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Networking

Everyone has heard the term networking. Perhaps the word is overused, or has become so cliché that its meaning has little value. One thing’s clear, it remains underrated as an effective tool in the job search process. Knowing what the word means is useless unless it is experienced by putting it into practice. Richard Bolles in “What Color Is Your Parachute?” states that at least 40 people out of 100 secure their job through some form of networking. It is the most effective way to gain employment. Remember, networking applies in all areas of life. Therefore, it can be tailored to fit your needs at any time – references for applying to graduate school, someone to get advice from on investing, someone to repair your car, and of course a contact for a career transition. Practice networking until it becomes a natural part of the way you interact with others. You never know when or how it will prove beneficial in the future. Here are some quick tips on networking:

  • Networking, just like any aspect of the job search, is self-promotion.
  • Know what you want and what you have to offer including the appropriate Self-Assessment. Write it out and learn it so that becomes a natural part of your networking conversation.
  • Think of everyone you know and everyone you meet as a networking prospect – and as someone who can assist you if needed.
  • Be genuine, confident, positive, and enthusiastic in all your networking communications.
  • When you approach a contact, know what questions you want to ask and decide in advance how to ask them. Do you want to know more about that person’s field or career path? Are you trying to learn about the requirements for a posted opening?
  • When you’re calling a “cold contact” or are going to conduct an” informational interview,” write down what you’d like to say on a card or piece of paper and keep it handy in case you get nervous and forget your “lines.”
  • Ask your contact if you may forward your resume to him or her and, if the contact says yes, send it promptly along with a cover letter referring to your conversation.
  • Before you end a conversation with a “cold contact,” make sure you have the correct spelling of his or her name, the correct job title, mailing and e-mail addresses, and fax and telephone numbers.
  • Keep your networking conversation brief, and always thank the contact for Be organized. Keep a careful record of whom you’ve contacted and what was said in the conversation. Keep adding to your list of contacts.
  • Send thank-you notes to everyone who has assisted you.

How Do I Get Started

To begin the informational interviewing process, you should contact people within your personal network. This may include your family, friends, roommates, relatives, past employers, and professors. Ask these contacts for the names of people within the districts which interest you. If this does not bring the desired results, you can secure contact names by consulting the following:

  • Corporate/Organization literature
  • Professional Chapters
  • Chamber of Commerce Directories/Yellow Pages
  • Career Planning and Services Office/Alumni
  • Faculty, Friends, Teachers

 

Once you have identified people to contact, several options are available. The easiest and quickest way to schedule an appointment is by telephone or by electronic means (e-mail, text-messaging-if appropriate). Explain to the person who you are and why you are making the contact. You should mention that you are not seeking a job at this time, but rather gathering information.

Another way to set up an interview is by an Introduction Letter. In your letter, be sure to clearly state why you want to meet with the contact, and that you will contact him/her to arrange an interview time. When making the contact, you should refer to your letter and restate your purpose. After you schedule the interview, send a letter confirming the time and place, and reiterate your interest in discussing the field.

One final way to establish an interview is to have a third party intervene for you. The third party is usually a mutual friend or acquaintance who arranges the time, date and place of the interview. Employees, professors, relatives, and friends are more than willing to assist you in arranging informational interviews. After the interview is arranged, you should send a brief thank-you note to the third party who arranged it. Also, it is a good idea to send a confirmation letter to your new contact.

Now that you have contacted the person and arranged a meeting time and place, there are a few things you should do to prepare yourself for the interview. First, conduct some preliminary research on the district. It is important to gather some facts before your interview in order to formulate intelligent questions. You will not make a favorable impression by asking questions that could be easily answered in the organization’s literature or on the website.

The next step is to develop a list of questions involving topics you wish to investigate. This can include personal questions, such as “Why did you choose this field?”, and general questions about organizational culture, the work setting, and the field. Be sure to use open-ended questions to avoid yes/no answers. For instance, instead of asking if the person likes his/her job, ask what he or she likes most about the job. These open-ended questions will stimulate more of the response and discussion you desire.

