Networking and informational interviewing are critical tools for career success, whether you are a student or seasoned professional.
Specifically, they can help you:
- Learn about different careers and industries
- Gain insider knowledge about specific positions or organizations
- Discover “hidden” opportunities
- Build a network of contacts for information-sharing, mentorship, and partnerships
- Gain visibility in the field
Student-Alumni Networking Events are particularly valuable because they provide students an opportunity to connect with alumni who have an interest in sharing their insights and advice and can relate to their educational experience.
Whether you are networking in a formal or informal setting, consider the following strategies:
- Keep the goal in mind. The objective of networking or informational interviewing is to gather information, not to ask for a job. If done effectively, it can lead to valuable contacts and information regarding potential opportunities.
- Conduct a self-assessment of your goals and interests. It’s okay if you’re not exactly sure what you want to do; however, you should have a general sense of your skills, goals, and interests so that you can ask targeted questions that can help you move forward.
- Prepare an introduction. How you introduce yourself will influence how you’ll be remembered. To make a strong first impression, be ready to share a quick introduction on who you are, what you do or have done, and what you hope to learn. Be sure to bring business cards if you have them.
- Do your research. Learn as much as you can about your prospective new contacts using online resources such as LinkedIn. They have invested time out of their schedule to meet with you; invest time to learn as much as you can about them.
- Develop a list of questions. Conversations will be more productive if you prepare a list of relevant questions in advance. Examples:
- How did you market your social work skills and experience to land your current role?
- What classes were most valuable for the work you’re leading?
- What recommendations do you have for those interested in following your career path?
- If you’re in a group setting, provide opportunities for others to engage. You can learn a great deal from listening to and showing interest in others. It is also the courteous thing to do!
- Follow up. Make sure to send a thank you note to the contacts you made and stay in touch with any updates, especially if they provided specific advice or leads that were helpful. Go a step further and offer to serve as a resource for them in the future. Ultimately, meaningful networking is about cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship.