A network is defined in the dictionary as an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system. Networking for your career development is the planned process by which one becomes known, through business and social meetings, to people who can provide information about job openings, leads, personal contacts and employers that are hiring, etc. It is talking to people you know to find out about the job market and to get referrals so that every contact is a "warm call." Many people hesitate to network because they feel awkward asking for help. It is by far the most effective job search tool, and we have developed this handout to teach you about this crucial technique
The Importance of Networking
A few CWU students come to the job search with excellent contacts through family connections or previous work experience. Almost everyone else has to develop the skills to build an effective network. One of the best sources for information about any given career field are practicing professionals. As "insiders" they can give realistic views, advice, and become part of your own network of contacts.
Step 1: Identifying Your Network
Start by identifying and listing anyone you know who could be a potential networking prospect for you: parents, relatives, past employers, teachers, supervisors, CWU faculty and administrators, CWU alumni, friends, friends' relatives, classmates, sorority/fraternity members, neighbors, friends of friends, church and community members, members of professional organizations and any others. Attend a meeting of organizations in your career interest area and if appropriate, get involved. Often times these people have worked in your career field of interest or at least may know someone who has. Also, find prospective networking opportunities in news stories of employer expansions, promotions, new products, reorganization and contracts. Look for hints that the employer needs new people especially those with your skills.
Step 2: Preparing for Networking:
Before embarking on your networking adventure, be sure you know the purpose of it: To get to know people who can provide information regarding careers, job openings, leads, etc. First, know yourself, your education, experience, skills and what you have to offer. Have your agenda planned and be prepared. Speak concisely and practice a short one-minute presentation of yourself so that people will know who you are and the kinds of areas you are trying to investigate. Your networking meeting should have the following elements: Introduction, Self-Overview, Q & A, Obtain Referrals, and Closing.
Key Elements to Networking
- Organize a tracking system to record your visits, names, addresses, follow-up, etc.
- Decide what you need to learn and prepare your list of questions.
- Plan to use your network prospects as mentors; ask their career advice.
- Avoid all take and no give when networking (e.g. when talking to CWU alums, update them about CWU).
- Overcome the fear of rejection by finding a common interest with people. (What is the worst that can happen?)
- Obtain professional stationery for cover letter, resumes, and thank-you notes.
Step 3: Networking:
Using the CWU Mentor Network: Building a personal network means embarking on a deliberate effort to make contact with individuals at every level who can help you learn about careers and job openings. One of the most critical pieces of informational interviewing is arranging meetings with individuals who are actually doing the kind of work you think you want to do. CWU Career Services is fortunate to have a collection of CWU alumni who have agreed to serve as advisors to help students. Tap into our listings of over 1600 alumni in the CWU Mentor Network and discuss your professional objective(s) with them. When you contact the advisors, please make sure to reach them at the preferred address which they have indicated and tell them you found their name in the CWU Mentor Network at CWU Career Services. They are excited to help you learn more about the job market, available opportunities, and may also assist you in other ways.
- Using the General Alumni Listings: CWU Career Services also houses General Alumni Listings. These people differ from the CWU Mentor Network listings in that they have not necessarily volunteered to be an advisor, and may not be expecting your phone call/email or contact. In most cases, however, CWU alumni enjoy helping current students in a variety of ways, and are often a key resource in learning about the job market and available career opportunities. Talk with a Career Education staff member about how to best approach alumni.
- Set up Informational Interviews: Begin by setting up 3-5 informational interviews in each of your tentative 2-3 career fields. Identify and photocopy pages of alumni advisors who could be networking prospects for you in those fields. First, send a letter or email indicating your interest in speaking with this person. You may want to include a copy of your resume as a means of introducing yourself. Request 15-20 minutes of their time to discuss your options. Most alumni will often give you 30-45 minutes if you are respectful. Follow up with a phone call to set up either a phone appointment or preferably a meeting in person. Be prepared to discuss issues then or schedule a later time if this is more convenient for your contact. Whatever is decided, establish a positive, professional relationship with the advisor. If possible try to visit with them at their work site. If you do visit, plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early, never be late. Remember, you are asking for advice, not for a job!
- Getting Additional Referrals: When networking, if possible, ask for 3-5 new contacts that might help you obtain the information that you are seeking. Ask them "Is there anyone else whom you would recommend I contact?" When contacting these new people, if permission is given, make sure you mention the name of the person who referred you. This step is very important and will lead to new contacts.
