Networking involves gathering a list of contacts who might be able to help you with your job-hunting process – and contacting them to publicize your availability. Networking begins with people you already know and expands into an interrelated web of contacts by means of introduction to others. For graduate students, it may involve an even broader group of connections and contacts.

Why Is Networking So Important?

It is simply the best way to tap into the hidden job market – an immense underground marketplace in which jobs open up and then are filled through word of mouth and personal referrals. The majority of jobs are filled that way because it saves employers time and recruiting fees – not to mention that most employers would prefer to hire a known quantity. Skillful networking reveals positions that have not yet been posted and discloses jobs that will never be advertised in the classifieds. Networking can get your foot in the door before a position is available. When the job opens up – if you've established a relationship with the hiring manager – he or she will remembers you before looking at the heap of faceless resumes from the human resources department.

Whether you are entering the workforce for the first time or switching jobs mid-career, it pays to sharpen your networking skills and cultivate a network of contacts who can continue to yield benefits throughout your career.

Two Types of Networking

Despite the emphasis placed on it, networking remains one of the most misunderstood dimensions of the job search process. An important distinction exists between two different types of networking: the type of networking that focuses on finding a specific hidden job -- and "informational interviewing," an approach that emphasizes learning more about a career. In the former you are publicizing your availability and seeking potential job leads. In the latter, you are gathering information and advice about careers before you decide to pursue them.

Informational Interviewing

Want to know what a career is really like? Ask someone with first-hand experience. Many people wonder anxiously about which kind of job they will like or what they can do with a particular major. Surprisingly, very few people ever take advantage of on of the best ways to answer questions about careers: asking the professionals who are already doing the job. Talking to people about their jobs and asking them for advice and information is called an informational interview. It can be as simple as striking up conversations with friends and others about their occupations. But to take full advantage of this career exploration tool requires time, commitment and being organized with a methodical approach. We also have specific tips for alumni.

The What and Why of Informational Interviews

An informational interview is a brief meeting between you and the person working in a career or industry that you would like to explore. Informational interviews usually last 20 to 30 minutes and are highly focused conversations for the following purposes:

  • Learn about the realities of working in a particular occupation
  • Decide among different occupations
  • Focus your career goals
  • Discover careers you never knew existed
  • Gain the perspective of how to break into a particular field
  • Uncover the hidden job market

How Do I Start?

Many individuals hesitate to contact others for fear of imposing or asking for help. This is where the Alumni Career Network can be a benefit. The network is composed of CWRU alumni from a wide variety of professions who have volunteered to share their knowledge and experience and who will welcome hearing from you.

Register with the Alumni Career Network to search for alumni volunteers for informational interviews about careers and majors.

Making Contact

For most people, this is the most difficult task of the process. Asking others for career assistance can be daunting, and some people wonder why anyone would agree to be interviewed. In fact, many people are willing to help students or career changers explore occupations.

Writing a letter or email of introduction is a common way to ask for an informational interview. When writing a letter, explain who you are, why you want to meet and how long you expect the meeting to take. (See the sample letter in the Correspondence section.)

Calling people directly is a faster way to arrange an informational interview - but often more stressful. To eliminate anxiety, script out what you are going to say prior to making contact. Make sure you are clear in your objective. Some people might think you are calling for a job. If a personal meeting is not possible, suggest a time for a telephone interview that is mutually convenient.

You may follow this sample phone script to frame your comments:

"Hello. My name is ______. Do you have a couple of minutes now, or is there a better time to call? (I obtained your name from the Career Network (or) _____ suggested I contact you.) I am a _____(year) student majoring in _____ at Case Western Reserve University.

"I am gathering information to help me make career decisions. I would like to set up an informational interview with you for approximately 20 minutes. (Verify the date and time.) Thank you for your time. I look forward to our conversation."

Just in case, be prepared with questions at this point. (see list of suggested questions later in this section)

Phone Etiquette - Getting Through

While email and chat are standard forms of office communication, the phone still plays an important role in communicating with networking contact and employers. Before you pick up the phone, please review our phone etiquette tips.

An Informational Interview is more casual than a job interview but you should still be professional in your dress and behavior. Making a positive first impression shows you care about your career. As for all business meetings, arrive on time but no more than 15 minutes early.

You are leading this interview, so start by thanking your host for his or her time and briefly recounting why you have come. Mention your goals and interests and then ask questions and listen. The person you are interviewing should do most of the talking because you are trying to gather opinions and insights. Because you are the interviewer, it is up to you to monitor the time and end the interview when you said you would.

Always end the interview by thanking your host and asking two important final questions: Can you suggest other people I could speak to? Can I use your name when I speak to them? The answers could be the starting point for your next informational interview. After the interview, show gratitude for your host's generosity by writing a thank you note as soon as possible.

Reflection Afterward

Ideally, you'll leave every informational interview with new insights about the career you want. Try to answer the following questions:

  • What did I learn in the interview?
  • What did I like? What didn't I like?
  • Did you uncover any new concerns or advantages to the occupation?
  • What advice did you receive?
  • Did you discover another occupation you might want to pursue?
  • Do you think you would be happy in this type of job or in this type of organization?

When evaluating an informational interview, it is important not to make decisions on the opinions of one individual. Try and conduct several informational interviews to compare or confirm information.

If you decide you like an occupation, the investigation doesn't have to end with interviews. You can do further research by job shadowing, having an internship or doing volunteer work. Early career exploration usually means a better fitting career later.