By definition, networking means developing contacts and exchanging information with other people for purposes of developing business or expanding one’s career opportunities. During your day you probably network without even knowing it. For instance, let’s say you need a ride home to New Jersey for the weekend and you ask another friend if they know anyone who lives in Jersey – you are networking! Or if you need a part-time job and want to work in a restaurant you ask your friend who works at Bertucci’s if there are openings and who to contact about working there, you are networking! Networking is tapping into your connections for helpful information or advice. If done successfully, networking can be the most effective career exploration and job search tool.
To begin networking you must identify who can offer assistance when it comes to seeking career-related advice. For instance, it may be a parent, a friend, a co-worker, a roommate’s parent, a faculty member or other individuals you know from your social, work, or educational environment. The purpose of connecting with each person is to see if these individuals can share information and advice in regards to your field of interest as well as direct/refer you to a second person that can provide additional insights. And if possible, your second contact can direct/refer you to a third contact who can also provide career-related information. This process in networking is called the “Multiplier Effect.”
Now that you have identified the reasons why you are seeking information and who to contact, it’s a good idea to formulate questions. Below are some suggested questions:
- What is your educational and professional background?
- How did you prepare yourself for this profession?
- What do you like/dislike about your job and why?
- What types of companies/organizations might employ someone to do this type of work?
- How did you decide to get into the field and what steps did you take to enter the field?
- What should I do to best prepare myself for a job in this field?
- What suggestions do you have for someone wishing to enter this field?
- What skills and background are needed to get into this field?
- What is the salary range for a person in this field?
- What personal qualities do you feel are most important in your work and why?
- What are the tasks you do in a typical workday and could you describe them?
- What types of difficult issues/stress do you experience on the job?
- What are the most significant changes facing your field/organization?
- What are the trends/issues to be aware of in the field?
- What is the job outlook in this field?
- Knowing what you know about your field, would you go into it again? If you weren’t doing this what other careers would you pursue?
- What related occupations might I investigate?
- Is advanced education beneficial or required in this field?
- What qualities would one need to possess to do well in this profession?
- Are there professional publications or organizations that I should become familiar with?
- Is there anyone else that you could recommend that would be beneficial for me to speak with? May I use your name in contacting this person?
Always be sure to ask if the person can recommend additional people for you to talk to! This is one of the most important questions and the one that will provide you with further contacts.
“As opposed to asking question after question, treat the interview more like a conversation, it will help to make the experience more relaxing.”
While all of these questions are good, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with the person. Tell them about yourself – interests, goals, where you’re from, etc. If, while asking the person a question, they mention something of interest to you or say something that you have in common, feel free to comment about it or inquire further. For example, if the person comments that their work varies from one day to the next, you could say, “I’m glad to hear that there is a lot of variety in your work. I like having different tasks to work on each day.”
If you have completed the above steps, you are now ready to set up your networking meetings or informational interviews. Depending on your location and your contact’s location, the interview may have to be conducted over the phone/e-mail as opposed to in person. Just be sure to discuss these options with your contact. If your contact is in New York City and you are here in Villanova but will be in NYC in the next week or two, you can ask if he/she has time to meet then. Below are some guidelines for setting up an informational interview either by phone or mail.
When contacting an individual by phone, be sure to have an idea of what you will say once you have reached the person.
For example: Hello Mr. Kelly my name is _______________and I am a Villanova University Student considering a career in _________. I am calling at the suggestion of (person’s name who referred you). He/she thought you might be a good person from whom to seek some ideas and advice about______________. I was wondering if you would be willing to meet with me for about 20 to 30 minutes for an informational interview so I can learn more about your position as a ____________?
- Have notes in front of you so you don’t lose track of what you are going to say.
- Tell the person who you are and why you are calling.
- If someone suggested you contact this person be sure to mention that person’s name.
- Ask if they would be willing to meet for an informational interview.
The person you contact might say they have the time to talk with you at that time and suggest you could speak then. It’s up to you – If you are going to proceed with the interview, make sure you feel confident enough in going ahead with the interview at that time. This is one reason why it is important to have your list of questions ready and with you. If you do not feel prepared, you can also say that at this time you were simply calling to set up a time that you can either meet in person or talk over the phone as you are also trying to set up meetings with other individuals. Then see if there is an amicable time that the both of you can meet or talk over the phone.
By Snail Mail or Email
When sending a letter or e-mail first, both allow you to introduce yourself to the contact and explain why you are writing.
You can also enclose/attach your resume so that the person can learn a little bit more about you. Sending a letter/e-mail also allows the person some time to consider your request. It is usually best to follow the letter with a phone call about a week or two after the letter is written.
When you contact the person, you can start the call in the following way:
For example: Hello Mr. Kelly. My name is ____________ and I am a student at Villanova University. I am calling to follow up on my recent letter/e-mail requesting about a half hour of your time to learn more about your position as __________. Have you received my letter?
Once they recognize your name, you can proceed with a discussion as to if it is possible to meet and when it might be a good time to do so.
First and foremost please be sure that you are on time whether you are meeting in person or calling the contact. When the interview takes place, remember you are the person conducting the interview. Here are some guidelines for the interview:
- You lead the meeting and ask the questions such as the ones provided earlier
- You watch the clock to make sure you do not go over the 30-minute time you had requested
- When 30 minutes is approaching, you can say the following: “Our 30 minutes are approaching and I know you are busy so I’ll end with this last question…..”
- If the contact says it’s okay to stay longer then that is fine. But if not, start to close the conversation by thanking him/her for their time and letting him/her know how valuable this opportunity was.
The overall goal of the interview is to learn about the person’s job, career path, a field of work, and organization as well as share information about yourself and your career goals. If the person you are interviewing asks how he or she can be of assistance to you as you explore career options, it is okay to ask for advice on identifying summer internships or job opportunities or to ask for comments on your resume. However, it is not appropriate to ask for a job. Asking for a job can be the fastest way of losing a networking contact.
Always follow up your interview with a thank you letter by letting the contact know how much you appreciated the time that they spent with you and the information they shared. If the contact mentioned something that caught your attention, you can say how valuable that piece of information was to you. This is a nice way of letting the contact know that you connected with what they were saying.
Communication is the key to successful networking so it is important to report to your contact when you follow his/her advice, make contact with someone to whom you were referred, or when you are successful in obtaining a job or internship. The people you meet will enjoy hearing how they were able to help you and most likely you’ll develop an important relationship where one day you may be able to help your contact.
Throughout this process, it is very important to keep yourself organized which is why it is helpful to create a log of all the people you are contacting. Try to create a system that will work best for you. You can create a database in excel or another computer program, and keep index cards, or a binder with the information.
Another Option: if you are networking and collecting business cards, it is a good idea (while the interaction is fresh in your mind) to write some notes on the back of the card – how you met the person, when, and any particular advice they gave.