Step 4: Follow Up
When contacting these new people, make sure to mention the name of the person who referred you. (Ask for permission to use the person's name as a referral). Always send a thank-you letter expressing your gratitude for their career advice within 24 hours, to the individual, whether you met in person or spoke on the telephone. See the CWU Career Services handout entitled "Thank You Notes" for more information. Also remember there is a lot more to a network than a list of names! Nurture these relationships along lines that will be mutually beneficial in the future. Always treat former employers and current employers as potential contacts. Keep them abreast of your progress in the job search.
Step 5: Evaluating Networking Information
The informational interviewing process will help you reach the point where you will either confirm or reject job targets. Quite often your reading and networking will convince you to review the results of your self-assessment or to select other job targets to explore.
Informational interviews and networking are not job interviews. Every person you know can be helpful to you if you are interested in them as people rather than merely sources of what you want. If you need more help with this process, see a member of the CWU Career Services Career Education staff.
Questions to Ask During Networking Meetings
Adapted from "Information Interviewing: What it is and How to Use it in Your Career" by Martha Stoodley. Most job hunters, realizing that networking is critical to their search, work hard to arrange face-to-face meetings with contacts. Setting up appointments with all the friends, professional acquaintances and corporate bigwigs you can is the first step. More important is knowing what to say once you arrive. Review the following list of questions, and pick those that are most appropriate, then tailor them to fit your personal situation and speaking style.
- Describe your career path. How did each job lead you to your next position?
- How/why did you decide to pursue the career in which you are working?
- What was your undergraduate major? How did it help prepare you for your career? What additional training/education have you had?
- What are related jobs and industries which I might explore? If you made a career change, what other fields would you consider?
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years?
- What is the employment outlook in your field? Describe new developments.
- How has your work affected your lifestyle?
What Work is Like
- Could you describe a typical workday for me?
- What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
- What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
- Despite these challenges, what motivates you to remain? What do you find most enjoyable?
- Are there any dangers I should be aware of?
- How often do you work past 6 p.m. or on weekends?
- Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?
- I'd like to walk through and see with my own eyes where the work is done here. Can that be arranged?
- Describe your responsibilities.
- How do you spend a typical workday-yesterday for example? How much time do you spend with people? Data? Things?
- Describe your work environment.
- What are the titles and responsibilities of others with whom you work?
State of the Industry
- Is this field growing enough that there's room for someone like me?
- Are too many or too few people entering this profession?
- What developments on the horizon could affect future opportunities?
- This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company?
- How frequently do layoffs occur? How does it affect morale of employees?
- Why do people leave this field or company?
- Who are the most important people in the industry today?
- Which companies have the best track record for promoting women and minorities?
- Are there opportunities for self-employment in your field? Where?
Money and Advancement
- What would be my earning potential if I entered this field?
- To get promotions, is job-hopping necessary?
- How did you get your job?
- If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?
- How long does it take for managers to rise to the top?
- What is the background of most senior-level executives?
Education and Preparation
- What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?
- What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?
- How do most people enter this profession?
- Which of my skills are strong compared to other job hunters in this field?
- What do you think of the experience I've had so far? For what types of positions would it qualify me?
- What do you think of my resume? How do you suggest I change it?
- Can you recommend any courses I should take before furthering my job search?
- What companies might be interested in hiring someone with my qualifications?
- Considering my background, how well do you think I would fit in this company and/or profession?
- How does your company compare with others we've discussed?
- Would the work involve any lifestyle changes, such as frequent travel or late-night business entertaining?
- Considering all the people you've met in your line of work, what personal attributes are essential for success?
- Based on my skills, education and experience, what other careers would you suggest I explore before making a final decision?
- What abilities are important for success and enjoyment in your field? What values are important? What personality traits are important?
- What do you like most/least about your job? About your field?
- How can students find summer jobs or internships in your field? Are there other means of gaining experience before graduation?
- If you could do anything differently, what would you change about your career?
- What advice do you have for students who are preparing to enter your field?
- What starting salaries/salary advancements can one expect?
- Is a graduate degree important? If so, what fields of study are helpful?
- Can you recommend sources for more information (specific books, trade publications, professional journals, websites)?
- Do you know of other professionals with whom I might speak for more information about this field?
- Where can I write to get up-to-date information on salaries, employers and industry issues?
- What professional journals and organizations should I be aware of?
- Does your organization have a website where I can find more information?
- Is there anything else you think I need to know?
- With what other people would you recommend I speak? When I call, may I use your name?
Information borrowed from the Union College Stanley R. Becker Career Center.