This article offers very PRACTICAL tips on overcoming the awkwardness of networking.
An informational interview is helpful in your job search because you gain firsthand knowledge about a career, build your network and rapport, and show that you are proactive and ambitious. And the cherry on top? They’re the ones drawing these conclusions on their own, you never have to self-promote. If your interview goes well, this contact will be more likely to help you on your career path later on.
What exactly is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a meeting where a job seeker asks for advice and insight into a career or industry, not for employment. It’s semi-informal; you guide where you want the conversation to go, but you should still maintain professionalism and treat it as such.
How do I schedule one?
Often times you’ll want to propose an interview after you meet an employee at a career fair or networking event. But not always. With informational interviews, you don’t need an “in” or middle man. Cold contacting is definitely appropriate! If you’re a little shy and have a smaller network, you can just hop onto LinkedIn and check out your connections. See if any of the people you’d like to contact have a “mutual connection,” with you; if so, ask that person to make an introduction!
Once you find an employee or recruiter’s contact, introduce yourself via phone or email. Below is a sample of something along the lines of what I would say. Feel free to use it as a guide and alter it to your specific circumstance:
Hello (name)! My name is Jennifer Kim; we met last week at (place) and I really enjoyed learning about (company). I thought of a few questions I wanted to ask and am emailing (or calling) to continue our conversation. Could I possibly borrow 10-15 minutes of your time and ask you some questions? I’d love to take you out for coffee (OR chat with you on the phone) and hear your insights on both the company and your own personal experience.
* Note if you are calling this person, be prepared to have a message to say in either case that you reach the person or their voicemail.
What about the actual conversation?
You got the person to say “yes” and arranged a mutually convenient time, good job! Here are some quick tips to make the most out of your interview.
Be respectful. First thing you need to keep in mind throughout is that this person is doing you a favor; they’re taking time out of their busy day to talk to a stranger. So be courteous and respectful. Show up on time. Prepare an outline of how you anticipate the conversation to go. Don’t overstay your welcome; if you asked for an allotted “10-15 minutes,” stick to it. Say “thank you,” both in person and in a letter after the conversation.
Questions to Ask:
Since a bulk of the meeting includes questions, I thought I’d share some of my favorite questions to gear you in the right direction:
- What do you like most about your job?
- I know each day at work looks different; but what does today look like? What does tomorrow look like?
- How do you see it changing in the future?
- What advice do you have for students seeking jobs in this field?
- If you were looking for someone to replace you, what skills would you look for?
- What activities in college helped you prepare you the most for your career?
- What books or articles do you read to keep up with developments in your field?
- Do you recommend any other people I should contact to learn more? Or books to read?
Company Specific Questions
- Which do you value more upon hiring someone; a filled resume or a high GPA?
- What kind of personality would you describe your company to have?
- What skills have you seen entry-level employees possess that make them stand out?
- What’s unique about your company?
- Does your company participate in any philanthropy or pro-bono?
- How important is cultivating relationships in your company?
- What do relationships look like between employees and their supervisors? Is there mentorship? Feedback?
- What are your company’s benefits?
Keep the conversation going.
Even post-meeting, don’t lose touch (unless you sensed a lack of chemistry, then be discerning if you want to invest. Whatever you do, do not build bridges and still say, “thank you.”) Send them a relevant article to read. Connect them with LinkedIn if you weren’t already. And regularly, like once a month, maintain a conversation with them.
Good luck, all you go-getters! XO.
Recently my friend from high school texted me with this question: “Teach me how to network. It makes me scared.”
Networking is scary; it’s completely out of one’s comfort zone to reach out to a stranger with the personal interest to get ahead in your career. How seemingly selfish.
So I decided to just take this opportunity and turn it into a Q+A post. (: Networking for me has become a habit and also led to great purposeful relationships and mentors. Small efforts of networking showed others that I was serious about my career; and so they were willing to help guide me in the right direction or lead me to those who can take me somewhere.
Don’t think networking is relevant to you? Allow me to convince you.
important necessary. For those who think their laundry list of leadership skills and experiences will omit them from the horror of networking, let me remind you of this. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The employee of [dream company] is more likely to hire his son, even if he’s an unqualified druggie, along with his unqualified druggie friends, over you. Any day. Truth: people are more likely to help out people they like or know over a stranger. Wouldn’t you? You need an “in”— a foot in the door, and the only way to get that is through networking.
You learn (a lot). As college students, we really don’t have any idea what the real world is like. Or what the industry we’re pursuing is really like. Even if we have a sparkling 4.0 as a GPA, we don’t have a clue. All we know is limited to the dated textbooks and reminisces of has-been professors. So what we need, is a safe way to understand the job; first, to make sure it’s the job you want. And second, to show the recruiter that you’re the best candidate for the job. How can you accurately market yourself for a job if you don’t know what the job entails? Recruiters will be impressed of how aligned your experience and their prospectives are.