For the interview, make sure you are dressed appropriately. Remember, you are not only gathering information, but you are also establishing contacts.

Finally, make sure you arrive early. Make time allowances for traffic and parking. You want to make a good impression by being prompt. Being late will only waste the contact’s valuable time.

Informational Interviews

Perhaps you are wondering what an informational interview is and when it should be conducted. Basically, informational interviewing is a non-threatening way to gather information about the education field. By contacting someone who actually works in an educational organization, you can secure firsthand information about work responsibilities, career paths, lifestyles, work settings, and organizational cultures. Learning directly from district representatives can help you determine a possible match between the organization and your interests. Informational interviewing, however, is NOT to be used as a trick to get a job interview. Employers will know if your intentions are less than honest. The purpose of the informational interview is to research an occupation, not to ask for a job. You should be conducting these interviews early in your college years.

Informational interviewing provides an active way to gather information about a profession. While a great deal of insight can be gained by researching opportunities through the internet or printed materials, informational interviews allow you to research opportunities directly with employer representatives. What better way to research careers than to actually discuss your interest with those in the field.

Informational interviewing also offers you an excellent opportunity to build contacts and referrals for your personal network. Building a personal network is particularly important to your job-search because it is directly related to increasing your chances of getting a job. If you make a good first impression through an organized, well-prepared initial interaction with employees, it is likely that these contacts will be helpful with your future job-search.

Another benefit from informational interviewing is that it will increase your self-confidence and interviewing skills. Informational interviewing allows you to take control of an interview and to practice your presentation and communication skills.

During the Interview

After greeting the interviewee, it would be helpful to restate your purpose for the interview. Establish a context for the interview by telling why you are seeking information and the general types of questions you will be asking. Then start asking the questions from your list. In order to remember the information that is discussed, it is helpful to jot down a few notes as you go. If you would prefer to tape record the interview, make sure you ask for permission first. Check to make sure everything is recorded properly. It can be very frustrating to discover later that the volume was not high enough or that something had malfunctioned.

Be prepared, at some point, to answer a few questions about yourself and your background. Typically, these people will also want to know more about your career plans and preparation. Offer to show your resume to acquaint the person with your qualifications. You might want to request specific advice about your resume and job search. Be careful here: you do not want to appear to be asking for a job!

Before you close the interview, be sure to request a business card to begin your personal file of future job-search contacts. In addition, you might want to ask the individual to suggest any articles or books for you to read in your field. Finally, thank the individual for the information and his/her time.

After the Interview

After the interview, write a thank-you by letter or e-mail to the person . This contact is very important because it shows sincere appreciation and also demonstrates your professionalism. In this letter, you might want to refer to some portion of the conversation, some advice that was given, or a referral you have contacted.

In addition, take a few minutes after the interview to evaluate the information you received. Summarize what you learned; what your positive and negative impressions were; how your skills, interest, and needs match this occupation or organization; and whether or not you would enjoy performing these duties. Then, keep a record of your interview. At the very least, you should record the person’s name, title, organization, address, type of occupation, and a brief summary of the information you received. This record-keeping is important for future job contacts.

Final Tips

 

  • Most informational interviews typically last between 20-30- minutes. Don’t continue to ask questions beyond this time frame unless the employer seems willing to respond.
  • If you are unable to keep your appointment, make sure you call to let the person know at least 24 hours prior to the interview time. You should try to reschedule the interview at this time.
  • If your contact person cannot keep the interview appointment because of an unanticipated conflict, offer to reschedule the meeting.
  • Remember: This is NOT the time to ask for a job. Be sure to focus on the occupation and organization.
  • Conduct several informational interviews to get a broader perspective on the occupation and field.
  • Use available networking resources.

 

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