When it comes to finding a job or an internship, nothing beats networking contacting friends, relatives, former colleagues and anyone else you know for referrals, and setting up face-to-face meetings to learn about companies and opportunities. Here's why it simply has to be done: not all jobs are posted. Making connections and reaching out to get to know professionals in your field will greatly increase your chances for getting leads on great opportunities.
What is networking?
You may not realize it but you already know how to network. It is simply getting to know people. You network everyday, everywhere you go. When you strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line, meet a friend of a friend, catch up with a former coworker, or stop to chat with a neighbor, you are networking. Anyone you meet can help you move your job search forward. Networking is all about building connections with people who may share your interests or from whom you can learn. It's more about listening to what people say and learning from them than about asking for favors. If you approach networking with the goal of learning about other people, you can provide value to them and the benefit will come back to you over and over.
People do business with people they know and like. There is so much competition out there, so give yourself an edge by connecting with real people who can connect you with others, and maybe ultimately to your next job. Your dream job may never be advertised or posted; networking leads you to information and opportunities, often before a formal job description is created or announced. You may meet a future mentor, someone who can share advice on a wide range of subjects. Help other people. Building relationships is the essence of effective networking.
How do I build my network?
You may think you don't know anyone who can help you in your job or internship search, but you know more people than you think. You already have a network of friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, professors, even casual acquaintances, and you can start to leverage that network right away.
- Make a list of the people in your network. Start writing down names, and you'll be amazed at how quickly the list grows.
- Ask your current network and new people you meet who else you can connect with.
- Attend professional meetings and conferences.
- Connect 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 right next to you on a project.
- Take full advantage of LinkedIn. Set up your profile, join groups (UO Alumni groups, student services group, anything aligned with your career interest).
- Ask for informational interviews with people working in companies or jobs you are interested in.
How do I develop my networking skills?
- Improve your communication skills. Effective listening, nonverbal communication (facial expressions, eye contact, body language), and stress management are all powerful tools in networking.
- Focus on building relationships. Don't expect anything; build trust by engaging with others in a helpful way.
- Be generous. If you are a young job seeker with little experience, you may not be able to help a finance chief land her next position, but her daughter might be applying to colleges and may want to hear your take on the UO.
- Be authentic and considerate; be respectful of your contact's time.
- 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. Try to make one new contact every day.
- Don't take "no" personally. Everyone is busy. Most people want to help, but sometimes the timing just isn't right. If someone is swamped and has to say no, don't take it to heart; in most cases, it's not a reflection on you.
- Develop (and practice) your "elevator speech." Write a summary of what you want people to know about you that can be delivered in fewer than 30 seconds. Make it upbeat and succinct , include who you are, what you do, and what you're looking for. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count!
- Nurture your network. Follow up after contacts, write (yes, hand write) thank-you notes. Let your contact know how your meeting went with someone he or she referred you to, keep in touch or reconnect with people who have been important to you or with whom you may have lost touch.
- Find ways to reciprocate. Remember that your ultimate goal is to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships.
Unlike an interview for a job, in an informational interview you are the interviewer. Talking with someone who is engaged in work that interests you lets you learn about a career path from an “expert” in the field. Use informational interviews to help you:
- Explore: Ask questions to help you evaluate if it is a path you would like to pursue after graduation and what gaps in your experience you may need to fill.
- Search for internships/jobs: 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.)
Keep in mind that asking for a job should never be your objective for an informational interview. Keep your focus on information gathering and avoid actions like offering your résumé (but bring it with you in case you're asked for it). To be effective, it must be clear that you are there to learn about the organization and the position, not to ask for a job!
Determine who best to contact:
- Ask friends, family, faculty, advisors, etc., for referrals to people they know who work in the career field you are researching.
- Look for names of organizations that employ people in the career field you are researching by using online resources, such as LinkedIn or Chamber of Commerce directories; check trade journals and newspapers; use listings of organizations such as the Book of Lists (available online through the Knight Library’s subscription to various business journals). Once you identify organizations of interest, look for an individual to contact within each organization (check staff lists on the company website, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Note: it is important that you know what you want to find! If you cannot describe the position, you need to do further research.
Research the field and the organization prior to the meeting:
- The questions you ask should reflect a basic knowledge of the career you are investigating and the organization where the professional is working. This will save you and the professional valuable time and show your commitment to this process.
- Before your interview, read the company’s website. Google the interviewee or check for a LinkedIn profile to learn more about the professional’s background.
Initiate the meeting:
- Often professionals are flattered that you consider them experts and want to hear their perspective on a career area. They are usually willing to speak with you. Consider asking for 20–30 minutes of their time. If they decline, ask if they know someone else in this career field with whom you might speak. Most people will try to offer the name of someone you can contact.
- Always thank the person for their time and consideration.
Prepare questions in advance:
- Design your questions to get the answers that will clarify and confirm whether this is the career and/or organization for you. Because you will have limited time, be selective and choose questions that are most meaningful to you.
Example Informational Interview Questions:
Career Path Questions:
- What skills are necessary to succeed in your field/industry?
- What training, past employment, and experiences led you to or prepared you for this field?
- What types of special certification, licensing, or advanced degrees are necessary in your field?
- What special qualities do you see as important for success in this occupation?
- If you were in charge of hiring in your field/for your company, what criteria would you use to make your selection?
Occupational Environment Questions:
- Please describe your work environment. What parts are enjoyable? What parts would you like to change?
- What is a typical day like for you? Describe a typical daily “to do” list.
- What do you like most and least about your job? What is the most stimulating aspect of your position?
- What are the current trends within your industry/field?
- 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...?
- How did you select this organization/company?
- How often do you receive feedback from your supervisor?
- What kinds of challenges—at the company, division, or department level—do you encounter?
- What kinds of meetings do you participate in? How often?
- Who are your company’s competitors?
- 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 majors or college courses 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. Talk with people in various work settings to see the differences (e.g., government, private sector, non-profit, education).
The day of the interview
- Be punctual and dress professionally for your meeting.
- To help you remember your questions, make a list of them to guide the conversation. If you like, take notes.
- Rely on your voice (since your body language won’t be seen) 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 look like it is floating.
- Software and testing: Download any software needed well ahead of time to make sure it functions on your computer. Test your video and audio before your interview to make sure it is working.
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. 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.