons for others, but they can work for you.
Learning to network as a new grad
In the end, you should always tailor your questions to your goals and to their company goals and ask lots of them! Asking questions can show what type of critical thinker you are and help open your eyes to what kind of opportunity you want to work towards. After asking these questions over and over again to many different people, I finally settled on a position I thought was amazing for the first step in my career.
Alice recently finished her Bachelor’s of Commerce in Toronto, ON. Afterward, she took 4 months off to backpack Asia. Now, she works in Technology Consulting and is attempting to transition between being a full-time student to a full-time working adult. Some of the things to come in her journey include starting to plans for real estate/RRSP investments, learning how to earn promotions, and paying off her 30k+ student debt. In her free time, Alice loves to travel, cook, and hang out with her friends. Sometimes she indulges in getting her nails done and curating a small-but-mighty designer wardrobe.
Image via Unsplash