Almost every job seeker has heard or read that networking is an effective, if not critical, component in a job search. Career advisors and job search experts will tell you that between sixty to eighty percent of all job connections are made through networking. History has demonstrated time after time that the most important tool used in making successful job connections is an effective informational interview. This page will discuss that interview process in detail, but first take time to understand the basics behind interviewing.
To understand effective networking we should first dispel some common networking myths.
- Effective networking is not asking people for a job. To the contrary, it is focused on exchanging information where both parties have an opportunity to benefit.
- Networking is not selling. Selling is selling. The most effective networkers work toward identifying opportunities to help others meet needs or solve problems, often through referrals rather than a sale. These win-win relationships create an environment where the other person actually looks forward to follow-up contacts, usually because they benefit from the conversation. The reciprocal relationship will yield ample sales opportunities.
- Networking is not just for extroverts. Networking is more about listening than talking. Most people in business don’t want to hear your story. They want to solve their problems and grow their business. By listening you will uncover real rather than presumed opportunities.
- Networking is not focused on getting your card or resume in front of everyone so that as many people as possible hear your story. Refer to the previous dispelled myths.
- The pace of business today fast, but not too fast to invest time networking. Market pressures are forcing organizations to become leaner and to focus on their core business. As a result organizations see greater need than ever to partner to create competitive solutions for their customers. Maintaining an established network will help you react to emerging needs more quickly.
- Some believe that networking requires too much time to yield desired results. Organizations and their leaders actually save time in the long run by pre-screening potential partners and sources.
Networking can help you:
- Find out how and where others are using your degree. Utilize the “Find an Aggie” tool to identify other Former Students that have earned comparable degrees in your field. Look for the varieties of jobs held by those Aggies.
- Explore and confirm results from Career Assessments. If your work experience is limited and you wish to explore your options, assessment tools can provide you recommendations of career fields or types of jobs that align with your strengths and aptitudes. Use the “Find an Aggie” database as well as the search tools in CareerBeam and Symplicity to identify individuals in the work place that are performing jobs that match those recommendations.
- Expand your depth of knowledge by asking multiple people performing a job you might like. As you narrow your list of jobs of interest use the “Find an Aggie” database, as well as the CareerBeam and Symplicity search tools to expand your perspective of those jobs by interviewing more people in your target areas. Learn what they like and dislike about their jobs. See what experiences and perspectives are widely shared and what perspectives are individual specific.
- Solicit advice, ideas and referrals through Informational Interviews. Target individuals in the types of jobs, industries or organizations, to help you grow a network of contacts that can help you see organization specific needs, identify opportunities where organizations want to grow their teams, and to anticipate emerging markets.
Basic Networking Guidelines
Networking is more than a job search. It is active communication process that involves reaching out to help you gain insight regarding the other person’s activities, interests, needs, perspectives and contacts. It is a life skill that should be deliberately managed to maintain, or more important, to propel a successful career. Networking often results in long-term win-win relationships that are both personal and professional.
Most people are focused on their personal needs and interests rather than your objectives. If you want to engage and learn from other people, respect their time and draw information you need by learning from information and perspectives that are important to them. It is amazing the opportunities one can uncover while listening.
The most successful networkers think outward rather than inward. They focus upon understanding the person with whom they are engaging while reaching out for valuable referrals as much as the quick connection.
Effective networking occurs at informal social or industry gatherings as well as more formally requested one-to-one appointments. Always have a ready supply of business cards to share contact information and to make notes of key items of interest or commitments that you may make during a conversation.
We could fill a page with potential networking contacts. Treat everyone you meet as a potential source of information that could lead to your next connection.
Smart job seekers spend approximately 75 to 80 percent of their time creating opportunities to meet people and conduct informational interviews. Their goal is to tap in to the “hidden job market” where the majority of jobs are filled. Jobs in the “hidden market” will not be advertised and are uncovered by referrals and word of mouth.
It is likely you have heard of The Aggie Network. Strive to connect with, but respect this resource. Aggies tend to have a special connection drawn from shared experiences and more important our shared core values, each of which is valued in business. Because of these shared values, many of the over 300,000 living Former Students will make time to help you with your search. Remember though that the Aggie Ring you proudly wear may help you get an interview, but there are no guarantees for a job. Make it a point to connect with your local A&M Club. There are over 225 Clubs world wide. Houston, Dallas, and Austin have Aggie networking groups that can support your efforts. If you want to make a favorable impression with most Former Students stay current with the Aggie sports page.
You owe it to the people you meet to be current on current affairs, make time to review the Wall Street Journal and other sources to be conversant on key events and industry trends.
The Informational Interview
Establish a list of contacts to contact for an opportunity for an informational interview. Verify the name of the person you would like to contact (if it is not a referral). Remember that names like Sam or Alex are not necessarily gender specific.
Call or send an e-mail to set up the informational interview. As an example of a request for the interview consider a variation of the following:
“Howdy, my name is __________. I’m a Former Student of Texas A&M, and I am interested in learning more about careers and needs within the _______ industry. I located your contact information while researching the “Find An Aggie” directory on The Association of Former Student’s AggieNetwork.com website. Would you have a moment to share advice and ideas regarding your organization and the ______ industry.
Thank you for your assistance.
Note: If you call to set up an appointment and you get voicemail, Use the same introduction message and leave a specific day and time that you will call back.
Review the basic preparations for interviews. The same ground rules for job interviews apply to informational interviews with one major exception. Definitely do not ask if they have any openings. You asked for an opportunity hear their advice, perspectives and ideas; you did not ask for an opportunity for self-promotion. Plan for your basic starter conversation points:
Thank them for their time. Be prepared to share why you are excited about exploring their industry and learning more from their perspectives. Mention your referral if you received one. They may ask you about your background.
Be prepared with a thirty-second introduction that elaborates on your background and interest. As an example:
“I became interested in the _(industry)__ field last summer when I worked at _(organization name) and had an opportunity to work with the _(job type)___ Director there. Her job provided an opportunity to make a difference with the organization and it really fascinated me. She worked with all aspects of (responsibility) and (responsibility); she was sincerely interested in helping helping her team _(goal)_. I liked the variety in her job and the fact that she was a very positive influence at _(organization name) .”
From this point on remember that your focus is to ask questions, listen and learn. Remember that your contact is the expert. Don’t forget to send a Thank You note that evening before going to bed, to make sure it is timely.
Informational Interview Questions:
How did you get to where you are today?
What characteristics/skills make for a good ________?
(this is what they are looking for on resumes)
How would you describe the culture of your organization?
If you were starting your career today, what would you do differently?
What can I do to make myself more marketable?
Where do you see opportunity areas? Needs?
What other organizations would you recommend that I explore?
Who else should I be talking to?
What advice would you share to help someone like me prepare ?
Maintain a Networking Log:
Company or Organization: Address:
Date of Meeting or Contact: Referral Source:
Key Points I Learned:
Suggestions from Contact:
Thank-You Letter Sent:
Anticipate needs, grow your customer base, and keep your job.
Networking doesn’t stop once you secure a job. The workplace is constantly changing. Many products and services become obsolete or are replaced by new offerings. You will learn that all jobs are temporary. You must constantly demonstrate value and help your organization grow to stay competitive and to secure your place as a needed member of their team.
Invest the time required to maintain your network to identify new trends, to anticipate needs, and to always be at the right place at the right time to respond to opportunities. A key element to maintaining your network will involve identifying and forwarding articles of interest or leads to your contacts to help them serve and grow their organization. Most will return the favor.