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You Have a Network Already — Now Expand It

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Networking often starts with informational interviewing, and informational interviewing starts with having people in mind to ask. Here are some steps you can take to get started.

Make a list of all your plausible connections — all the people you know (and the people you know they know) who might be interesting to talk to about their career paths.

  • Don’t overlook the obvious! If you’ve seen your cousin with a cool job at every family gathering, but you’ve never had a dedicated conversation with that cousin about her job, go ahead and put her on the list.
  • Think about your second-degree connections — parents of college friends, your work supervisor’s boss, friends of family members, the director of an organization you volunteer for.
  • Relatives or family friends who don’t have cool jobs or who are retired can be helpful resources. Asking them the questions you would ask in an informational interview can help you get ready to talk to strangers — and you might learn something interesting (and people generally enjoy talking about themselves — particularly people whose .

Think broadly about how to structure your search. Instead of focusing on specific job titles, consider other ways of framing your interests that will help you cast a wider net:

  • What are some key strengths you have that you’d like to use professionally?
  • What kind of a workplace best matches your temperament and work habits?
  • What aspects of the world would you like to be shaping or contributing to?
  • What particular cities or geographical areas would you like to move to when you’ve finished your undergrad education?

Now start thinking about how to reach out to acquaintances or strangers who might

  • be willing to spend 20 minutes talking on the phone, text-chatting, or emailing with you
  • have insights that would help you understand how your skills fit into the working world (think broader than just job titles/categories: do they work for an organization whose goals interest you? do they do things in their day-to-day job that you would be good at? are they making a difference in ways that you value?)

Here are some places that will help you build out from pre-existing connections:

  • LinkedIn, of course! You can use the search filters on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumni page to identify alumni from your major (and sometimes also your extracurricular involvements). Use our cold email advice to write a note to include with your connection request.
  • Some fraternities and sororities, club sports, and RSOs keep lists of alumni participants — see if yours has such a resource.
  • Social media — see if your connections know people that you would like to talk to, and ask for an introduction.

Here are some places that can help you identify connections outside of existing connections:

  • Twitter and LinkedIn: professionals in a wide range of fields talk shop on these platforms. Following one or two key people can tip you off to others in the field and give you a window into the vocabulary and preoccupations of people in that line of work
  • The Medium: a lot of people blog about their work on this platform.
  • Company/organization websites, “About us” or “Who We Are” sections often show a list of employees. Try to identify the entry-level positions.

As always, email humanitiesprc@illinois.edu for additional help getting started! We’re happy to talk you through starting the process.