I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in awhile! I’ve been busy, because I accepted a full-time job! I’m absolutely thrilled, so all the meetings and work associated with that (which I can talk about in another post) are thrilling. To tie in with my recent employed-ness, I decided to write this post about networking, and how you can use it to help you even as a first-year in college.
I know some people who are terrified of networking. Why? It can be scary to ask people for help. It’s hard randomly calling people for an informational interview when they know nothing about you. Why would they want to help you?
This is the example I always love to use when I explain networking. Think of whatever organization or club you’re most passionate about. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, club, or job as long as you really love it. Imagine if someone younger than you reached out to you and told you that they want to be a part of it too, and that they’re really excited to join, but they want your advice and thoughts first. You’d be honored to help someone become part of something that you love. When people work full-time, they don’t (always) interact with students as much. Plus, when a student takes the initiative to reach out to them, it’s always memorable.
The sad truth is that we really need to be memorable. When most companies post a job, they get so many résumés that they have to sift them through an algorithm-powered system to weed out résumés without keywords and phrases. Often, this means only 2% of applicants get interviews. Especially for larger companies, humans may not even see the first cut of applicants. This is where networking comes in.
Imagine you work at a company, and you’re hiring for an entry-level position. Imagine you get 120 résumés and applications for the one job. Imagine that maybe a few people directly reach out to you, but one person stands so far above the rest by networking like a pro. How can they do it?
Start by identifying your goals. If you want to work at a global public relations firm, if you want to work the front office of a professional sports team, or any other goal, then use that as your motivation. Once you know what you want, it’s just a matter of getting it. I’ll use myself as an example.
I knew I wanted to work at a global PR firm (I knew my first-year in college. It’s okay to not know immediately, but try to apply this knowledge once you do know. Or use it to help you figure it out!). I decided to search online for the top revenue generating firms in the U.S., and find the best rated ones. I found a few who met both criteria. Then I decided to set up some informational interviews.
What is an “informational interview?” It’s an interview that you as a potentially job-seeking person conduct (yes you actually interview them, not the other way around) in hopes to learn more about a company or organization that the interviewee hopes to potentially work at. You can also do these simply to learn more about an industry. Forbes has an excellent article that details the process further. I conducted these by reaching out to people that were one “connection” away. Maybe they knew my parents, or were a professor at my university, or they graduated from Elon. If you have some degree of connection, you can use that to strike up a conversation. The whole point of these interviews is to learn more. So ask questions, about job-hunting advice or about how to transition to working full-time and you’ve just started a relationship!
Also, professors are awesome. They have years of experience, and they’re literally paid to share it with you. Go to their office hours, and ask about their experience or about their advice or connections. You would be so surprised how willing people are to speak with you about their experience and advice.
If you are still in high school, you can use informational interviews, too. If you want to go to a particular university, ask around if anyone has a parent who’s a professor and may be able to tell you about a program you’re interested in. If you’re working, see if anyone knows people at the company you want to work for. If you’re travelling, see if anyone’s done it and can offer advice.
The best part of all of this is that you get interview practice. The stakes are so low because you’re just learning, but it helps you conduct yourself professionally. I think by the time I actually had my first internship interview, I had over a dozen “informational interviews” under my belt, which made me more comfortable and prepared during the interview.
Also there’s me! I love interviews, and I’ve done plenty in college. If you want to interview someone about how to do informational interviews, I will happily do it. I write a blog about this kind of stuff, and I tell my friends about it all the time. Feel free to reach out to me on my contact page. I’m not even kidding. I will talk your ear off about this and you’ll feel so prepared.
This was a bit longer than most posts. Can you tell I love networking? It’s amazing, because you learn more for yourself, and you stick out as a passionate candidate to companies. You’d be surprised how few people actually write handwritten thank-you cards after an interview, or how few people reach out as a first-year in college. Plus, when I wrote my final cover letter for my job, I could honestly say that I’ve been so interested in this company that I did informational interviews there three years ago, and I’m confident that not many applicants could say that.
I promise it’s not as scary as it seems. If you start sooner rather than later, you’ll be able to feel more comfortable by the time you actually apply for internships and jobs. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to comment! I’d love to answer any questions. Or if you have any informational interview advice, please share it!
Hi, I'm Riley! I graduated from college in December 2016, after working to earn over $100,000 in scholarships and aid.