Networking is the single most effective job search strategy. Yet, the primary purpose of networking is to gather information, advice and referrals that may ultimately lead to interviews and employment offers. Thus, how you approach the process is very important.
Approximately 70% of all available positions are filled through referrals. That is why it is called the "hidden job market." Networking is the best way to uncover this hidden market. Most employers prefer informal and personal methods of identifying employees. Networking does not eliminate the need to use other job search strategies, but it typically provides helpful referrals from approximately 60% of your contacts.
Develop a list of potential contacts in your fields of interest who can cover a range of experiences and viewpoints. Some useful sources for identifying contacts are the Valpo Office of Alumni Relations, LinkedIn, your parents, friends, parents' friends, friends' parents, professors, neighbors, relatives, professional associations, newspaper and magazine articles, former employers and social networking sites (though be cautious about your own profiles and what information is available to view by the public).
Now that you have a list of potential contacts, you want to contact them by e-mail for information or to request an informational interview by phone or in person. Writing first can be helpful to allow them time to anticipate your call and think of information that might be helpful to you. Make it clear that you are asking for information (not a job or an internship). Allow the volunteer to offer different levels of help at their discretion, perhaps based on their years of experience, position, and influence in the organization or field. In many cases, it also depends heavily on the first impression you make, so conduct research in advance and have some thoughtful questions to ask (see samples below.)
If you set up a meeting by telephone, prepare a brief script saying who you are, who referred you (if appropriate), why you are calling and when you would like to meet. When writing, mention the name of the person who referred you (or other source -- e.g., Valpo, newspaper article, information gathered from company research) early in the letter. Specify when you will call (usually within one week of your letter or e-mail). If a physical visit is not possible, your initial call might be to arrange a phone appointment time for a discussion. Remember, a face-to-face meeting is always preferable.
If you provide a resume with your letter, make sure to note that it is for background information only. That way, it doesn't impose any expectations on them, but does allow them the discretion to pass it along to other individuals, if they choose.
Thorough preparation is the key to a successful informational interview, both to gain the information you want and to make a favorable impression. Research the contact's occupation, industry and company or organization in order to prepare informed questions. People will feel more comfortable in referring you to other professionals when you demonstrate your own commitment to professionalism in networking. Those who "wing it" will unknowingly close some doors for themselves.
Meeting with Valpo alumni. Here are a few tips to help in contacting and building a rapport with alumni:
Your questions might include inquires about:
Occupation or Field
Lifestyle and Work Environment