Pursuing Your Career

Building Your Network: Get to Know Your Professors and Trainers

I’ve written and presented at conferences on the importance of professors/trainers for undergraduates and/or apprentices, the latter group pursuing a trade (The Career-Minded Student). Essentially, these educators can help students fine-tune their skills and better understand career options beyond what any textbook or training manuael can provide. Questioning professors or trainers can help a student gain clarity on procedures, regulations, and/ or industry standards for best practices. Yet, in addition to the instruction professors/ trainers provide, these individuals often serve as solid references whennew graduates are seeking jobs.

Look, you can get character references from community members or employment references from your boss when working at Taco Bell for the summer. However, when applying for your first job in your chosen field, your professors and/ or trainers are the kind of references employers want to read or hear from. Your educators can speak towards your knowledge to industry best practices and promise moving forward to develop into a skilled professional. For the record, I worked at a restaurant while in college and grad school, and I know my boss Gus would give me a great reference (you are truly THE MAN, Gus). But applying to be a field archaeologist right after college, the museum I applied to wanted to know my grasp of archaeological field methods in addition to my knowledge of Native American nations indigenous to the Western New York region. Yeah, my restaurant boss couldn’t help me there, reference-wise, but my anthropology professors, Dr. Engelbrecht and Dr. Chilungu, could and did. Do you see how vital professors or trainers can be?

Me as an undergraduate teaching assistant teaching field mapping methods. Thanks for the photo, Dr. Engelbrecht!
Me as an undergraduate teaching assistant teaching field mapping methods. Thanks for the photo, Dr. Engelbrecht!

Now for the issue. Most students don’t take time to get to know their professors or trainers. Or, more importantly, students don’t allow their educators a chance to know the student. This becomes problematic when seeking references. If you have not connected and networked with professors or trainers, the best you can really hope for is a “form” letter of reference. In other words, when a professor doesn’t know a student well, he or she may write a bland recommendation that essentially says that the professor somewhat knows the student. Yeah, those type of reference letters stand out like a sore thumb… and not in a good way. Form letters (essentially you write the same thing for multiple students) tell recruiters and hiring managers the candidate didn’t do much to stand out. That is not a good impression to make! So, regardless of your career path, take time to get to know your educators and make certain they know know you.

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