What is networking?
Networking is simply getting to know people. When you strike up a conversation with a new classmate, meet a friend of a friend, or catch up with a former coworker, you are networking. Networking is all about building connections with people who may share your interests and from whom you can learn.
Networking can help you explore career options, get to know future colleagues, gain advice from those who have gone through the search, and uncover unadvertised employment opportunities.
People tend to do business with people they know. There is so much competition out there, so give yourself an edge by connecting with people who can connect you with others, and maybe ultimately to your next job. Your dream job may never be posted; networking leads you to information and opportunities, often before a formal job description is created or announced.
How do I build my network?
Your network begins with people you know: friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, professors, even casual acquaintances. People in your network don’t need to be working in your career field; it might be someone they refer you to from their network that is employed in your field and can provide valuable information.
- Make a list of the people who are already a part of your network. Ask these people for referrals to professionals, companies, and opportunities to investigate.
- Research professionals you want to talk with and learn from. Ask if they will participate in an informational interview with you. Use a social media platform such as LinkedIn to find them. (LinkedIn can also be a useful tool for finding UO alumni—a group that you already share a common experience with because you both attended the UO!)
- Follow up with guest speakers and panelists from your classes or events that you attend.
- Volunteer with agencies that interest you. You never know who might be working with you on a project.
- Attend professional meetings and conferences.
Tips for networking:
- Focus on building relationships; be authentic and considerate.
- Be intentional. Don't leave networking to chance. Be proactive and create a list of people you would like to contact.
- Make networking a habit that you do on an ongoing basis.
- Don't take "no" personally. Most people want to help, but sometimes the timing just isn't right. If someone has to say no, don't take it personally and move on to your next contact.
- Develop (and practice) your "elevator speech." Write a brief summary of what you want people to know about you, e.g., your degree, career interests/skills, what you are seeking. Make it upbeat and succinct.
- Nurture your network. Follow up with your contacts. If they offered advice and you acted on it, let them know how it impacted you. Appreciate help offered and say thank you.
- Find ways to reciprocate. Remember that your ultimate goal is to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships.
Unlike an employment interview for an internship or job, in an informational interview you are the interviewer. Talking with someone who is engaged in work that interests you allows you to learn about a career path from an expert in the field.
Use informational interviews to help you:
- Explore careers: Ask questions to evaluate if it is a path you would like to pursue and what gaps in your experience you may need to fill.
- Identify future employers: Investigate the culture of a particular organization of interest and/or gain advice about how to navigate the field (this can be learned through understanding the professional’s own career path and asking for advice on how you might get started in the field.)
Asking for a job should not be your objective for this type of interview. Focus on information gathering and relationship building and avoid actions like offering your résumé (unless you are asked for it). Make it clear that you are there to learn about the person and their work and company, not to ask for a job. An exception is if your interviewee steers the conversation to employment. You can then follow the interviewee’s lead.
Determine whom to contact:
- Ask friends, family, faculty, advisors, members of community groups you belong to, etc., for referrals to people they know who work in the career field you are researching. Everyone you know has a network; however, they can't help you find people if you don't let them know what and who you are looking for.
- Research online for organizations that employ people in that career field. When researching company websites, find a staff list. If one is available, review the names and job titles of the employees. Who has a job title in line with what you want to learn about?
- Try an online networking platform like LinkedIn. Search by company, career field, or the UO page for alumni.
Conduct research prior to asking for a meeting:
- Learn what you can about your interviewee and the organization they work for. Check for a bio on their company website and a LinkedIn or other social media profile. This will allow you to confirm your interest in the professional and help you explain why you want to talk with them.
- Research will help you write your interview questions. Questions you ask should reflect a basic knowledge of the career you are investigating and the company where the professional is working. This will save you and the professional valuable time and show your commitment to this process.
Initiate the meeting:
- Send a message to the professional letting them know who you are, what you want, and why you are interested in talking with them specifically. Often professionals are willing to speak with you and share their perspective.
Prepare questions in advance:
- Design your questions to get the answers that will clarify if this is the career and/or organization for you. Because you will have limited time, be selective and create questions that are most meaningful to you.
Example Informational Interview Questions:
Career Path Questions:
- What are your daily tasks and responsibilities?
- What do you like most about your job? What do you find most challenging?
- What skills are necessary to succeed in your field/industry?
- What training and experiences led you to or prepared you for this field?
- What types of certification, licensing, or advanced degrees are necessary in your field?
- What qualities do you think are important for success in this occupation?
Occupational Environment Questions:
- Describe the organizational culture. What do you like most about it? What parts would you like to change?
- How many hours a week do you work? How much overtime is expected?
- How much flexibility are you allowed on the job in terms of dress, hours, vacation...?
- What are the current trends within your industry/field?
- How did you select this company?
- What kinds of challenges—at the company, division, or department level—do you encounter?
- How often do you receive feedback from your supervisor?
- What kinds of meetings do you participate in? How often?
- Are there any professional groups or associations that I should belong to?
- Do you know of any other professionals in this field who might be willing to talk with me?
- What advice can you offer to someone interested in entering your field?
- What’s the best method for finding a job in this field?
- Are there any college courses/areas of study you would recommend?
Plan on doing multiple informational interviews in each career field you explore. It is very important to get more than one point of view. If applicable, talk with people in various work settings to understand the differences (e.g., government, private sector, non-profit, education).
The day of the interview
- Be punctual. Consider your presentation/dress and show your interviewee that you are invested in this process.
- To help you remember your questions, make a list of them to guide the conversation. If you like, take notes.
- Rely on your voice to express your interest and enthusiasm.
- Listen closely so you avoid talking over/interrupting your interviewee.
- Set the stage: Find a space to use that has a neutral background with minimal distractions. Also, choose a well-lit space. Don't face the camera into a light source such as a window or lamp, as it can darken your face making it difficult to see your facial expressions.
- Your camera: Position your camera at eye level (not above or below). Make eye contact with the camera on your device. Show yourself from the waist or chest up so your head doesn’t appear to be floating.
For both phone and video:
- Use a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Let roommates know what you are doing so they can be mindful about making excessive noise.
- Close any unnecessary apps on your computer to avoid noises and distractions.
- Evaluate the interview. Ask yourself how you currently feel about this occupation/organization. Do you want to keep researching this career path and/or employer?
- Write a thank-you note to the person you interviewed and to anyone else who was helpful to you.
- Keep in touch by following up with your interviewee to let them know how their help has been of service and how you are doing with your career exploration or job search.