Networking & Informational Interviewing
Networking is intentionally making connections with people to learn about different industries or careers and meet people who can hire you. Networking is a necessary activity to engage in no matter where you are in the process, whether you’re beginning to explore potential careers or you’re looking for a new job.
When it comes to a job search, networking is probably the best thing you can do with your time. The reason? Most jobs are filled by a referral or networking connection and many jobs are never listed or advertised on job boards. Networking is not a skill you are born with, it is a learned skill honed through education, training, and practice.
- A survey conducted by Lou Adler in 2016 revealed that about 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Even with millions of jobs popping up on sites like Indeed and CareerBuilder, Payscale found (“How Many Jobs Are Found Through Networking, Really?” ) that at least 70% or more of them aren’t even advertised.
5 Tips to Help You Build Your Network
Networking can sometimes feel uncomfortable and intimidating, but it can be helpful to remember that it’s just a conversation and a way to build relationships with like-minded professionals. People are often willing and excited to chat with you about your work. Plus, the person with whom you are talking was likely in the same place you are at one time.
Here are a few tips to help you feel more comfortable when making connections:
- Take advantage of networking events through your alma mater, professional associations, etc.
Keep in touch with your career services office through your alma mater as they might offer free networking to events to alumni. You can also connect and join professional associations so that you have access to the networking events that they plan throughout the year. While less formal, you can typically find more informational associations in your local community that host free or low-cost networking events. You can usually find these through a Google search, LinkedIn/social media, and Meetup.com.
- Keep it casual
While it’s important to prepare a short elevator pitch about your qualifications or interests, allow the conversation to flow naturally. Prepare some questions to ask so the conversation is not one-sided.
- Ask for an informational interview
An informational interview is where you seek advice and knowledge from a professional in a field in which you are interested. This practice can help answer questions you might have about what it takes to work in certain industries. It could also provide steps for how to get into a career.
- Connect with others on LinkedIn
You can connect with a large network of fellow alumni through LinkedIn. What are the odds that someone works in an industry in which you’re interested? Connect with alumni over your shared interests and see how they can help you. When you meet someone new who you’d like to add to your network, be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Keep in touch with your colleagues
Think about the connections you already have. Do your friends, family members, neighbors, or acquaintances know people in the field(s) in which you’re interested? If you’re not sure, ask them. You might be surprised who someone might know.You may also want to reach out to former co-workers, people you’ve volunteered with, and individuals whom you know through hobbies and extracurricular activities. Your immediate connections can help you in so many ways, stay connected to them! Add them on LinkedIn, or schedule coffee dates or lunches to maintain your relationship. They can serve as a reference for you or even help you land a job in the future.
Remember that networking is having a conversation about your career interests and learning about someone else’s career path. Need help developing your networking strategy? Make a career advising appointment.
Please refer to The Muse for a full library of networking articles.
Local Resources and Career Networking Groups
- Colorado Workforce Centers
- Forever Buffs Network
- The Forever Buffs Network brings all CU Boulder alumni together. You can connect with fellow alumni, request an informational interview, and even find a mentor.
- Career Services
- Career Services offers career fairs, workshops, and other events to degree-seeking CU students and alumni.
There are a variety of career groups in the Boulder area that meet regularly to host networking and skill-building sessions:
The Elevator Pitch
The aptly named “elevator speech” or “elevator pitch” is a concise, compelling introduction that can be communicated in the amount of time it takes to ride the elevator with someone to their floor. An elevator pitch explains, in 30 seconds or less, who you are, your background skills, and what your career goals are. If done well, it can open doors for you.
It can be intimidating to start a conversation with a stranger or a recruiter. So, start with a smile, establish eye contact and begin with something like this…
Hello, my name is _________________. I graduated from CU Boulder with a degree in Psychology and I currently work in Human Resources _________. I have a strong interest in what (company name) is involved with, and I would love to know more about your experience and the type of opportunities that might be available in the future.
Be sure to prepare a few questions to ask each employer after you’ve stated your elevator pitch. These questions should be related to the company or the positions for which they are recruiting for. Research ahead of the fair to make sure your questions are insightful and not easily answered by looking at their website. Show your interest and knowledge by asking questions like…
- What are some typical projects that a person in this position gets to work on?
- What types of skills or experiences do you look for in a resume?”
- How did you get into the ____________ business?
- What do you like most about your job?
- What do you have to do to be successful in the _________ industry?
- How is your company looking to grow in the future?
- I see that you are a CU Boulder Alumni… how did getting a degree here help you prepare for the position you are in now?
The best way to prepare your elevator pitch is to type it out first, and then practice saying it out loud over and over again until it rolls off the tongue. You’ll feel much more comfortable approaching an employer at a career fair if you first know how to introduce yourself and get the conversation going.
For more information and examples, please refer to this article by recruitday.com: The Elevator Pitch: The Do’s, The Don’ts, and Some Samples To Get You Started.
What is it?
An informational interview is an informal meeting in which an individual who is exploring careers or looking for a job seeks out career and industry advice from a professional in the field in which they are interested. This is an effective research tool that can help answer questions you might have about what it takes to work in certain industries and the proper steps to get into a career or company. Informational interviews are not about asking for a job, but instead serve as a great networking tool to help you connect with people and build your network. It’s important to be very clear when you ask to meet with someone that you are only seeking information and advice, not a job. Oftentimes, meeting professionals via informational interviews can lead to potential job prospects and other opportunities.
4 Steps to a Successful Informational Interview
- Research employers and professionals with whom you would like to connect.
- When researching employers, learn about the company and positions they hire for.
