Networking and Interviewing
Finding success in any field is not just about building your skills or a good résumé — it is about building relationships. It is only through meeting and staying in touch with professionals in your field that you can learn about how your field operates, what its culture is like, what is expected of young professionals trying to break into the field, and about unadvertised opportunities in the field as they open up. As young professionals, students need to start building their network of professional contacts as early and as often as possible. Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to Wagner students looking to network, including informational interviews, social networking websites, and professional organizations.
- Think about your existing network, including family, friends, classmates, teammates, professors, employers, and fellow participants in activities or community service. Map out your network. To what extent do you have connections in the field in which you hope to work? What are some of the places that your network can expand? Which of your contacts might be able to help with that?
- Learn as much as you can about your field. In what parts of the field are you interested? What are the trends? What are the important businesses and organizations related to it? Networking requires you to have an idea of who you need to meet and what you need to learn, but you can only do that once you have a solid understanding of the field.
- Be proactive and take chances with reaching out. Did you read an article about someone in your field that piqued your interest? Try Googling that person and then send him or her an email introducing yourself. Do you like a certain producer’s work? Try contacting his or her production company.
- Meet Wagner alumni. Wagner has many enthusiastic and successful alumni who are interested in connecting with current students to give them advice or referrals to helpful contacts in their fields. At CACE, we can help connect you with alumni in your field; we also work with the Office of Alumni Relations to host many alumni-student networking events. It is also easy to find alumni in your field through LinkedIn. You should take advantage of as many opportunities to meet alumni as possible.
- Join professional groups or associations. Read through the associations’ publications and websites. Most professional associations host regular networking events, which are offered to association members at reduced entry fees.
- Social networking sites – such as LinkedIn and Twitter – can be some of the best tools with which to make contacts. There are numerous advantages to making use of these sites in your career development, from their prevalent use in virtually every field, to the fact that you can find and reach out to people you have never met in person. It is strongly encouraged that you to learn how to use these sites to their full extent.
- Informational interviewing is the next step in your process of career discovery and development. Once you have made the initial connection, how do you capitalize on that? The main purpose of informational interviewing is to collect information about the field, other contacts, or job/internship opportunities. It is about research, or advanced networking, and not about getting a job at this point. If you approach this the right way – well prepared and professionally – you will certainly learn a good deal, you may get some more contacts, and, if you are lucky, you can also get a lead on a job.
- You should try to use all of these methods to meet professionals, both in and out of your field.
An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like – an effort to gather information in the format of an interview. Except in this case, you are the one conducting the interview. An informational interview allows you to collect detailed and up-to-date information about your prospective career field or positions within that field from a bonafide expert on the subject — a professional who has managed to thrive in that field and who often makes hiring decisions about young professionals like yourself. That information may include basic entry requirements for new hires, details on the culture of the field, the education required or preferred, the pros and cons of a particular position, the day-to-day experience of a particular position, interviewing tips, and even referrals to other professionals in the field with whom to speak or who might be looking for new interns or employees. Many graduates have reported finding the most useful information or connections about their job search through informational interviews.
There are several categories of professionals who you might approach about an informational interview, including Wagner alumni, individuals you meet at networking events, contacts of your professors, professionals who deliver a presentation in your class, someone who interviews you for a position — basically, anyone in your career field whose contact information you are able to track down. Reach out to that person in a professional manner: send him or her an email in which you explain why you are contacting him or her, how you met this individual or located his or her contact information (provide names of anyone who referred you to this contact), what you would like to learn, and the extent to which you will make yourself available. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to meet in person; setting up a phone call is a viable option, and sometimes more convenient for both of you.
When you eventually meet for the interview, be sure to conduct yourself as you would with an interview for a job. Dress professionally. Arrive on time. Be prepared: do research and have questions prepared. Be polite at all times. Don’t take up too much of your interviewee’s time. Most importantly, do not ask for a job. If you do, your contact may feel that you have violated his or her trust by making a meeting under false pretenses. However, you may ask advice on where and how to apply for a job in the field.
When conducting an informational interview, remember that your primary objectives are to learn more about the field, develop your relationship with an informal contact, and possibly to be introduced to other contacts that might be added to your network. There are many things you might be able to ask your interviewee, but not all of them may be appropriate. Some of the things that are appropriate to ask include:
- What are the qualifications or skills that are sought in entry-level employees?
- What sort of personality types seem to be most successful in this field?
- What degrees or certifications are required to start? What degrees or certifications are necessary to be promoted?
- What seem to be the more recent hiring trends within the field?
- What are the typical challenges within the field?
- What are the sorts of experiences that a student should try to have before graduating?
- What is a typical day like? What are the busy and slow times of the year?
- What is the likelihood of professional development in this field? How can a young employee improve his/her opportunities?
- What is the best way to become or remain educated about the field? To conduct research on the field or certain companies/organizations? Journals, texts, websites, etc.?
- What do you think was the best choice you made as a professional? What would you have done differently?
Getting LinkedIn the Right Way
These days, LinkedIn is one of the most important tools for young professionals who are building their careers or looking to make connections. Having an account is, arguably, almost as important as having a résumé in the first place. If you are looking for a job, and you are circulating your résumé, most employers will try to find you on LinkedIn before considering you or contacting you for an interview. It is also an invaluable resource for finding job openings or connections in your field, or to learn more about companies in your field.
As in the case of your résumé, you want to construct your LinkedIn profile in such a way that it attracts employers.
- Upload a professional headshot, with a well-lit close-up of your face.
- Your profile headline is the first thing that potential employers or connections will see. Create a profile headline that succinctly summarizes who you are as a young professional. The default for your headline will be your current or most recent position, which may not be the best way of promoting yourself.
- Compose a short summary to lead off the profile that describes what you are looking for professionally, briefly summarizes what your professional experiences have been, and mentions some of the skills or experiences that you hope to highlight about yourself. This summary should be very similar to the “elevator pitch” you have developed for interviews or networking events.
- Update the URL to include your name. You can include the URL in your contact information at the top of your résumé.
- Experience: If your résumé is well organized and professional, it is possible to simply cut and paste the information about your professional experience into your LinkedIn profile. Be selective! Instead of just including all of your experiences, or all of your most recent experiences, focus on your most relevant experiences, whether they are internships, jobs, or volunteer experiences.
- Recommendations: For each of your most recent 2-3 jobs or internships, try to get a recommendation from a supervisor or colleague with whom you collaborated. Customize the requests to explain what you hope your potential recommenders will focus on.
- Groups: Joining groups can often be a good way to get information about your field or to network out of your immediate circle of contacts. Groups are groups of individuals with a shared interest or focus. Groups often host conversation strings or re-post articles from around the web on topics pertinent to your field.
- Following: Following individuals, companies, or newsgroups can be another good way to learn more about your field or to find general career-development advice.
- Skills & Expertise: Try to include as many skills as you genuinely have developed. Focus on technical or industry-specific skills over “general” skills like time management or organization. Endorsing other people’s skills encourages them to consider what you have listed and endorse you in return. Individuals who have certain skills endorsed by more of their connections come up more readily when employers search for that skill.
- Open your profile! As in the case of your Facebook profile, it is possible to limit what other people can see of your profile using the Settings controls. But, why would you want to do that? The only purpose for having a LinkedIn profile is to connect with other professionals. Make it easy for them to find you.
- Though you have the option, you should not include personal information, such as your age or marital status.
Usually, you should only attempt to make connections with people you know, with certain exceptions. However, you do not have to know your connections well, nor is it necessary that you have worked with them. Your initial outreach should be to the most obvious circle of connections: friends, family, classmates, co-workers, bosses/supervisors, past or current employers, professors, or administrators at Wagner. Keep expanding your network: whenever you meet someone in a professional capacity or at a networking event, reach out to them. Scan the connections of your connections; if you see an interesting potential contact, reach out to your mutual connection and ask if he or she can make an introduction by email. When you make outreach, make sure to customize your message and keep it professional.
Through LinkedIn you can locate and contact thousands of Wagner alumni in numerous professional fields. Alumni can be very helpful and friendly sources of information and advice about your career pursuits.
By the time that you are invited for an interview, you are generally well along in the process. Your professional credentials have passed muster, and, at least on paper, you seem to fit the employers’ needs. Now the employer wants to see if the individual you have presented yourself as in the resume matches the real individual. This can be the most stressful part of the job search, but in some ways it can also be the most thrilling. If you can show that you fit into the company or organization’s work and culture, you will most likely be successful. It is also important to remember that everything about you—what you say, your clothes, your bearing—will be taken into consideration by the interviewer. As you can see below, the keys to any interview are preparation, research, and professionalism.
The most important thing that you can do before an interview is prepare. If you prepare well for an interview, you should be able to anticipate most questions that you may be asked and to develop possible answers to those questions. Solid preparation is the only way to ensure that you are not completely surprised by some element of the interview.
Some of the most important preparation involves self-reflection. Ultimately, no matter what you are interviewing for, you are going to be asked about your character or your experience. Some of the things that you should consider include:
- Your Professional Story: Many interviewers like to start their interviews with a question along the lines of “Tell me about yourself.” It is essential to have a concise, well-crafted answer to this question. In certain respects, this answer is interchangeable with your “elevator pitch,” the profile section of your LinkedIn account, and what you emphasize regularly in your cover letters. This should include your general career plans, a brief summary of your most relevant experiences, a brief summary of your most relevant skills, a brief explanation of how the position for which you are interviewing fits into this career arc, and a couple of interesting points about yourself personally.
- Why are you applying for this job?: This question inevitably follows from any conversation about your career path and plans. How does this job fit into this story? What are things you hope to accomplish there? What do you hope to learn? Why do you think you will be a good fit within this company’s or organization’s environment or culture? You also need to demonstrate that you have done research on the company/organization, and that you have thought about their most recent trends, focuses, and achievements.
- Résumé: Obviously, you will be asked about at least one thing on your resume. Anything that you have included on your résumé, anything that you have put forward as a qualification, is fair game in an interview. Know what you have included on it. Be able to articulate what you did at your various places of employment, what you learned to do there, what you learned about yourself there, and how the experience fits into your narrative of your life and career. Be prepared to explain something on the résumé that you thought was relatively unimportant, such as one of your activities from a few years ago, or the fourth responsibility you held at your first job. Of course, you will certainly be asked about the most relevant experience on the .
- Strengths: You should probably be able to name three or four aspects of your personal or professional character. Most importantly, be sure to explain to what degree these things will be useful to you as a future employee, and always have some sort of concrete illustration from your experience for each.
- Weaknesses: Young professionals often have difficulty admitting what their weaknesses are . . . and sometimes even just coming up with some. The fact is, everyone has weaknesses — everyone has something at which they do not excel. When employers ask for weaknesses, they are observing a candidate’s ability to conduct honest self-reflection. Think about what are some areas that you genuinely need improvement, and be able to articulate how you have already begun to address these shortcomings. Note: “working too hard” or “being a perfectionist” are not good answers to this question.
- References: You should contact your references to provide them with an early warning that you are interviewing for a position and that the employer may be reaching out to them. You wouldn’t want to have the employer contact them only to learn that they are completely unaware of what you have been doing or what you have been applying for. This is a good opportunity to request that your references try to make sure to emphasize certain aspects of your experience, character, or skill sets.
- Questions to Ask: Towards the end of most interviews, you will be given a chance to ask questions of the interviewer. Although it will be presented as an option, it is actually quite essential that you have a couple of questions to ask. Employers want to see that you have a real interest in the company/organization and what they do. They want to see that you are trying to think concretely about what it would like to work there, and that their company/organization is not just one of a hundred or so to which you sent your résumé. Some questions that you might ask include: How would you describe a typical work day in the office? This position seems to have a number of responsibilities–what would you say are the two or three most important? What are the primary goals for this department? How does this position fit into the overall workings of the department? Do not ask questions about vacations, free time, or other benefits.
Employers will be very reluctant to hire someone without some sort of background in the field. It costs them time and money to train employees, and so they will always be more interested in candidates that know a good deal about the field. Employers also want to see that you have really explored their company/organization and considered the particulars of how you might fit into their practices or the pursuit of their mission. For both of these reasons, it is essential to do some diligent and thoughtful research before the interview. Some things that candidates should be sure to research include:
- The field. You may be asked about your interests in the field, what you know about this field, or how you think the company/organization fits into the field. Strong candidates will know about recent developments and trends, the major players, what works and doesn’t work, etc. Much of this information can be found through conversations with individuals in your network or with your mentors, or in trade magazines/websites or the publications of relevant professional associations.
- The company/organization. What role do they have in the industry? What do they produce or what services do they offer? What is their reputation in the field? What do current or former employees say about them and their work environment or management? Have they recently shifted focus or taken on a new project or mission? How does the department or division for which you are interviewing fit into all of this?
- Your interviewer. Yes, you can and should do a bit of research on your interviewer, if you know his or her name. What does he or she do in the company? Will this position afford for any interaction or collaboration with the interviewer? Do you have anything in common, professionally? The answers to many of these questions can be found relatively easily on the internet, using either LinkedIn or Google.
Of course, through the entire interview process, it is essential to exhibit consummate professionalism at all times. There are several elements of professional behavior that you will be expected to observe. These include:
- Time Management: You cannot be late for your interview. Check the time and location of your appointment, and plan the route you will take to get there. Leave early to account for any potential traffic or other emergencies. In the event of some sort of catastrophe, call and reschedule your appointment before the time that you are supposed to be there.
- Professional Attire: For men, a suit, a tie, polished business shoes, cleanly shaven face, and trimmed hair. For women, a business suit—with slacks or a skirt—conservative stockings and shoes, moderate makeup, and limited jewelry. In both cases, interviewees should wear quiet colors: blues, grays, browns. If you do not own any suitable clothing, you must purchase some before you start sending your résumé out. If you own a good suit, but you have not worn it in a while, make sure to have it dry-cleaned.
- Politeness: Use proper business etiquette at all times. This includes using professional forms of address (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr.). If the interviewer tells you to use his or her first name, you should do so. Wait for instruction before doing anything. Do not sit unless you are offered a seat. Shake hands properly. Sit upright in your chair with your hands folded–do not slouch down in the chair as you might at home. Smile and maintain eye contact. Listen before responding, and never cut your interviewer off. Finally, be polite with anyone who you encounter, including receptionists, secretaries, and interns — employers regularly will ask them for some feedback before hiring anyone.
- Preparation: Come prepared. Have copies of your résumé and business cards. Bring a pad of paper and writing materials, in the event you must take notes or write down contact information.
- Responses: Answer all questions directly and honestly. Be sure to answer the question that the interviewer has asked you. If you do not fully understand a question, ask the interviewer to clarify. It is acceptable to take a couple of moments to gather your thoughts, though hopefully you have prepared well enough to have anticipated most questions. No one-word or short answers. In response to most questions, it is generally expected that you will elaborate at length. Show, don’t tell. Provide illustrations for most of your claims; for example, don’t just say you’re a leader, but give a specific example of a time when you acted as a leader. On the other hand, you should read your audience: if they’re looking for you to wrap up, then you should wrap up.
- Thank You Notes: Although many students do not send thank you notes after their interviews, it is still expected of them. There is more advice on this below.
Many students and young professionals leave an interview and then wait for some follow-up from the employer with whom they just met. Motivated individuals do not wait for the phone call out of the blue: they follow up by sending a thank-you note. All students should get in this habit, for it is one of the few ways to stand out as a professional and potential employee. Thank-you letters show that you are courteous and persistent, two often overlooked, though highly valued, character traits. A thank-you note also gives you a chance to remind the interviewer briefly of your qualifications for the position, or to add anything that you may have not had a chance to mention during the interview. A thank-you letter does not need to be very long — maybe only a few lines wherein you express appreciation for the opportunity to interview and enthusiasm at the prospect of joining their team, while perhaps referring to a particular detail or discussion from the interview. You can also provide the employer with your contact information again. It is a good idea to write this note in the body of an email that you send within a day of the interview. You can then, within a couple of days, send a formal note with basically the same wording on proper stationery by snail mail.
Negotiating Job Offers
For many young professionals, once they are offered a full-time job, the tendency is to take the offer as it is. This is, of course, understandable, what with all of the pressures placed on recent graduates to be employed and start paying off their student loans or moving out of the family home. But not every job offer fairly compensates one for the amount of work, hours, or education required by the position, or is enough for you to live on. In these cases, it is essential that young professionals negotiate the details of their job offer.
- For many young professionals, negotiating a job offer hinges on their perception of the field, themselves, and their value. Doing research on salary and compensation, and then reflecting realistically on what you have to offer will help your make your negotiation a successful and relatively comfortable process.
- Self-reflection: Be realistic about what you have to offer. What skills, hands-on experiences, and education have you acquired over your college career? What forms of work are you prepared to do now? In what ways does this make you unique?
- Researching Your Professional Value: There are many online resources through which you can research average salaries for many positions within virtually every field. These include the websites www.glassdoor.com and www.salary.com, as well as the NACE Salary Survey at www.naceweb.org. The Department of Labor puts out a yearly assessment of this information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Finally, use your network. Ask friends, colleagues, and mentors for some feedback on what you can expect or ask for.
- Determining Your Salary Range: Before negotiating, it is important for you to determine your salary range. (You should actually do this before you start applying for jobs.) Your salary range should stretch from the lowest salary that you can live with, commensurate with the nature and difficulty of the work, to the highest salary that someone in your field with a similar level of education, with a similar level of experience can expect to make.
- Know Your Goals: It is also important to consider your goals for yourself, including your goals for both your career and your life. How does this position fit into those plans? Is it a step up, a step down, or a lateral move? Does this job open up some future career possibilities? Does this position allow for a happy or comfortable personal life outside of the office? When taken all together, do these considerations potentially balance out a lower salary?
- Forms of Compensation: Remember, it’s not always about money. There are many forms in which employers compensate their employees. These include vacation time, sick days, potential for overtime pay, the frequency of appraisal reviews, the opportunity for raises and bonuses, health benefits, life insurance, pension/retirement plan fund matching, tuition reimbursement, expense accounts, stock options, title, hours, a relatively free schedule, potential for travel, and even commuting reimbursements or a company car.
- Your Leverage: This is one of the few times in the job search process that you have some form of power. What young professionals fail to realize is that, when an employer has made an offer to you, that employer has endured a fairly long and arduous process of their own. The employer has needed to fill a position, and possibly for a long while. The employer has taken the time to sift through hundreds or thousands of resumes and then to interview several people. Their search may have taken a month or longer. The point is: after serious effort and consideration, the employer wants you, and they are most likely willing to bend somewhat to get you on board.
- Accepting or Declining: Most of the time, your offer will be in writing, and if it is not, you can request it. Having the job offer in writing allows you to clarify the terms, including your start date, salary, parks, and title. Whether you accept or decline the offer, you will have to do so in writing, as well. Be sure to make your response short, professional, and returned to your potential employer in a timely fashion.
- Read your audience. Sometimes an employer really is already offering you all that the budget allows. Listen for when they are trying to explain that to you.
- Don’t bluff. Don’t say that you absolutely can’t accept an offer and that you have to walk away unless you really are prepared to do so.
- Always maintain your friendly and professional attitude. Remember: there is no reason that this should become a contentious interaction. Young professionals must always be careful not to burn their bridges.
The Career Connections program is one of the most important networking experiences in which Wagner students can participate. This program is designed to link current students with alumni currently pursuing careers in a wide range of professions. This interaction provides an added dimension to students’ learning experiences, and is an important part of the process by which CACE assists students to identify their career and life options. Ultimately, through Career Connections, we hope students will think “outside the box” regarding the professional possibilities that are open to them, independent of their chosen major. Career Connections mentors can assist students in developing a realistic understanding of their career choices, guiding them to examine the respective benefits and drawbacks of their chosen profession, and helping them to recognize the qualifications, skills, strengths, and attributes needed to succeed in that field.
To learn more about how you can participate in Career Connections, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at (718) 390-3181.