Networking and Informational Interviewing

man offering business card

What Is Networking?

Networking is simply an information exchange between you and another person. It involves establishing relationships with people who can help you advance your career in many ways. A networking contact could result in one of the following:

    • “Inside information“ on what's happening in your field of interest, such as an organization's plan to expand operations or release a new product.
    • Job search advice specific to your field of interest (where the jobs are typically listed).
    • Tips on your job hunting tools (resume and /or portfolio).
    • Names of people to contact about possible employment or informational interviews.
    • Follow-up interview and a possible job offer.


Developing your network is easy because you know more people than you think you know. Consider:

Your family, friends, roommates, significant others, SJSU faculty and staff, alumni, past and present co-workers, neighbors, club and organization and association members, people at the gym, people at the local coffee house and neighborhood store, and people in your religious community.

These people are all part of your current network, professional and personal. Keep an on-going list of the names and contact information of the people in your network. Ask your contacts to introduce you to their contacts and keep your list growing. Opportunities to network with people arise at any time and any place. Never underestimate an opportunity to make a connection.

There are a number of social networking sites where you can make great professional contacts, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You can also use discussion groups such as blogs, listservs, newsgroups, and chat rooms to network on the internet. This will help you discover the hot issues in your field of interest, post questions, and find out about specific job openings that are not otherwise posted to the general public.

 

One Minute Commercial

Having your “One Minute Commercial”, “Elevator Speech”, or “15 Second Pitch” ready to go is an essential component of networking. This is your introduction and your first impression to a new contact. It is a concise and compelling summary of who you are and what you can do and want to do. It highlights your relevant skills and experience as they relate to the type of position you are seeking. You want to prepare these soundbytes ahead of time and rehearse them out loud. Your commercial may include information like:

    • Your name, degrees and relevant minors.
    • Your careers interests and focus.
    • The type of position you are seeking.
    • A targeted summary of relevant past and present work experience/internships, volunteer positions/class projects.
    • Activities demonstrating leadership, teamwork/service.
    • How your background and future goals will fit with their organizational needs.
    • Your specific interest in the organization and how your skills relate to their needs.

It is not necessary to address all of the above in your introduction, but preparing ahead of time a conversational and concise message opens doors to having a dialogue with a new contact. Use this One Minute Commercial template to get started or check out 15 second pitch.com for a different approach to creating your personal introduction.

 

What is Informational Interviewing?

Once you have established networking contacts, your next plan of action is to conduct informational interviews. An informational interview is an arranged meeting or telephone call with a person who works in a particular profession or organization that you are interested in learning more about. You are gathering information about a specific job, field of interest or company. You are not asking for a job, but simply gathering useful job search information. It's a great way to research a variety of careers and gain first-hand perspectives and insight from professionals. Informational interviewing works particularly well when you are a student. People want to help you.

Here's how to set up and conduct an informational interview:

    • Have a clear objective before you begin scheduling interviews. What is it you hope to gain? Who do you want to interview and why? Be clear about your goals.
    • Have your questions written down and well thought out ahead of time.
    • You may contact people by phone or email to request an informational interview. State right up front a time limit and your primary objective for the informational interview — for example, “May I have 20 minutes of your time to…” Be polite, positive, respectful of their time and businesslike.
    • Be flexible. The caller may wish to have you ask them questions right then and there or may prefer to schedule the interview at a later date. Be conscious of their time and keep the interview to 20–30 minutes unless the interviewer indicates they have more time to spend with you.
    • Try to schedule a face-to-face meeting whenever possible to gain exposure to the work environment and culture. Treat this meeting like an interview. First impressions count, so dress appropriately, be on time, be prepared and bring a copy of your resume just in case.
    • Close by thanking them for their time and follow-up with a brief thank-you email or note.

 

Questions to Ask

Most questions you ask will come from your own research and curiosity. Below are some suggested questions:

About the Career Field

    • How did you get into this career?
    • What did you do before entering this career?
    • What is a typical day like? What are your responsibilities? What advice do you have for someone preparing for a career in this field?
    • What courses and/or advanced degree(s) would be helpful for me? What experience is necessary to enter this field?
    • What do you like most/least about your job?

 

About the Organization/Industry

    • How did you get into this organization/industry? What other organizations have you worked for?
    • What is unique to your industry, organization, or office?
    • Describe your work environment.
    • How does your organization fill job openings?
    • What other organizations in this field would you recommend I explore for opportunities?

 

About Future Growth/Salary Information

    • What are the employment prospects for someone entering this field?
    • What is the growth and promotional potential in your field?
    • Currently, how secure are positions in your field?
    • What areas are growing/changing in this field?
    • What is a typical starting salary range in this field?

 

Follow-up

    • Can you recommend other professionals in this field with whom I should speak? May I use your name when I contact them?
    • May I contact you again if I have further questions?
    • Which professional publications/organizations and other resources do you consider relevant?

 

Career Spot: WHY NETWORKING (3:27)
Networking