How to Make Contact
Before you contact anyone for networking purposes, make sure that your resume is updated and absolutely flawless. You will use it to give your contacts a sense of your background before meeting them or leave it behind as a reminder of your skills and experience.
Once you have established a list of people to contact, set up an organizational system to help you keep track of correspondence and learning. You may want to use a spreadsheet to organize contact information and notes about interactions, including how you found your contact, when you and your contact last spoke and what you discussed.
The Informational Interview
An informational interview is a brief meeting (in person, over the phone, or by e-mail) that allows you to ask questions about a person's career path, his/her current position, appropriate ways to position yourself for a similar job and more. You can set up informational interviews with personal contacts, alumni, internship supervisors, professors or anyone doing something interesting or relevant to you. Call or email someone to set up an informational interview.
While informational interviews often lead to job or internship opportunities, it is important to remember that the most effective informational interviews are conducted with the goal of learning, not simply landing a position.
Sample Email Correspondence
Below is a sample email that you might write to an alumnus to ask for an informational interview:
Dear Mr. Whipple,
I found your name and contact information on the Mediapolis School District website. I am a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and hope to pursue a career in secondary education upon graduation. Given that you have over five years of experience in this field, I would appreciate the chance to ask you a few questions about your career path and your experience in the public school system in Iowa.
I realize that this time of year is likely a busy one for you. I am hopeful that you would be willing to speak with me over the phone or via email at some point during the next two weeks. Please let me know if you are able to talk with me. and if so. what method of communication would be preferable.
Thank you very much in advance for your time and insight.
The content of your informational interview will vary depending on your goals and the interviewee’s background. You may ask questions such as the following:
How did you choose this career?
What are the toughest problems you deal with?
What obligations does your work place on your personal time?
How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, vacation time, place of residence?
What is the average length of time employees stay with your organization?
How would you define the culture at your organization?
If your work were suddenly eliminated, what other types of work do you think you could do?
How do people find out about these jobs? Are they advertised in the newspapers, by word of mouth, at conference, in professional publications?
What is a reasonable salary range for entry-level positions?
For more details and sample questions, visit the informational interviews page on our site.
Send a thank you note immediately once you have completed the informational interview. Email and regular mail are both acceptable means. Also, keep a record of your interviews including names, titles, addresses, dates and topics of discussion. This will be helpful in remembering who told you what and how to get in touch with your contacts.
Your Personal Pitch
Not every networking opportunity has the structure of an informational interview. For less formal situations, such as a conversation at a conference, you can prepare by drafting and practicing a personal pitch. A personal pitch is a commercial of sorts that concisely describes your relevant qualifications, accomplishments and goals as you move forward. Preparing a personal pitch helps you control your first impression, convey confidence and articulate what you're looking for. An example might be as follows:
“Hello, Dr. Wick. My name is Suzie Baker and I attended your session this morning. I really appreciated your insights regarding biology theory. As a junior at Iowa Wesleyan College I have been taking coursework in biology as well as working in a lab at the Great River Medical Center. I plan to matriculate directly into a master's program so that I can participate in neural network research. I am particularly interested in your work at the Chicago Cancer Center. May I email you next week to ask some questions about your research there and how I can position myself for work like yours?”