The Black Box Between School and Work

By Robert Godkin (ChE ’18)

You’d think that with the internet, your friends and family, and all the help you get at school you would know the ins and outs of easily transitioning from school to the work place—if that’s what you wish to do. But with many resources comes a lot of confusion and too many opinions to listen to all of them.

A few years ago when Cooper had the Peer Mentorship program, where freshmen were paired up with upperclassmen, the freshmen valued the experience and in one case  said that “I might have failed some classes if it wasn’t for my mentor giving me tips on time management and class selections.” That program unfortunately seems to have been phased out and has now been replaced with the Career Mentorship Program run by our own Career Center.

A largely successful program, the Career Mentorship Program connects students of varying interests and majors to Cooper alumni of similar interests and allows the student to dictate and take control of what they want in this relationship. Students are able to discuss career goals, career paths, general interests, and seek all the advice they need. Participation has grown in the past few years, with the number of alumni that want to participate exceeding the number of students that apply to the program. Students who are happy with the relationships return to the program, but are often paired with other alumni. The student-alumni connection is incredibly important, and makes it much simpler for Cooper students to understand how their predecessors made their way from Cooper to where they are now.

People love talking about themselves, so this is the best chance to figure out what you can give to them and what they can give to you. Networking and conversing with people who have more experience than you are never one-sided. Those who are established and respected in the workplace have been out of school for (probably) a long time. If they cannot translate how they’ve gotten to where they are, how do they expect their company to grow and allow a new generation of employees to prosper? This is where the student comes in and listens to what they have to say.

Be ready to dedicate time and do your research on those you speak with and their respective careers. Prepare yourself a list of questions to ask with regards to the company where your person of interest works, but don’t forget to consider questions that are on a ‘different level’ too, for example: “What about the company makes you want to stay and work there?” A good distribution of ‘on-topic’ and ‘off-topic’ moves in your questions and answers can separate you from the others: no one wants to hear about the classes you take. All mechanical engineers take Mechanics of Materials. All chemical engineers take Organic Chemistry. What allows you to stick out is the work you may have put in those classes outside of the class itself: scientific journals, news articles and projects are all worthy of conversation!

Mentors can be helpful with regards to easing you into being able to connect with a professional; however, if you look online, there are dozens of articles and posts on why you need a mentor.  Though many people may say this, it is more so up to you—the person without (much) experience—to train yourself. You could dedicate time to connecting with people who can assist you in your career. Any established professional connection can turn into your own personal mentorship program. Events where either employers or professionals are present are good opportunities for you to go and find someone who might help you plan your future. As an example, when Career Coach John Crant visited Cooper last semester to speak about the importance of networking, not only were students attracted to this event, but professionals came in to speak with the students. I had the opportunity to speak with representatives from a variety of engineering consulting firms, and had simply asked them why they chose to come to a largely student based event. The most common answer: to interact with the students and hear what they are up to; new projects, new research topics, anything and everything new.

To summarize: work on your projects, attend networking events, get business cards, and actually reach out to the people who have given you their information. They are opening the door for you, and simply want you to walk through it and discuss what makes you you, and what makes them them. A conversation about why you both enjoy the latest Dan Brown novel, or why you have a mutual hatred for particular, poorly structured crosswords may be worth more than asking a professional what you can do to succeed at a company. ◊

Leave a Reply