It’s not superficial. Some people are weary with the concept of networking because the relationships seem need-based or forced. But like everything else, you get what you make out of it. All relationships have a purpose. We have gym buddies, study buddies, classmates, roommates; and now it’s time for us to develop colleagues. People who challenge you to be more ambitious, people who connect you to resources, people who can relate to where you are. Networking does not mean contacting people when you need something. It’s intentionally building relationships. What does that look like? When you come across an article that might be of interest to them, send it their way. When you haven’t spoken to them in awhile, drop by to say hello and update how you’re doing (and then ask them how they are doing). You want to be fresh in their mind as “the person to go to” in terms of your profession. And eventually, like most organic relationships, you guys may or may not actually like each other (gasp); and these efforts to stay in contact won’t be so forced. And that my friends, is
how babies are made how networking is done effectively.
So hopefully you understand the positive effects of networking more than you did before you read this. Let’s begin on HOW to start your networking endeavor.
Get your name out there. Where? Everywhere. Literally. It’s a small, in-direct step; but it’ll help you eventually connect to the people you want to talk to. And it’ll remind people that you’re there. Digitally, you want to be present; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog sites, online portfolios. Just to name a few. Don’t just leave your page static; update. Each update will bring your name to the top of their news feed. Outside of the digital landscape requires a little more effort. Meet with professors. Attend informational sessions. Develop a relationship with a worker at the career center. And when you do attend these things…
Always ask for a business card. If you ever have a question or comment directed towards them, you won’t have to worry about that one person you met once upon a time. You’ll have the means to do so. Can’t think of a reason to contact them? Create one. Make up a reason just so they remember you and notice that you are courteous. Thank them for their time. Bring up a new point or article that reminded you of what you guys talked about. Ask them a quick question. Schedule a time to grab coffee.
Join a club. This is something easy to do; especially if you’re on a college campus. I know, there are expensive membership fees and it seems like all they do is go on bar crawls. Join them, because in a few years, those are the people who are going to be in the same work field as you, and you want to be friends with them. And also, it develops a good practice of working with others that you wouldn’t necessarily be friends with. It’ll teach you how to be a good teammate, to speak boldly and pitch new ideas, to make new friends, etc.
Be nice (to everyone). Everyone has a story to share, so be nice to them. Even if they are difficult to work with. Even if they are rude. Even if they are lazy. Do it; because it really is a small world, and you never know where they will be in the future. You never want to burn bridges. That’s the number one “no” to networking.
Contact alumni. Learn about the students who graduated from the same program you are in. Where did they go post-grad? How did they get there? And if you find someone who is on a path you are interested in, reach out. Don’t be hesitant or fear that you will be a creep— you already have the common ground, alma mater, and they’ll be flattered you trust their opinion. Once you decide who to contact; find their email or connect on LinkedIn. Introduce who you are and that you’re curious to learn more about their job as well as how they got there. Have a list of questions ready to ask them. (Don’t forget to say thank you.)
Cold call. That means contacting people you don’t know. Look at companies you are interested in and figure out recruiters’ contact information. Email them and politely let them know you are curious to learn more about company culture as well as what kind of employees they look for. Schedule a phone interview; or if you’re in town, ask to take them out to coffee. Conversations like this are so much better than just handing your resume onto a job board; because this is when you can showcase your personality and ambition and professionalism. You can also sneak in your resume at the end if it seems appropriate. It’s the scariest, but the most worth it. You will never know where that conversation will take you; maybe not an immediate offer, but a connection.
Make weekly goals. If it’s not in your comfort zone to reach out to a stranger, it’ll most likely never happen unless you create a tangible goal. For me, I make a goal to reach out to two people each week; as well as help two people each week. I don’t always meet the quota, but it keeps me in check. Trust me, it was nerve wrecking the first time; I stumbled over my words, I called them by the wrong name, I lost their business card, etc. But again, practice makes perfect. And the more you network, the easier it’ll become. Some have led to dead ends, and some have led to great relationships. Some have taken a lot of investment and involvement, others required quick emails. In this case, quantity will lead to quality.
Lastly, be a human. Remember that the people you are networking with, or even the people who are looking to hire, are first and foremost people. Just like you. And people are the same; they like nice people, interesting people, people who remind them of themselves. So don’t forget your personality when you network; because that might be your golden ticket. At the end of the day, people want those they can trust to do their work and wouldn’t mind staying at the office together til 10 pm if needed.
So, don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to laugh. Don’t forget to talk about your dog, or your favorite show, or secret hidden talent. And lastly, don’t forget to breathe. (:
Good luck! And see every opportunity as a learning experience.
I know that was really long; hopefully some points were helpful. Some points were vague but not always obvious. If you’d like me to expand on some points, I’d gladly do so. That might be easier. For example; what questions to ask when you meet up with someone, how to properly write an email, how to create a Linkedin profile, etc. Comment below if you’d like me to expand on a topic or comment below if you have a networking tip!
It’s half way through October and that excitement of being back on campus is starting to wear off. The snooze button gets pressed more often, the effort to attend office hours dwindles, and you’re counting the days until Thanksgiving break. (46 six days to be exact). Trust me, I’m right there with you.
