|Networking and the Information Interview|
Networking is what you do everyday on campus. If you ask a fraternity brother whether he knows anyone going to New York on the weekend so you can possibly get a ride, you are networking. When you ask people in your residence hall the best Italian restaurant to take your family for dinner, you are doing it again. Networking is tapping your connections for helpful information and advice. In terms of jobs, if you ask someone in your history class whether the Outback is still hiring and who you should contact about working there, you just started networking.
Networking is regarded as one of the most effective career exploration and job search tools. How do you begin?
1. What are you looking for? A specific position? A particular organization? Answers to a general question about opportunities in communications? You may want to research positions, fields, and/or organizations using resources in the Career Resource Library, the Internet, and field specific publications so you have a strong sense of what you are talking about. Practice describing your interests with a friend.
2. Who can help you? Using the "communications" example from above, the list may contain names of specific faculty in the Media & Communication Department at Muhlenberg, the Vice President of Public Relations, the Manager of WMUH, and the family friend working at a newspaper. Set a goal of having at least 25 names on the list to start.
3. Think about your activities, hobbies, and sports. Add another 25 people to your networking list based on those you know through activities, community service, etc. They don't necessarily have to be working in your field of interest.
4. Where else can you find people to help you? Expand your list to at least 75 names by using myMuhlenberg.com*, the Muhlenberg Career Network**, directories of organizations related to your field of interest (e.g., Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook available in Trexler Library), professional organizations in your career field (e.g., American Counseling Association), geographic-based directories (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce directory for your targeted city), etc.
Resources like these are available in the Career Center, Trexler Library, public libraries, and the Internet.
* MyMuhlenberg.com is an online community for all Muhlenberg alumni. Seniors have access to the Career Mentoring section of the site.
** The Muhlenberg Career Network is a group of alumni who have volunteered to assist students with their career/job searches. The network is available to Muhlenberg students in the Career Center.
5. Leave yourself open to chance. Take opportunities to discuss your interests with acquaintances or people you meet for the first time. People generally like to talk about themselves, so you can use lines like "What do you do for a living?" or "Tell me how things are in your line of work" to get you started. Variations of this also work at social events if you run out of things to say.
6. Start networking!
Informational interviews can be informal (letting your uncle know you would love to learn more about his job at Merrill Lynch), or they might be quite formal (spending the day with an alumna who does marketing for New York Magazine through the Muhlenberg Shadow Program). You can really turn any situation into a networking opportunity!
Setting up a formal networking meeting can be done by phone, mail, or e-mail but should always be done professionally.
The advantage of calling first is that it is fast. The disadvantage is that if the person you are calling doesn't recognize your name, she may not take the call; or if you happen to call at a busy time, the person may rush you or decline your request. (See Sample A)
If you ask to schedule a time to talk further on voice mail, be as clear and specific as possible. Be sure to include your name, reason for calling, a number where you can be reached and the best time to call; repeat all the information clearly to make sure the recipient has all the information before hanging up.
By MAIL or E-MAIL:
The advantage of writing to your targeted person is that you can carefully craft your request. You can enclose a resume to give the person more information about yourself. It is usually best to follow the letter with a phone call about a week or two after the letter was sent. (See Sample B) When you speak on the phone, you can begin with "Have you received my letter?" If so, the person will have a clear sense of why you are calling and may be better prepared to help you. If not, you can always explain your request verbally. This mail method is slower, but tends to make students more confident with their requests and it sends a sense of seriousness and professionalism to the recipient. (See Sample C)
THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
A common networking request would be for a 20-30 minute informational interview. The informational interview can be conducted by phone at a mutually agreeable future time (although you should be prepared if the person wants to talk immediately) or in person at the interviewee's place of work (or public place such as a restaurant.) In either case, remember that YOU are the INTERVIEWER. You will be asking the questions and you will watch the clock. If the person is willing to spend more time than you requested, or if they offer to give you an office tour, consider it a bonus. Be prepared to end the interview at the predetermined time limit by saying something like, "I know you are busy and our 20 minutes is almost over." You could then ask your last question. Take the host's lead from there. If the person encourages you to stay longer, great.
Following is a list of sample questions you may want to ask during an informational interview or networking meeting. Be prepared with more questions than you think you will have time for. Ask industry-specific questions as well.
Possible Informational Interview Questions:
- Can you describe a typical day in your job?
- What background is most common for people in your field?
- What is your educational and professional background?
- If you were in college today, what would you do to best prepare yourself for a job in your field?
- What do you think is the most important thing someone starting out could do to be successful in your field?
- What are the normal work hours? Are weekends/ holidays required? What about overtime?
- Describe a typical career path in this field.
- If you would move up from your current position, what is a logical next step?
- What courses are most important for someone entering this field?
- What types of organizations would hire people to do what you do?
- In addition to my education, what should I be doing to prepare for a career in this field?
- What is the job outlook in this field?
- What are the most significant challenges facing your field/organization today?
- Is advanced education beneficial in this field? Is it necessary? What degrees are most helpful?
- What would be an example of an entry-level position in this field?
- What skills would you be looking for in a candidate for an entry-level position?
- Are there professional publications or organizations that I should be familiar with if I want to enter this field?
- What other job opportunities are open to someone with your experience?
- What would be an average starting salary in this field? (General salary questions are fine, but questions about the host's own salary are inappropriate.)
- Can you recommend additional people for me to speak with?
If you end each networking contact with the last question above, your list of 75 contacts will quickly grow. Have a system to track who you meet. Create a database or some kind of file system. There is no right or wrong way to organize your contacts, as long as you keep them organized. (See Sample D)
Remember your objective is to gather information while sharing enough information about yourself for the host to help you. It is reasonable to expect to learn about the individual's job, career path, field of work, and organization. The host may go above and beyond the call of duty by asking if there is any other way to help you. If so, it would be fine to explain that you would like advice in identifying summer internships or job opportunities in this field, or to ask for comments on your resume. It is NOT appropriate to ask for a job. The fastest way to lose a networking contact is to abuse a networking contact!
Always follow-up your interview with a thank you letter. If you spend a significant amount of time with more than one person during an office visit, each person should receive a separate letter. With that in mind, don't forget to ask for business cards from the people you meet. See article on follow-up.
Keep in touch with your contacts and remember to report back when you follow their advice, when you get in touch with someone to whom you were referred, or when you are successful in obtaining a job or internship. It is always nice to let people know how they helped and that you are willing to help them should the occasion arise.