For inspiration, see our A&AA Alums page!
When it comes to finding a job or an internship, nothing beats good, old-fashioned networking—contacting friends, relatives and former colleagues, setting up face-to-face meetings or informational interviews to learn about companies and opportunities. Here's why it simply has to be done: at any given time, about 80% of all available jobs aren't posted in the classifieds or on job boards, says BH Careers International, a New York career-management firm. Sixty percent of people surveyed by BH said they got their last job by networking. 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 every day, 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 co-worker, 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 – 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, co-workers, classmates, professors, even casual acquaintances and you can start to leverage it 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 and participate in
- 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, PODS group, anything aligned with your career interest)
- Ask for informational interviews with people working in companies or jobs you are interested in
- Connect with professionals on the Professional Connections database: http://aaa.uoregon.edu/connections/students/
How do I develop my networking skills?
- Improve your communication skills – effective listening, non-verbal 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.
- Don't be selfish – if you are a young job seeker with little experience, you may not be able to help a finance chief land his next position, but his daughter might be applying to colleges and may want to hear your take on 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 a new contact every day
- Don't take "no" personally – everyone is busy. Most people want to help out, 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 less than 30 seconds. Make it upbeat and succinct – who you are, what you do, 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 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 whom you may have lost touch with
- 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. Informational interviews can be used to help you:
Explore: when talking with a professional doing the work that interests you, you can ask questions to help you evaluate if it is a path you would like to pursue after graduation.
Search for internships/jobs: talking with a professional can help you 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 (unless asked for it). In order 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!
Steps to follow when informational interviewing...
1) Determine whom to contact.
Ask friends, family, faculty, advisors, etc., for referrals to people they know who work in the career field you are researching. Additionally, look for names of organizations that employ people in that career field; use on-line resources such as LinkedIn. 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.
2) Research the field, organization, and professional.
Before reaching out, read the company's website. Search the Internet for information about the interviewee - check for a LinkedIn profile or a biography on their company website to learn more about the professional's background. This will allow you to confirm your interest in the professional and it will enable you to explain to the professional why you are interested in talking with them specifically. Also, the 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.
3) 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 to you. If you make your initial connection through email, the length of your message should not be too long, but be sure to share enough information so the professional understands what you are asking for. Share some about yourself (e.g. student status, interest in area, major if relevant), what you want to learn (e.g. their career history, advice for entering that career field), and why you are interested in talking with them specifically. Also, indicate how much of their time you are asking for (e.g. 20-30 minutes). If they decline, consider asking if they know someone else in this career field with whom you might speak. Always thank the person for their time and consideration.
4) 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.
- 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?
- 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).
5) The day of the interview.
Be punctual and be courteous to EVERYONE you meet/talk with.
Keep good records. Get business cards or names and addresses for your follow-up.
Dress professionally. First impressions count.
To help you remember them, bring your questions written on a professional-looking notepad. You can ask them directly from your notebook. If you like, take notes.
Other types of interviews
Phone: Rely on your voice (since your body language won't be seen) to express your interest and enthusiasm.
Video chat: Dress professionally; be sure that your face can be seen. For example, do not put yourself between your camera and a bright window.
All: Listen closely so you avoid talking over/interrupting your interviewee.
Evaluate the interview. Make sure you got the information you came for. Ask yourself how you currently feel about this occupation/organization.
Write a thank you note to the person you interviewed and anyone else who was helpful to you.
Keep in touch. Follow-up with future notes or phone calls to let them know how their help has been of service and how you are doing in your career exploration.
Potential page text: Connect with professionals in your field that are excited to speak with Ducks! They are alumni, parents, and friends of the UO committed to supporting you in exploring career fields, preparing for the working world, and connecting with opportunities.
To get started, go to: https://career.uoregon.edu/professionalnetwork
For More Alumni Updates see https://aaa.uoregon.edu/100stories