A great benefit of networking is the opportunity to have informational interviews – informal conversations with professionals working in an area of interest to you. This is a great way to research careers that interest you and to build your professional network for the future. The goal is not to ask for a job but to exchange information relevant to your field, including areas of opportunities, challenges, interests, and goals. It is also important to note that you are not just there to ask questions. It is an opportunity to introduce yourself as a person, student, and possible future colleague.
Plan to set up short (15-30-minute) meetings with your new connections to learn about their careers, companies, and/or fields to gain perspective. Suggest a phone or video call or in person meeting. Think about each contact’s areas of expertise and how they can be helpful to you; be sure to have a list of questions prepared for when the follow up takes place. Also prepare a one-minute introduction about yourself summarizing your skills and background.
Consider the sample below as a means to connect initially; be sure to give your contact at least 1-2 weeks’ notice for the meeting options:
“Dear Dr. Price,
I am a junior student, majoring in biology and minoring in studio arts at Suffolk University in Boston. I am passionate about healthcare and engaging in public health initiatives for under-represented communities.
Through our Career Center’s Handshake platform, I learned about your organization’s commitment to community service and opportunities in health administration.
I would like to gain more perspective in this field – learning about your experiences as well as your organization as I would love to give back to your community.
Please let me know if you would be willing to speak with me over the phone at the following times:
- Monday, July 12 at 10am, 1:30pm, 4pm
- Tuesday, July 13 at 9:30am, 2pm
- Wednesday, July 14 at 12pm, 3:30pm, 4pm
- Thursday, July 15 at 9:30am, 1:30pm, 4:30pm
- Friday, July 16 at 11am, 11:30am
If other times work best for you, please let me know.
I hope we can also connect on LinkedIn! I just sent you an invitation.
Thank you for your time and consideration!
Maximizing an Informational Interview
Since you are planning for a 15-30 minute informational interview, preparation is key! You will have the opportunity to introduce yourself strategically, ask 2-3 questions, and learn more about the field from your contact. Remember to also close with your gratitude for the opportunity to connect and follow up.
Your 1-minute introduction
Begin with a brief statement about your background and what you are looking for. For example:
”I’m a rising senior at Suffolk University who’s majoring in Sociology with a focus on Crime and Justice. I had an internship at Boston Municipal Court last summer, and I’m now exploring opportunities in the policy research side. I’d like to talk to you about the work you do in research and what led you to this career.”
“I’ve been working as a human resources generalist for a software company for the past three years, and had some recruiting and client relations experience before that. I’m now thinking about where I want to go next and am looking for opportunities for advancement outside my company. I know that because of your position, you have a good sense of what’s happening in the industry. I’d like to review some of my ideas with you.”
Networking Questions to Ask
- How did you get into this field? What special skills did you have coming into this job?
- What tasks do you like most/least in your job?
- Who do you interact with on a regular basis?
- What special skills did you learn on the job?
- What will you need to learn to stay or advance in this job/industry?
- What skills are employers in this industry seeking most?
- How would you describe the culture of your employer? How is the culture similar or different to others in your industry?
- Where do you see yourself in 3, 5, and 10 years?
- What related industries would you consider working in?
- What is the compensation for someone in various levels in this industry?
- What are trends affecting this industry?
- What employment trends do you see?
- Who are the market leaders? Why?
- Who are the growing companies?
- Are there freelance opportunities that would enable me to learn more about the field?
- What are the best sources of information about this industry?
- What professional associations would you recommend?
- Who are other people that you would suggest speaking with?
- Would you be willing to give me some feedback on my resume? What improvements would you suggest in terms of content and format?
- Based on my background, what kinds of jobs should I consider? What are some alternatives?
- What questions should I be asking that I am not?
Follow up with a thank you note within 24 hours, by email and – if you really want to make an impression – handwritten note. Be specific! Refer to something valuable or interesting you learned in the meeting. This is a great opportunity to ask to connect on LinkedIn if you haven’t already. If you connect with one of their contacts or do something they recommended, let them know. For example:
Thank you for talking to me about your job in forensic accounting. I am excited to learn that it is a growing field and will make sure to take relevant courses at Suffolk.
I sent your friend Ivy Lee an email yesterday and we have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. I’ll update you on our discussion.
I hope we can connect on LinkedIn! I just sent you an invite.
Enjoy the afternoon.
Reciprocity - Making a Win For Both People
Ideally the networking relationship can benefit both parties. Here are some ways you can help the people who are helping you:
Offer hands-on help.
For example, you may be able to volunteer at their company or take on a small project.
Help other people or organizations they care about.
If a contact knows a student interested in Suffolk, offer to talk to them about your experience, or volunteer at a service organization or event that’s important to them.
Make introductions to your contacts.
You may know someone who can offer advice to them or is a great connection in their field.
If you come across an interesting article or know about a resource that can be helpful, share it.
Offer your perspective.
Your point of view can be valuable. For example, you may be able to help with social media.
Perform a small thoughtful gesture.
If they use LinkedIn regularly, stay connected and make relevant comments on posts they make or share posts they find meaningful with your network. Additionally, share any resources that come your way and would be relevant to them.