Informational Interviews, Career Awareness Put Liberal Arts Skills to Work
By Jennifer Spencer
Summer provides a much-needed break for Fordham students from the busy pace of day-to-day college life. It also provides a valuable opportunity for students to invest some time and energy preparing for the world of work.
Bernard Stratford, director of experiential education, developed a semester-by-semester program called Fordham Futures
that gives students guidelines on how to approach preparing for a career.
Two of the program’s foundational concepts are preparation and awareness. Stratford said the summer offers an ideal opportunity for students to grow in both.
“We encourage students to use the summer to enhance their awareness and their preparation. During the school year they’re incredibly busy. Many students are involved in internships and volunteerism, and they are all very busy in the classroom. In the summer, they have a little more time to focus on their awareness.”
Awareness: How Liberal Arts Skills Translate to the World of Work
Stratford said summer can be an ideal opportunity for students to reflect on how the critical liberal arts skills they are learning can be translated to the world of work.
Summer can be a valuable time for students to be self-reflective and to think about how their education has practical applications.
While words like “reflection” and “self-awareness” might seem daunting tasks for summer vacation, Stratford said not to be intimidated. A simple, straightforward consideration of what students have learned can make all the difference.
“When I say ‘self-awareness,’ people retreat to a world of existentialism. We break it down to a more practical level—do you understand the skills and experience you are developing? The ancient liberal arts skills of listening, thinking, speaking, writing, reading, reflecting, measuring, calculating, estimating, and dreaming.”
Jackie Tralies, FCRH ’12, and student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said she has had these moments of self-awareness while completing a summer internship at the Shakespeare Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the appreciation of William Shakespeare's works.
Tralies, who is pursuing a master’s in medieval studies, said the research skills she has honed in her degree program come into play in a variety of ways in her work experiences.
“One day, I’m doing research in a way I’m familiar with, looking up academic articles and doing historical literary research. Another day, I would be researching prospective donors and dabbling in fundraising. It’s really interesting to see the same skills used in different ways to meet such different ends,” she said.
Tralies said she has begun to see the practical, powerful applications of her liberal arts education.
“There is a concrete skill set that can come out of a humanities degree. I feel like I can write a list of skills that I have that I can practice and that will help me in my future. A lot of times people think that with humanities, it’s a little more abstract and can’t be pinned down. I disagree,” she said.
Tralies cited academic activities like writing, building a thesis, questioning assumptions, and facilitating a discussion that will help her in her career.
“When I think about what I bring to my internships, most of it was certainly honed or nurtured in and by liberal arts education,” she said.
Preparation: Putting the Liberal Arts Skills to Work
As students develop an awareness of how their academic values translate to the world of work, Stratford suggested summer is a perfect time to employ those skills to learn more about career opportunities.
“The class of ’89 or ’99 may not have had to do so, but students today don’t have the luxury of not paying attention to what’s going on in the world of work while they’re at the University,” Stratford said.
Informational interviews are one way students can begin to develop an awareness of the world of work, even in their early college years before they are seriously pursuing work opportunities.
“Picking an industry, researching it, and doing some real informational interviews with people in the field, between sophomore and junior year, can be an invaluable source of information,” Stratford said.
He suggested students start at home, reaching out to family and friends to find people in their network who may be able to share their experiences with a student considering their field. The Career Services office can also help students reach out to Fordham alumni willing to help.
While making that initial request for an informational interview can be intimidating, especially to family, Stratford said it’s important for students to take the step to reach out.
“There are very few people who don’t like to talk about their work, particularly when they’re asked by bright young people who are interested in how they got to where they are,” he said.
Stratford also advises students to enhance their preparation and awareness of their chosen career field by investing in a student membership in a professional organization in their field.
“I believe professional associations are one of the great underutilized tools in America. If the organization in your field doesn’t offer a student membership, I tell students, maybe they can be the first student member. Go on an informational interview, and find out how you can join,” he said.