You’ll hear it a lot: networking is essential for getting a job.
Precisely what “networking” means and how one does it can be a mystery to many students. Informational Interviews are a way to start.
Informational interviews are brief, low-stakes conversations with individuals about their careers. This networking practice can help you to learn more about potential careers, start making professional connections, and understand better how your skills and interests align with the workplace.
To conduct an informational interview, follow these steps:
- Determine what professional field you’d like to know more about and who you already know within that field. It’s great when you can start with a contact you already have – a relative, for instance, or a family friend, or someone you’ve worked with. However, you can also reach out to strangers or acquaintance. LinkedIn can help you identify alumni from your major, and they can be a really helpful resource.
- Get in touch with your contact to ask if he or she would be willing to talk with you for twenty minutes about their career.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask your contact, but don’t simply read them – you want the exchange to feel conversational and natural. Let your contact talk about their job, what they do every day, what they enjoy about their field, and similar topics. Be respectful of your contact’s time, but also be aware that if the conversation is going well, it may last longer than the twenty minutes you requested.
- “Who else would you suggest that I talk to?” and “What advice do you have for me” are great questions to wind down the conversation. It’s best if your contact emails their colleagues to make the introduction. However, if instead you’re going to be sending the email, be sure to ask your contact if you can mention them as a means of introducing yourself.
- After the informational interview, follow up with your contact to thank them for their time. If you want to stay in touch with the contact, you might connect with them on LinkedIn, but you should always either send a courteous personal message when adding them as a connection or ask them about connecting on LinkedIn near the end of the informational interview.
- Sometimes you come away from an informational interview with…information. Sometimes you come away with a sense of connection to the person you spoke to — they urge you to follow up if you need additional advice, or they stress their willingness to be helpful. In this latter case, think about ways to continue the connection: Do some more exploring in their field so you can come back with more questions. Ask them to review your resume and make suggestions for improving it. Find out if there are books, websites, professional organizations, or social media accounts that you should know about to learn more about the field.
Networking will require intentionality and time. Start early! It’s important to explore potential career paths long before you’re getting ready to graduate, and many people enjoy talking to students.