Job Interview Tips: How to Use Your Networks to Launch Your Career

My current and former students regularly ask me why they never hear back from companies where they send in an application. Millennials feel comfortable enough with technology to make it their preferred way to search for a job. The problem — technology alone will usually be insufficient to land a great job. Job seekers need to make a personal connection as well.

Many employers want to minimize risks when they hire, so they will often rely on referrals from existing employees, or even alumni from their own alma maters. You can make this work for you as well by connecting with alumni from your own school who work in the industry you want to work in, or at the position you want to have. You can find alumni in the field you want from:

Your university’s alumni records

Linkedin.com — you can sort by job function and university affiliation

Your local alumni association

You can also ask your friends to connect you to people in the jobs you are interested in by referring you to folks they know, like:

Their alumni friends (including fraternity and sorority connections)

Their industry or professional associations

Their co-workers and colleagues

The first way to start making these connections is by conducting an informational interview

When I mentioned this to an alumnus recently, he had not heard this term before. An informational interview is where you find folks in jobs or industries that you are interested in working in, reach out to them (through your existing networks), and ask to take them to lunch or out for coffee to learn more about their job. Let them know up front that you will not be taking up more than a half hour of their time, to show that you value their time. Let them know that your goal is to learn about their job, how they landed it, and to ask for any advice as you pursue your goal of finding a similar job. At the end of your informational interview, be sure to thank them, and ask if there is someone else they think you should talk to as you learn more about this field. Always follow up with a thank-you note. 

A great example of this is my former student Megan Gebhart’s 52 cups of coffee.  Megan spent her senior year having coffee with 52 different people to learn more about them and about life.  She ended up being offered a job as an alumni ambassador for her university as a result. 

Now, you will probably not have an entire year to chat with folks to learn what you want to do next in life, but like Megan, you never know where such interesting conversations will lead you in your career path.

I’ll be interested to know where your conversations take you.

Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012)