Networking is a big part of career development and job searching. There are all kinds of statistics out there that confirm this statement. No matter what you call it (networking, personal connections or the hidden job market), the majority of jobs are found by making professional connections. However, networking doesn't have to be as scary as it might sound. It's really just about talking to people in your field of interest and building connections from those conversations. There are plenty of ways to do this, including setting up informational interviews, attending career fairs/networking events/1:1 chats and setting up a LinkedIn account.
An informational interview is a meeting in which you talk to people who are employed in a job of interest to you. It is important that you use these meetings to gain knowledge and understanding and that you don't ask for a job.
Informational interviews provide many benefits:
- Sharpen your perception of the career or job that you have been considering.
- Help you explore a career, gather information about a specific organization or investigate a specific job.
- Allow you to discover what skills are required for certain jobs and match them with your own abilities and strengths.
- Help you gain greater confidence in your interviewing skills, since you direct the interviews with professionals.
- Provide the opportunity for you to expand your network of professional contacts.
- Offer you the opportunity to view people at work and find out how they feel about their jobs and what types of lifestyles surround their careers. This observation and inquiry will help you see yourself in similar positions and determine whether or not they would be right for you.
- Allow you to make a good impression with the person with whom you interview.
- Supply you with forthright advice about a profession or industry that you will never read in a book or online.
- Provide you with tips and information about the career field which may be valuable when preparing application materials and interviewing for jobs.
How to set up an Informational Interview
Start with a list of people you already know - Career Services staff, friends, relatives, fellow students, faculty, present or former coworkers, supervisors, neighbors.
Next, use Voyager to search for alumni in your field:
- Log on to Voyager and select "Find Alumni" and then "Search for Alumni."
- Select your major (or a major you would like to explore) or a region you are interested in OR search by employer or job title. Hint: hold the control key down to select more than one and click the "Go Find It!" button.
- Scroll through the list of LU alumni and their organizations to gather ideas about different career paths and to identify individuals you would like to interview.
You can also try the Chamber of Commerce, professional organizations, organizational directories and public speakers to help identify specific places to contact.
Read all you can about the field prior to the interview. Decide what information you would like to obtain about the occupation or industry and prepare a list of questions you would like to have answered. It is also essential to research the organization prior to conducting the interview.
There are three ways of making contacts:
- Writing a letter/email
- By referral: Either have someone who knows the contact make the appointment for you or mention that "__________ suggested I contact you to see if you would speak with me."
Whichever means of contacting you choose, make sure that you explain the purpose of requesting an interview. Remember, it is to gather information as you investigate a particular field. Emphasize that YOU ARE NOT LOOKING FOR A JOB! You only want information because you are interested in the field.
- Dress appropriately. Business casual is a safe route - dress pants or khakis with a nice shirt.
- Arrive early and remember to be polite and professional.
- Refer to your list of prepared questions; stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion. The person with whom you are interviewing may want to know something about you as well.
- Bring a copy of your résumé.
- Take notes sparingly. You can make notes following the discussion.
- Before leaving, ask your contact if they have other suggestions of people you could reach out to for information. Record the names and addresses of people to whom you were referred. Ask permission to use his/her name when contacting these new individuals.
Immediately following the interview, record the information gathered. Compile a notebook with the questions asked and responses received. Keep a list of the people with whom you talked, including their job title, employer, address and phone number.
Be sure to send a thank you note to your contact no more than one to two days after the interview. This will help you be remembered in a positive way. See Other Letters for help writing a thank you note.
- What do you do on a typical day?
- What skills do you use most often?
- What is most satisfying about your work?
- What are the biggest frustrations?
- What made you decide on this career? Is the career as you expected? How does it differ?
- What courses, training and experience have been most helpful to you in your present work? What do you feel is the best preparation for this kind of work?
- How does your work combine with your personal life?
- How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, vacation schedule, place of residence, etc.?
- How well suited is my background for this type of work?
- Is there an opportunity to obtain a summer job or internship in this field? Where?
- Where would you suggest that I look for job vacancies in this field?
- What job titles should I be looking for? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
- What is the salary range for various levels in this field?
- In what ways does this position require the use of specific skills?
- What types of training do organizations give to people entering this field?
- What opportunities for advancement are there in this field?
- What special advice would you give to a young person entering this field?
- Is there a demand for people in this field?
- Do you view this field as a growing one?
- Can you recommend others I should contact regarding this type of work? May I use your name when contacting them?