Networking (verb)- to meet professional contacts to increase your understanding of an area, build contacts in that area, or advance your career.
Informational Interview (noun)- networking in an interview-like style. Informational interviews are advantageous over traditional networking, because you demonstrate interest and they have time to get to know you. It can be particularly helpful if you apply to their organization or they may be aware of organizations or people who are hiring or might align better with your interests.
So how do you do set up an informational interview if you don’t know anyone? Well you can’t really. I’ve tried calling organizations outright. When you’re routed through a secretary they are very hesitant to set up an appointment for you with “anyone.”
You can find peoples’ names on the internet. If you’re crafty, you can figure out what their email address scheme is, like firstname.lastname@example.org, and contact them directly. I’ve met a few CEOs and VPs this way, because they are the people who might actually be listed on the website.
Otherwise, make friends. Join professional networks like YNPN; get involved on a volunteer basis with an organization you’re interested in; see what people you know are doing through LinkedIn; check alumni networks from college; and go out to parties where you can actually hear what other people are saying.
When you do meet someone in your desired area or career ask them what networks they are involved in or email list-serves they subscribe to. To that effect, let me make a few other recommendations about how to initiate, conduct, and conclude an informational interview with a contact you’ve acquired.
Prior to an interview:
• Clearly state your goals (i.e. find out about a field or learn more about how to get into their specific occupation) and what you hope they can do for you.
• Be respectful of their time (you may also get points if you say outright you’ll be respectful of their time).
• Do your homework. Who are they? What is happening nationally/globally in that area?
Do they have open positions on their website?
• Relax, it’s not an interview. You should be, but if not convince yourself that you’re excited. Be enthusiastic about what they do, their area of work, and the chance to talk to them. That will be an attractive quality.
• This is also a field trip you didn’t get to take when you’re twelve. Sometimes you meet people who aren’t happy with what they do or it sounds incredibly boring to you. This is valuable information!
During an actual meeting, ask questions:
• How did they get where they are or get interested in that area?
• What is the structure of the organization?
• What other organizations are working in that area and how do they differ?
• Is there anyone else you think I should get in touch with?
Afterwards be sure to follow-up. Send “thank-yous” to them for their time and insight via email or card. Lastly, if you are looking for a job, don’t be discouraged. People don’t usually have positions, but you’re building a positive association with your name and maybe meeting someone who will affirm your resume when something does come up. You’re also building a list of contacts in the area that will serve you well when you do land somewhere to say you know people in these other organizations.
Here are some additional resources about informational interviews and networking:
“How does and Informational Interview Work?”
“Informational Interview Questions”
“How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People”
“Top 10 Networking Tips”
“Business Networking, Conversation, And Mingling Articles”
Lauren Anderson, MPH, is the Managing Editor at ILO Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety.