Get experience before graduation
Real-world experience and exploration can help you identify your interests, values, and skills outside of what you learn at VCU. Through shadowing, volunteering, and informational interviewing, you can “try on” the various career pathways to see if you are on the right track.
Shadowing is a vital component to understanding more about a professional field of interest. Shadowing involves following a professional throughout their day, observing the ins-and-outs of the profession as a whole.
Most graduate and professional programs in health sciences require a minimum number of hours of shadowing experience.
After a day of shadowing, ask yourself:
- What is the most surprising thing you learned or observed today?
- Why did it surprise you?
- How does this experience shape and mature your understanding of the profession?
Gaining experience during your undergraduate career serves two important purposes. It allows you to explore and to determine if it is a good career path for you, and it can enhance your credentials for applying to a professional or graduate program. Shadowing can be valuable in any field and some graduate school programs in healthcare require you complete a minimum number of volunteer or shadowing hours to be considering for admission.
Volunteering is a vital component to understand more about a professional field of interest. While shadowing involves simply observing, volunteering allows you to actively perform tasks and make contributions to a workplace or organization.
For healthcare fields, experiences where you have direct patient contact are highly regarded by most admissions representatives. Most pre-health admissions representatives want to see that you give freely of your time to support your community as well.
Most admissions representatives want to see that you give freely of your time to support your community as well.
An informational interview is a professional development tool that you will use over your entire career to grow your professional identity and network by learning more about a profession within an industry. It's a conversation that you direct with questions with a person whom you decide to interview and who is doing work that is interesting to you and where you see yourself working professionally in that field or industry.
The great thing about informational interviews are that they allow you put yourself in to learn from another person’s career path, discover how they gained experience in the field, and learn the strategies and advice they have for someone entering the field today.
- Start your list with people you may know through your personal contacts, educational and professional settings
- Connect with alumni via VCU Link. For tips on making the most of this platform, see our VCU Link informational interview guide.
- Add alumni to your list from VCU’s LinkedIn group
- Use industry associations, professional associations and networking groups, include a tool like meetup.com
- Consider people who are featured in local business and industry news articles
- Note people who write about the profession on social media
- Prioritize your list by the job of interest not the prestige of the person’s title or company
- Email like a professional by reviewing these email correspondence tips
- Provide context on how you identified them for your informational interview request indicate a link to either a person who referred you or research you have done
- Provide your availability over a two-week period between 8am-5pm; flexible to meet in person at their office or set up a meeting by phone
- Assure the contact that you are building strategies for the direction of your career development and will not be asking for a job
- Plan to dress appropriately and error on the side of being more formal than informal
- Never IM or Gchat a professional contact unless they invite you; Many professionals find IM
- intrusive to their regular work
- Review your schedule for blocks of time during business hours where you can meet someone at their office
- Plan for a 30-minute informational interview, plan for driving or walking time, and build another 15 minutes for things like parking, building security, and being greeted by a receptionist
- Clean up your internet image, take down content that could hurt your professional image, add a professional voicemail message
- Review your narrative and research to develop sophisticated questions
Questions about Their Career Story
- Your career path is interesting; please describe how you got started and how you got to where you are today?
- What was your first job in this field and how did you get to your present position?
- What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Questions about Their Preparation for their Career Path
- How did you prepare for your career through courses, professional organizations and training?
- From your LinkedIn profile, I see that you started your career as -----------------. How did your early career development prepare you for the work you do today?
- What best prepared you for your early career positions?
- Are there courses and training you wish you would have taken during college or earlier in your career?
Questions about Their Current Work
- What are the core competencies that distinguish this role?
- What happens in your department and how does it connect to other departments?
- What kinds of problems does your department address?
- Are your workdays predictable?
- If you were to consider another field, what you choose today and why?
- From your LinkedIn profile, part of your role includes --------------. How is this work valued in the company and industry and how do you keep current to obtain additional skills?
Questions about Their Organization
- What is it like to work for this organization?
- What is distinguishing about this organization?
- How does this organization recruit and hire entry-level employees?
Questions about the Industry
- Where do you see the industry going in the next few years?
- Which organizations in this industry provide the best training including internships?
Questions about the Field’s Professional Identity
- Which professional organizations do you recommend to learn more about the field and industry?
- Are there lessons you have learned that you wished someone would have told you as a student or new professional?
- What types of work experiences and accomplishments should I strive to attain before graduation?
Are there other people who would be interested in sharing their insight specific to the field and/or industry?
If you receive a contact or two, the person is opening up their professional network. Please respect and acknowledge that they trust you will be professional as you proceed with this network information. Secure the correct spelling of the contact/s, title, company and email.
- At the conclusion of the interview be sure to ask if there are there other people who would be interested in sharing their insight specific to the field and/or industry.
- Thank them for their time in person. Exchange business cards.
- Also, send a thank you via email and in a personal handwritten note. In the thank you email, let them know you found their ------- guidance very useful and that you will keep them informed as you contact others and progress through the informational interview process.