My first job opportunity came from a few repeated conversations with a journalism teacher in college. I had many questions about my field of study, and found myself going to her on several occasions. At one meeting, she casually gave me a name and a number which she just came across moments before. It was a possible job lead...a vice president of a nearby company had called seeking some assistance. For me, it led to my very first full-time professional job, which enabled me to build a new of wealth of skills which I will always carry with me.
When students allow it, many teachers will stay with their students long beyond graduation. A recent article in Business Week cited a group of MBAs who started their own businesses, and were not finding mentors they could have found had they worked at large companies. Instead, many stayed in contact with their professors for years after graduation, using them as advisers while their startup enterprises grew.
When I was a design student at an art college, some teachers had outside business practices, such as consulting and freelancing. There was one industrial design teacher which gave plenty of out-of-classroom guidance and freelance work experience to a handful of students, including a roommate of mine.
However, the teacher didn't go around announcing this to the class. In fact, he was very discreet. The students had to come to him...on their own.
The fact is that many teachers you have right now can be invaluable for advice, guidance, networking, and even experience. Many teachers and professors have associations and relationships in the business as well as the campus community.When you come across a teacher whom you feel might make a positive mentor or role model for you, here are some steps you can take:
Take as many of their classes as you can. This is assuming that their courses are in line with your field of study, although that is not a requirement. Take as many courses as possible. Be visible. As you attend class and take notes, reveal your genuine interest. Ask questions. Imagine how you would feel as a teacher and you see the spark of enthusiasm and learning in student. Get them excited about helping you!
Use time after class for further discussion, and to begin getting acquainted. You may notice that rarely are the best instructors standing up at the head of the classroom alone upon dismissal. There are normally a group of students who stampede the podium with several questions to present for further discussion and explanation. You may also notice each day that the group is comprised of roughly the same students! This doesn't mean you can't check in also for some questions.
Seek further advice during the teacher's office hours. You flatter and honor your teacher by seeking them out when they make themselves available. On a regular basis, visit your teacher during set office hours. Share with him or her your goals, and what you wish to do. Ask about their experiences. Seek their advice. Get to know your teacher, and let that person get to know you. This way, you are not simply a nameless face in the crowd.
Allow the relationship to grow naturally. A very important point to remember: it is always important to respect other people's time, you are not intruding as long as you use office hours, and set appointments. The teacher is there to help you. That's half the reason they got into this business in the first place. You are also doing them a favor, by reinforcing the impact they see they can make on others. Take the relationship gradually. Don't push it too much. Before you know it, and if all goes well, your teacher will anticipate your questions and your visits. Best of all, your teacher will know you as a person. Businesses and organizations turn to colleges all the time for help. If an instructor learns of an opportunity (not necessarily a job, but a need that must be filled), that instructor will think first of those students he or she knows. It is not enough for you to know the instructor...the instructor must know you.
You have a choice. If you decide, you can remain an anonymous, faceless member sitting before a weekly lecture. You can also, if you decide to, become a person: someone that teacher knows, and cares about. When they see or learn of opportunities, they will without question pass them along to you. They will write letters of recommendation. They will put you in touch with who they know.
When they advise you, when they guide you, when they listen and share in your hopes, dreams, as well as your frustrations, they will have a greater ownership in your career. On an unconscious level, they will care more about seeing you succeed. Why?
Because your success will be their success.
-- Keith F. Luscher is a consultant, speaker, and author of the book Don't Wait Until You Graduate! How to "Jump-Start" Your Career While Still in School. He invites--and responds to--your questions, comments and experiences. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.