How to Use Your Teachers and Professors in Your First Job Search

By Roberto Angulo

Professors and teachers are among the most influential people who can help you in your career. Professors are obviously knowledgeable in the subject matter they teach. They know their field and they also tend to know people working in their field. Because of this, they’re in a good position to help you with leads and introductions.

When you think of professors, also add your teachers, teaching assistants, department head, academic advisor, or thesis advisor into this category of people who can help you.

Professors are usually busy teaching classes and doing research, and it’s not in their job description to help students find jobs. Most professors, though, feel a sense of responsibility to help their students. They want their students to do well when they graduate.

Here are some ways your professors can help you:

  • Identifying promising jobs: Faculty tend to be experts in their field and industry. Because of this, they’re likely to know what jobs are out there that are relevant to you and your major. For example, your economics professor may be able to tell you about policy jobs at government agencies or analyst jobs at companies that she has worked with before.
  • Pointing you to interesting organizations: Professors can also point you to employers that hire people with your educational background. Many professors consult for other organizations while also teaching. In my case, for example, I had professors who worked for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and for companies like Hewlett Packard and Google. If you have the opportunity, ask a professor what kind of work she does for these organizations and ask if she knows of any relevant entry-level opportunities within these firms.
  • Making introductions: Not many faculty do this, but in some cases, especially if you’re working on your master’s degree or PhD, professors can introduce you to people in their industry with whom they’ve worked. If you have a good relationship with a teacher or professor, ask him to introduce you to employers in his network. Professors who advise PhD students tend to stay in touch with their students after they’ve graduated. And these grads tend to go back to their professors when they’re looking to hire recent grads.
  • Sharing job leads: When I was in college, my most interesting job and internship leads came from my professors and department administrators. Savvy employers know that the best way to reach students from your school and major is to contact your department. So if you get an email from a professor, teaching assistant, or department administrator about a job or an internship, take notice. These opportunities are typically very relevant and have been targeted by the employer to students with your educational profile.
  • Giving you an endorsement: Ask early. Some professors, especially the ones who teach a large number of students, don’t give recommendations because, if they do it for one student, they need to do it for everyone. Still, if you work closely with a professor and she knows you, ask her for a letter of recommendation. You can also ask her for permission to give her name and contact information as a reference to potential employers.

 

Don’t get discouraged if you ask a professor for help and she turns you down. Not all professors are able to help. Some are busy and have so many students that they set a policy of not giving recommendations or making introductions.