- Use LinkedIn to search for professionals (and use the alumni feature for CU or your alma mater) and connect with them. You can also reach out through mutual contacts, attend networking events, or even join a professional association to find contacts and discover events.
- Message, call, or email the individual to set up a specific time for an informational interview. Tell them you are researching their field or company, and are hoping to get advice and information from someone in the field. Have your list of questions prepared in case they have time right when you contact them. Be clear in your correspondence that this is an “informational interview” and that you’re looking for advice.
- Ask for a 20 to 30-minute meeting at their convenience. While meeting in person is ideal, it’s a good idea to also offer a video meeting or phone call. Be respectful of their time and make sure you keep the conversation to the amount of time they offered. Also, if they are not able to meet or talk on the phone, see if they would be open to answering a couple of questions over email instead.
- Be professional. Dress appropriately and come prepared with questions and a notepad. Be prepared to direct the conversation. If you meet for a cup of coffee, it’s polite to offer to pay for their beverage.
Questions to Ask
To get acquainted and to learn about their background:
- How did you get started in this field?
- What was your title when you first started here?
- How well did your educational training prepare you for your current role?
- If you were starting out again, what would you do differently?
- What is the best way to enter this occupation?
- What qualifications/key skills are needed to do this job well?
- What training/education/volunteer experience is helpful?
- What are the career paths for this type of work?
- What do you like the most about your job?
- If you were not in this career, what would you be doing?
To learn about the work environment:
- What is a typical workday like? A typical week?
- How did you view this career before you got into it?
- What do you perceive as the major rewards and challenges
- to this field?
- What challenges might someone new to this career have in adjusting to it?
- Can you tell me about the company culture?
- Why did you decide to work for this company?
- How does your company differ from its competitors?
- Does the company promote work/life balance?
- Can you tell me more about the company’s mission?
- What does the company do to achieve its mission?
- What types of characteristics make a successful employee here?
- What’s a challenge the company faces?
- What’s your favorite part about working here?
- How does the organization support your professional development and career growth?
- Is risk-taking encouraged, and what happens when people fail?
- What role do company values play in hiring and performance reviews?
- What’s one thing you would change about the company if you could?
To learn about entering the field:
- What are the most important factors used to hire people in this line of work (education, experience, skills)?
- How do people find out about positions/opportunities at your company?
- Where are job postings advertised?
- What type of training programs/management programs does the organization offer?
- What is the entry-level salary range for this industry?
- What advice do you have for job-seekers in this field?
- What professional organizations do you suggest?
To learn about work stability and advancement:
- How can people advance in this field and how far?
- What type of advancement opportunities are available in this industry?
- How much security do you feel in this organization? In this field?
- What trends, changes, or issues do you see shaping the direction of this field in five to ten years?
- What is the promotion process?
- Is an advanced degree helpful for entry and/or promotion?
Advice and next steps:
- Where else could I find people who do this type of work? Who else do you recommend I talk to?
- What professional organizations do you suggest? What reading do you suggest?
- What is the best advice you can give a person interested in this occupation?
After the Informational Interview
After the informational interview…
- Write down any important information you received including referrals, advice, reading suggestions, etc.
- Immediately email or send a handwritten thank you note.
- When you contact the referral, let the original interviewee know. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and appreciation for their time.
- Find creative ways to maintain relationships. Connect with them on LinkedIn, share relevant professional information or articles, and communicate with them occasionally.
Reflect on the conversation…
- What did you learn? What do you like/dislike about the job, company, or industry?
- How was the overall experience?
- How well did you prepare?
- Did you get the information you wanted? If not, what additional questions can you ask next time?
- Do you have any follow-up questions?
- What can you do differently for the next interview?
- Are there other people you could interview to gain additional information?
Informational Interview Request Templates
When you’re reaching out to an alumnus on LinkedIn:
Subject: Informational Interview Request
Dear Ms. Smith,
My name is Jessie Taylor and I am a senior majoring in marketing at CU Boulder. I recently came across your LinkedIn profile and was intrigued by your experience. I also noticed you’re a CU Boulder alumna.
As an aspiring marketer, I’d love to learn more about the skills you’ve used in your career and if you have any advice for getting started. I would love to schedule a short meeting to ask you a few questions. I’m sure you’re busy, so even 15 to 30 minutes would be greatly appreciated.
When you’re reaching out to a stranger that you admire:
I hope you’re having a great week!
My name is [Your name], and I work as [Position] at [Company]. I became familiar with your work when [how you discovered this person] and wanted to reach out to tell you how much I admire your [skill or specific experience].
If you’re open to it, I’d love to [grab coffee/connect on LinkedIn/other opportunity to get to know each other] to [keep in touch/learn more about your experience].
Really looking forward to getting in touch, [Name]!
When you’re reaching out to a stranger for an informational interview:
I hope you’re doing well!
My name is [Your name], and I’m a [job title] with [Company]. I really admire your [work/experience] with [outlet]. I’m interested in finding out more about [area] myself and was hoping you’d be willing to provide some insights from your experience.
If you’re open to it, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee sometime soon so I can ask you some questions and learn more about you and your [journey/career path].
I understand your schedule may be busy, so I’m also happy to pass along some questions via email if that’s easier for you.
Looking forward to hearing from you, [Name]!
When you’re asking for an informational interview from a mutual contact:
My name is [Your name], and I [how you know mutual contact] [mutual contact’s name], who passed along your contact information to me.
[Mutual contact’s name] mentioned that we share a [passion for/interest in/experience with] [shared interest] and said you’d be a great person to get to know! So, I thought I’d reach out, introduce myself, and let you know that I’d love to find out more about you and your experience with [specific area].
Looking forward to connecting, [Name]!
All the best,