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THE QUESTION

I'm very interested in entering the field of study abroad as an adviser/program co-ordinator at a university, but have no direct advising experience (though plenty of other relevant experience). I am thinking that a valuable way to gain experience and know-how in the field would be by volunteering in a study-abroad office. Would it be presumptuous to send an e-mail to the most appropriate person with a compelling cover letter and résumé offering to volunteer a few hours a week? Or is it more appropriate to ask for an informational interview first?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and principal, yourresumepro.com, Toronto

You are certainly on the right track in making inroads into your new career. It isn't about appropriateness whether you send an e-mail or set up a meeting first, but an advice call is more direct with less wasted time and back-and-forthing with e-mails.

Approach a local university study-abroad department and ask for an advice call with the director explaining why you want to meet. You needn't hide the fact you want to volunteer.

Nothing is more effective than a face-to-face meeting with a decision maker. With an advice call you will have a dialogue and can present ideas they may not have considered. You can dazzle and charm, show passion and explain the benefits of having you as a volunteer.

Be prepared to talk 30 per cent of the time, and listen 70 per cent. Have questions prepared so you only take 25 to 30 minutes of their time, and mention that timing in the phone call when you call to set the appointment.

Prepare a 90-second presentation about yourself with an example or two of your professional wonderment! Then ask, what would you suggest? Somewhere in the meeting talk about what you can do for them – the benefits they would derive in having you on board. Follow up with a thank-you card or letter.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Bruce Sandy

Principal, Pathfinder Coaching and Consulting, Vancouver

I understand and appreciate your interest in working in program advising with university study-abroad programs. It would be presumptuous to send an e-mail offering to volunteer for offices such as this. If you send in a résumé and a cover letter prior to doing your research on these types of positions and the universities you are interested in potentially working for (even on a volunteer basis), then your résumé and cover letter will likely end up in the human resources' or the supervisor's filing cabinet (or worse, their garbage cans) and/or copied to the volunteer department.

Even prior to setting up an information interview, you need to do your research and background checks on adviser/program co-ordinator positions, the universities, the study-abroad or co-op programs and the hiring officials. Check out the career-openings section of the universities' websites to find out about the qualifications and experience you need to be considered for these types of positions. Also check to see if the universities have volunteer programs and if they use volunteers for office or promotional work. This is not likely, especially if this takes work away from paid unionized employees.

Once you have done your research then you can set up information interviews or simply start applying for advertised positions if you have the necessary qualifications and experience.

If you go for information interviews, remember to focus on building relationships with and gathering information from the university officials as well as what their challenges and hiring needs are. Do not make it about you and what you are looking for. Also, only give them your résumé if they ask for it. One needs to build a relationship with potential supervisors and confirm that they are actually interested in you and your help prior to giving them your résumé.

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