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).
Arranging the Contact or Informational Interview
Now that you have a list of potential contacts, you want to contact them by email 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 email). 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.
Preparing for the Informational Interview
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:
- Arrange meetings that are convenient for the alum (visiting your contact is by far the best way to use the network; a phone call is the second-best alternative as a follow-up to an introductory email message).
- Arrive on time.
- Dress appropriately for the work environment you are visiting.
- Have questions prepared ahead of time (see suggested questions below).
- PLEASE do not ask alumni to “find you a job.” They don’t know you, and they may have no involvement with hiring at their organization.
- Write a thank-you note to each contact you call or visit.
- Make your initial contact via email, mail or telephone (at your expense).
- Your questions might include inquires about:
Occupation or Field
- What are the entry-level positions in the field?
- What background (education, training, experience) is required to enter this field?
- Are there alternative methods to gain entrance into the field, such as internships, volunteer activities, or part-time work?
- What is another occupation, other than your own, which you think a person like yourself would find satisfying?
- What do you consider to be the growth areas in this field?
- What are current issues or trends within the industry?
- Would you suggest graduate school, and if so, when?
- What formal or on-the-job training does the organization provide?
- Considering my skills and academic background, where do you see me fitting into organizations similar to this one?
- What is a typical career path within this organization?
Lifestyle and Work Environment
- What takes place during a typical work week?
- What obligations does your job place upon you outside the normal work week?
- How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, and vacation schedule?
- What do you find most rewarding about your work?
- How does one learn about job opportunities in this field?
- If you were entering the job market today, how would you plan your job search?
- Who else might you suggest as additional contacts to learn more about this field? May I have your permission to use your name when I contact them?