It seems like in many careers, the best way to get a job ... is to already have one; (setting up an enraging Catch 22). Obviously for some careers, there are easy ways around this. In programming, you can contribute to open source projects, or just write useful code and put it on GitHub, etc. And traditionally, students of all backgrounds could get internships or co-op positions (though such opportunities are few and far between these days).

But what about in careers where that is not possible: careers in quality engineering or pharmaceutical research, for example. It doesn't seem like you could even volunteer for them. So, what's the best way to "break in" to such careers?

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    Those are bad examples of this problem (I know a lot of people who've done paid internships in quality engineering with a variety of companies), but still good question at core. Easiest way is to network with professors and tell them your interest. Most of them would LOVE to help you get the right connections to do this (might even be paid too...). – enderland Jan 20 '13 at 1:28
  • @enderland That's great to hear that plenty of people are getting paid internships in quality engineering. It's always amazed me that some companies would be drawing back on engineering internships, while others are switching temp workers and the "gig economy". – user809695 Jan 22 '13 at 15:52
  • I think there are probably wide variations in what "quality engineering" is for different companies. For some of them, they may have people basically just measuring parts. Other companies might have entire groups dedicated to finding potential quality problems in the design stage, etc. – enderland Jan 23 '13 at 20:57

This is a great question, most people just give up at this point - the fact you are even trying puts you in a great position.

So, what's the best way to "break in" to such careers?

The answer to this is networking. There are a few ways you can do this, but I'm going to focus on three primary ones.

Academic Resources

If you are in college you almost assuredly have the answer to this question right here. Your professors want to help you succeed (sure some exceptions exist) and would likely LOVE to give you access to their professional network. Most of their students completely don't use them as a resource even just for class things, let along those who talk about career types of things.

Ask them something like:

  • "I am really interested in pharmaceutical research. Do you know anyone who would be willing to explain to me what a career in that entails?"

Linked In

Two things are generally true which apply here.

  • First, with the Internet, you have potential access to someone working in nearly every position possible.
  • Second, the majority of people like talking about themselves and what they do when someone is legitimately interested (see note at bottom)

Take some time and research people on Linked-In. Upgrade to the premium version if you want (or do a free trial). You can very easily find people with careers in most fields there within a few "levels" - send some people messages saying basically:

  • "Hi, I noticed you work as an XXXXXX. I am currently a student and am really interested in learning what XXXXXX do - would you be willing to tell me a little about what you do? what background do you need?"

You will almost assuredly be surprised how many people would begin dialogue with you on this subject. People often respond well to honest, genuine intest about who they are. It's fake, superficial crap people really dislike (for good reason).

Conferences/Meetups/Professional Organizations/Forums/Etc

Most fields have conferences on their subject matter. If you are truly serious, go to one of these, and just ask people questions. Make sure they know you are

  1. Interested in learning more about the field - this will be easy if you broach the subject of "why are you here?"
  2. Looking for potential work in the field - even more easy as natural followup to the above

Or, just search for local get-togethers (again think of how much information is on the Internet). If you live in a big metropolitan area, chances are there is some sort of organization/meetup close to you for most fields.

Find forums online. Ask constructive, serious, and genuine questions about the industry you want to know.

Post Networking

You might notice I've not addressed:

So, what's the best way to "break in" to such careers?

so far.

Now that you have a group of people (whether LinkedIn, personal referrals, people you met, etc) who you personally know - and who also know you have a personal interest in their field, above just "I want job, thanks" you can start addressing this. Ask something like:

  • "Ok. After you have explained things, I want to learn more - how can I pursue this further? Would you be willing to let me job shadow you for a few hours?"
  • "So, thank you for the help learning about XXXX. So my next question is - how does one become an XXXX?"

Have conversations like this. They will not be awkward if you have spent the effort above. People will likely want to help you as well (imagine you are working as a Chief Banana at a company. Someone comes to you, showing sincere interest in what a Chief Banana does. You talk with them some. They still are sincere and earnest. You then dialogue about "how does one become a Chief Banana?" The current Chief Banana would probably LOVE to help you get there).

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Figure out what skills would be important in the "closed" field. Scan the job postings in this field and see what they are looking to hire. Get experience that highlights those skills and specifically mention them in your resume and cover letter.

Example: Quality engineering Skills employers want (based on scanning actual job postings:

  • Training others in software
  • Training others in processes
  • Improving processes
  • Documenting processes clearly and according to standards
  • Ability to lead small teams

Now go find internships and volunteer opportunities which let you use those skills. Highlight those skills in your resume, using the words use in job postings. In your cover letter, pick a high-value skill and explicitly show how you performed it in the past and how it applies to the job you want.

It worked for me.

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Find a path into that position. For example, for those wanting into software development, there may be ways to use technical support or quality assurance positions where there aren't high levels to entry as a way to get into an organization and know the product or service. Then using that information, one could try to transition into development roles as a progression.

Pharmaceutical research could be approached in a few different ways. First, one could look for institutions that research drugs and various other chemicals that may be a way to enter the field. Another idea would be to consider research labs within hospitals that may do various drug trials for another way to access the people that work within that area.

The key here is to be creative in finding the people that do work similar to where you want to be. Be creative and consider what kind of business may use those services and products to see who may be worth asking questions and building relationships.

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