“It doesn’t matter if the market really isn’t great or it’s on fire, people still need to connect because that’s how you get the job you choose,” said Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step. “In general, most kids leave college without understanding what it really means to network.”
But networking can be intimidating for even the most seasoned professionals.
“Networking is not a dirty word,” said Megan Walls, founder of Walls Career Coaching. “It’s really important for the job search.”
Get your grounding
Before reaching out to people, take the time to find out what type of role, company, and industry you’re looking to enter, and take stock of your experience and applicable skill sets.
This will help you fine-tune who to contact and what to refer to during conversations.
Setting mini goals when it comes to networking can also help make the process less intimidating.
Hendler-Grunt offered the “rule of 10 and 10” to help get started. “Pick 10 companies you’re interested in and 10 people who are doing the work you want to learn more about.”
who to contact
Your network is likely bigger than you think, Walls said.
Reach out to family, friends, professors, former managers, and co-workers to ask if they know of any opportunities or people in their networks in the roles and industries that interest you.
Former students can also be a good addition to your network. Many schools have LinkedIn pages that allow you to search for alumni by title, keyword, or company.
You can also search for employees by title, keyword, or school on a company’s LinkedIn page to find someone in a position you’re interested in. Once you identify a person you think would be beneficial to talk to, see if you have any common connections that might make an introduction easier.
If you don’t have any connections, don’t be afraid to reach out and don’t feel like you have to climb to the top of the corporate ladder.
“It’s much better to try to connect with people who have been in the workforce for less than five years,” said Lesley Mitler, co-founder of Early Stage Careers. “Those people are actually closer to the entry-level position or internship to give you more information about what those jobs really are…and they can also serve as referral resources for you.”
How to request an informational meeting
Sending an email or LinkedIn message tends to be the easiest way to reach people to schedule informational interviews.
Many companies have standard email address formats that can be found online. Connecting on social media can also be an option, but Hendler-Grunt advised keeping the professional note.
If you have a connection to a person, mention them in your initial outreach, whether it’s the name of a person you both know, have attended the same college, or are members of the same professional association or volunteer organization.
When communicating without a connection, Mitler suggested saying something like, “I’m studying marketing and communications, graduating this spring, and trying to learn more about what an assistant account executive does in advertising and what kind of track there is.” I’d love to talk more with you about your role at XYZ Company.”
“Let them know you have a plan … and that you’re respectful of their time,” he said.
Showing that you did your research also helps.
“People love knowing that you’ve paid attention to something they’ve done, written or said,” Hendler-Grunt said. She suggested saying something like, “I noticed you’re in this role, I’m really impressed you started here. Like you, I’m trying to break into this market and would love to learn more about what you’ve done and would you be so kind as to share some tips with me.”
What to say during the conversation
When someone agrees to talk to you, make the most of that time.
That means making a good impression, asking thoughtful questions, and learning about the industry, company, or position, and moving forward in your job search.
Questions should focus on the person’s career and company, not on information you can easily find out on your own. Hendler-Grunt suggested questions like, “How do you measure success? Or what qualities do you look for in a candidate when hiring?”
The conversation usually doesn’t include asking for a job, but you should be specific about the help you’re looking for. That could be asking someone in the recruiting department for an introduction, connecting you with someone else in the industry, or keeping an eye out for potential opportunities.
Being specific about your strengths and what you are looking for helps the person know how to best offer help.
For example, if the person asks about your career aspirations, don’t tell them that you’re open to anything. “That’s not helpful,” Hendler-Grunt explained, because it doesn’t help the person uncover potential job opportunities, referrals or advice.
“If you said, ‘I have great skills in communication and problem solving and research and I can solve these kinds of problems with this experience … and I want to get into this kind of role,’ now the person knows how to refer to you,” Hendler said. -Grunt.
Keep in contact
Cultivating relationships is a big part of networking. After the meeting, be sure to send them a thank you note and also follow them on LinkedIn.
“You can like or comment on things they post — that’s a gentle way to keep in touch that shows you’re interested in them,” Mitler said.
And every once in a while, send a quick note with an update on their job search or a podcast or article you think they might be interested in.
“You can’t be annoying, but every once in a while reach out,” Mitler said. “Try to find reasons to stay connected with them.”