Networking: How to Make Contact and Informational Interviews

How to Make Contact

Before you contact anyone for networking purposes, make sure that your resume is updated and absolutely flawless. You'll use it to give your contacts a sense of your background before meeting them, or leave it behind as a reminder of your skills and experience.

Start with people you already have connections with:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Alumni
  • Professors
  • Internship or job supervisors

The Office of Advancement's Alumni Career Network is a database of Georgetown alumni who have volunteered to be sources of information for other Hoyas.

Once you have established a list of people to contact, set up an organizational system to help you keep track of correspondence and learning. You may want to use a spreadsheet to organize contact information and notes about interactions, including how you found your contact, when you and your contact last spoke, and what you discussed.

The Informational Interview

An informational interview is a brief meeting (in person, over the phone, or by e-mail) that allows you to ask questions about a person's career path, her current position, appropriate ways to position yourself for a similar job, and more. You can set up informational interviews with personal contacts, alumni, internship supervisors, professors, or anyone doing something interesting or relevant to you. Call or e-mail someone to set up an informational interview.

While informational interviews often lead to job or internship opportunities, it's important to remember that the most effective informational interviews are conducted with the goal of learning, not simply landing a position.

Arranging an Informational Interview

Write a letter of introduction. Indicate your interest in your contact's profession and organization and your desire to visit and talk with her about it. Take the initiative to schedule an appointment. Do not expect the person to take care of this for you.

Sample Email Correspondence

Below is a sample e-mail that you might write to an alumnus to ask for an informational interview:

Dear Mr. Smith,

I found your name and contact information on Georgetown's Alumni Career Network. I am a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, and hope to pursue a career in secondary education upon graduation. Given that you have over five years of experience in this field, I would appreciate the chance to ask you a few questions about your career path and your experience in the public school system in Tennessee.

I realize that this time of year is likely a busy one for you. I am hopeful that you would be willing to speak with me over the phone or via email at some point during the next two weeks. Please let me know if you are able to talk with me and if so what method of communication would be preferable.

Thank you very much in advance for your time and insight.

Sincerely,

Susan Braunlin

Questions You Might Ask in an Informational Interview

The content of your informational interview will vary depending on your goals and the interviewee’s background. You may ask questions such as the following:

Preparation
  • How did you choose this career?
  • What types of experience are essential?
  • What types of employment or internships would you recommend?
  • What kinds of entry-level opportunities exist in the field?
  • Is graduate school important for someone in this field?
Present Job
  • Describe a typical work week and a typical day.
  • What skills or talents are most essential for effective job performance?
  • What are the toughest problems you must deal with?
  • What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Lifestyle
  • What obligations does your work place on your personal time?
  • How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, vacation time, place of residence?
Career Future Alternatives
  • How rapidly is your field growing?
  • If your work was suddenly eliminated, what different types of work do you think you could do?
Job Hunting Strategies
  • How do people find out about these jobs in your industry? Are they advertised online? By word of mouth? At conferences? In professional publications?
  • What specific aspects of my background should I highlight or sell the most?
  • What organizations would you recommend I pursue?
  • Is there a certain person within this organization whom I should contact first?
  • May I use your name when I contact them?
Nature of Organization
  • What is the size of the organization?
  • What is the organizational structure?
  • What is the average length of time employees stay with the organization?
  • What type of formal or on-the-job training does the organization provide?
  • What new product lines and/or services are being developed?
  • How does this organization compare/differ with it competitors?
  • How would you define the office culture?
Matching/Selling Your Background to a Specific Organization
  • For which entry-level positions would I be best suited?
  • What would be the appropriate way to pursue these positions?
  • Who is the person to whom I address my cover letter?
  • May I use your name when I contact them?
  • What is a reasonable salary range for entry-level positions?

Once you have completed the informational interview, send a thank you note immediately. E-mail and regular mail are both acceptable. Keep a record of your interviews. Names, titles, addresses, dates, and topics of discussion will help you remember who told you what, and how to get in touch with your contacts.

YOUR PERSONAL PITCH

Not every networking opportunity has the structure of an informational interview. For less formal situations, such as a conversation at a conference, you can prepare by drafting and practicing a personal pitch. A personal pitch is a commercial of sorts that concisely describes your relevant qualifications, accomplishments, and goals as you move forward. Preparing a personal pitch helps you control your first impression, convey confidence, and articulate what you're looking for. An example might be as follows:

“Hello, Dr. Smith. I attended your session this morning and appreciated your insights regarding BCM theory. My name is Jack Walter. As a sophomore at Georgetown University, I have been taking coursework in biology and neuroscience as well as working in a lab at the Georgetown Medical Center. I plan to matriculate directly into a master's program so that I can participate in neural network research. I am particularly interested in your work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. May I e-mail you next week to ask some questions about your research there and how I can position myself for work like yours?”