But we can’t stay in this slump forever. It’s all about finishing strong; and it will be good practice for the future. And I’ll practice what I preach by sharing a few tips that help keep me sane…
Plan your semester out. Pull out your syllabus— yes, those two sheets stapled together, crumpled up at the bottom of your book bag— pull ’em out! Locate all the important dates your professor so kindly gave to you as prior knowledge. No sarcasm there, professors who plan assignment and exam dates in advanced give you the luxury of planning out your schedule and deciding whether or not you should drop it. So, find those dates; assignment due dates, no lecture dates, exam dates, etc. And mark all of them in the calendar so you never show up to class one day in a panic that you completely forgot to study for that exam.
Fill out your Google calendar. Wondering where you can jot down all those important due dates? One step ahead of you. In that handy Google calendar of yours. I do and it has changed my life (for the better). This is what mine looks like for this following week:
– It allows you to color code all your future engagements from class to nap time.
– There’s also a section to place your “to-do” list; both as a side-note or on top according to their days.
– If there’s certain appointments that happen on a regular basis such as class or church, it allows you check a box and will then automatically place it on those particular dates for all following weeks. This is really handy so you don’t have to sit there placing the same thing week after week.
– It gives you reminders based on your preference: 1 day before, 1 hour before, 30 min before, etc.
– It syncs to your smart phone and reminders pop up there, as well.
– It’s digital. So it’s easy to rearrange or delete events as needed, so don’t worry about your flexibility.
Go to professor office hours. I have three midterms coming up this week and as I’ve (kind of) started studying, I’m realizing there’s a chunk of material I don’t understand or I didn’t quite write down in my notes. Yes, I can email my professor to get a quick response; but personal interaction is always more preferred. Professors like to put a face to a name, and when they can, they’re more likely to bump you up when you have a borderline “A,” as well as write you a recommendation later in semester. Go to office hours as often as you can; whenever you have a question regarding lecture or just their study of academia. It’ll only benefit you and flatter them.
Find a friend. Find a friend in that class.First, going to class will be more enjoyable because you have someone to share material with, as well as complain with. Complaining isn’t always bad; if class material is at the point of discussion, it just helps make the content tangible and easier to digest. Also, if you ever oversleep and miss a lecture, having a friend will secure a set of notes. And like most people, they’re competitive when it comes to grades; another person in the class can stir up motivation and push you to work hard. A little friendly competition is a good thing.
Type up your notes in class. My professor gave me this advice freshman year and I’ve been (trying to) keep it. Your professor probably talks fast. Faster than you can neatly hand-write each bullet point before Professor changes to the slide. (the entire class groans and slams their fist on their desks). When your professor is a chatty cathy, bring your laptop. Most people can type faster they can write. Then after class, open up your notes and rewrite them with by hand; studies show that muscle memory helps your brain absorb the info. If your professor is not a chatty cathy, stick to old school pen and paper. You will be less distracted to just “quickly” check Facebook or shoot an email; then after class, type up on your laptop. In case you only wrote a word down, you can elaborate on Word and neatly organize it.
What are your tips on fighting mid-semester slump? Share here. And good luck with exams, everyone!
Earlier this week, Ogilvy & Mather recruiters came to our campus to share about their summer internship program and offer advice to interested students. At one point during the session, the recruiter mentioned that typically around 2,000 applications come in each year, and only 20 of them are considered, and then finally hired.
Of course, I was interested.
And today one of my classmates and I were having a conversation about this opportunity; discussing how amazing of an experience that would be as well as how difficult the application process seemed. He started to described Ogilvy as “the Harvard of ad agencies” and proceeded to tell me it was a waste of my time to apply. I responded, “It’s not a waste of time. If Harvard is an option, you choose Harvard, always.”
After the conversation, his comment and overall attitude just lingered in my head throughout the day. It forced me to realize that he wasn’t alone in his thoughts, everyone thinks that way, myself included. We sell ourselves short and create limits on what is possible and what is not. Some call it “realistic,” but really, it’s a trap.
We need to have bigger dreams, bigger ambitions, and even bigger faith in ourselves that we can make it. One Forbes article I read recently described the top 10 traits of the most successful people in the US, and none of those traits included intelligence, inherent skill, or adequacy; however, traits did include persistency, optimism, and self-respect.
What does that mean? It means you don’t have to settle for plan b and watch your better friends steal the life that you imagined. Countless times throughout my life, I quit a sport/hobby/club because I genuinely believed I wasn’t “good enough”— someone else was better, prettier, faster, smarter, stronger, richer, etc. But it’s not those type of people who make it in the world, it’s the people who work hard, see their weaknesses and make adjustments, it’s the people who envision a goal and make realistic steps to make it happen. Ultimately, it’s the people who don’t give up. You don’t have to be inherently gifted or naturally smart or born from a rich family, you just can’t give up.
We all have a “Harvard,” and if you can define what that personally means to you, make it your goal right now and shoot for it. Because in the end…
Harvard is never a waste of time.