Optimize Your Networking

Your professional network of trusted contacts gives you an advantage in your career and is one of your most valuable assets.

What is Networking?

Networking is about cultivating relationships over time. It is the process of gathering information by talking to people to expand your knowledge about career options, opportunities, and jobs. This process of exchanging Advice, Information and Referrals (AIR) is valuable at every stage of your career development. Networking is having conversations - it is not a one-way street.

There's no mystery to networking. It comes naturally and you're already doing it every day, even when you ask a friend if she has seen any good movies, or where she bought those shoes you like! The only difference is that the networking we are referring to here is focused on obtaining advice, information and referrals helpful to your professional career development.

Benefits of Networking

Networking can benefit you in at least three important areas:

  • Career exploration - One of the best sources for gathering information when deciding on a major or career direction is talking with people in a role that interests you 
  • Job search - Consider these facts: 
    • 70-80% of job seekers find their jobs through contacts. As few as 20% land their jobs through the traditional "reactive" job search method, namely, applying for posted positions on job boards or want ads.
    • Nearly 80% of available jobs are never advertised. And you can uncover this "hidden job market" through networking. It is how you learn of jobs that you would otherwise be unaware of. The more contacts you make, the more likely you are to tap into these hidden opportunities.  
  • Professional development - Many of those who progress furthest in their careers over time do so by being well connected professionally in mutually beneficial ways - in other words, they maintain their networks.
Recognizing and Building your Network

Many students say "But I don't have a network, so how can I do networking?" Well, that's not true. Everybody has a network. Here is a list of different network sources to get you thinking about recognizing your existing network and building a network of new contacts:

  • Acquaintances and contacts, such as family and friends, volunteer affiliations, professors, faculty advisors, coaches, former or present work and internship colleagues and supervisors, church contacts, neighbors - everyone you know is potentially in your network of contacts. These friends and acquaintances and those you already know are known as your "natural network."
  • Campus student organizations and other activities
  • Community service opportunities
  • Career fairs and employer events
  • Informational interviews, to learn more from individuals in potential areas of interest to you (more below)
  • Simmons Alumnet Directory - Simmons online alumnae/i community has over 8,000 registrants that you can tap into. Watch for alumnae/i events and other networking opportunities on the Alumnet site
  • Professional organizations in your field, where you can attend meetings and meet people
  • LinkedIn, the leading professional online network, including the Simmons LinkedIn Group with over 2,000 members (more below)
  • Local networking or job search groups
  • Everyone you know and meet - broadcast your career interests and goals!
Getting Started

Ask yourself, "Who do I know?" Create a list of everyone who comes to mind. As stated above, you already have a natural network of contacts, so list your friends, family, professors, work and internship contacts - everybody. Shoot for 50-100 names but be satisfied with whatever you can come up with. Your goal at this stage is to connect with your natural network to discover not only if they have direct advice but also if they know of others more closely affiliated with your interests. You can then let your contacts know of your interests and aspirations. The more people who know about you and what you are seeking the greater the chance that doors will open for you.

But before you make contact with anyone you will want to prepare your introduction or "elevator speech". Having your elevator speech prepared will also be useful for those unpredictable moments when you are presented the opportunity to connect with someone new, eg, on the flight home, at a social function - or in the ride up an elevator!

Information Interviewing
Informational interviewing is one of the most important networking tools at your disposal. An informational interview is a 20-30 minute meeting that you set up with an individual, preferably face-to-face, to obtain career advice, information, and referrals (AIR). It is not, however, a time to inquire about specific internship or job opportunities!
What's in it for You?
Two important benefits of informational interviews are: 1) that you have the opportunity to get an "insider" point of view on career topics; and 2) that you can obtain a work world "reality check" on what you've read, heard or thought. Consequently, informational interviews can be very helpful in the process of choosing a career path.
Preparing for and Setting Up an Informational Interview
Here is a series of steps you can follow to set up an informational interview:

  1. Decide what job or field of work you want to learn about
  2. Identify people to interview starting with lists of people you already know who are in your natural network - friends, relatives, present or former co-workers, faculty - the people who most want to help you!
  3. Research the organization, person, field, industry of interest to you
  4. Prepare a list of questions for the interview - see the CEC's Sample Informational Interview Questions
  5. Prepare your brief introductory speech to market yourself professionally - see the CEC's Marketing Yourself Professionally: The Two-Minute Infomercial
  6. Contact the person by telephone, e-mail or letter followed by a phone call to set up the time and place of the interview
  7. Prepare the same as you would for an actual job interview by dressing suitably, arriving on time, and being polite and professional.
Conducting the Meeting
Since you are the one who initiated the contact, it will be up to you to run a professional meeting with a clearly defined agenda. In order to leverage the limited time you have with the person, structure the flow of the meeting sequentially to optimize information exchange. You are in effect marketing yourself and your ability to run a professional meeting. For meeting guidelines, refer to the CEC's Informational Interview Agenda.
Following Up
Effective networking means building a relationship over time by keeping in touch regularly and exchanging information, advice and contacts. Be sure to:
  • Send a thank you note within 24 hours mentioning what was particularly beneficial from your meeting.
  • If the individual seemed to genuinely want to help you, set an appointment with yourself on your calendar to make a follow-up call or e-mail to the contact. Then do it!
  • Keep your contacts informed. If your original contact referred you to someone who was helpful, send him/her a quick note with that information.
  • Reflect on what you learned from the meeting, what else you need to know, and determine a future plan of action.
The Power of LinkedIn

Social media can dramatically expand your networking reach and make it possible to connect with formerly unreachable professionals. Also employers are increasingly using social media for recruiting purposes. It is becoming common for recruiters to initiate contact with potential candidates by searching on LinkedIn for people with the qualifications they seek.

According to the "Jobvite Social Recruiting Survey 2011", 89% of organizations will recruit in social networks this year. In addition, 55% will spend more on social recruiting this year and 64% use two or more networks for recruiting. Can you afford not to leverage this new job search tool?


The granddaddy of the professional networking sites is LinkedIn. As they say on their website, "LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network with over 120 million members and growing rapidly. LinkedIn connects you to your trusted contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals".

LinkedIn's purpose is to make you more productive. Since it's "who you know" that counts in networking and job search, LinkedIn makes professional connections visible so that you can ask the right questions of the right people and make good career and job search decisions.

How is LinkedIn used? It is a powerful tool that is used by seasoned professionals and newcomers, such as students, in many different ways:

  • Building and maintaining your professional profile and online brand
  • Building contacts with people with similar interests for career exploration, job search and potential informational interviews and job leads
  • Researching companies
  • Sharing information and advice with professionals in your field
  • Posting references from supervisors, colleagues, and clients
  • Finding job openings
  • Finding contacts you know at organizations of interest to you
  • Recruiting for potential candidates and screening them before interviews
  • . . .and more

One of the best ways to understand the benefits of LinkedIn is to talk to successful people and ask them what role it has played in their career development. To get started, create a profile on LinkedIn. Once you have created your profile and logged in, go to the LinkedIn Learning Center to find out about LinkedIn's features and how it can help you clarify and reach your career goals. For more information, check out the CEC Guide for Graduate Students and Alumnae/i to LinkedIn Resources

Maintaining Your Network

At the outset it is natural to view networking as an activity that helps you learn more about opportunities for you, whether you are exploring careers, or specific job or internship opportunities. Over time, however, it will become clear to you that networking is indeed a two-way street. Those who help you now may seek your assistance later. And those seeking your help now may be of assistance to you at some future date! It is always wise to stay in touch with people and maintain your network. As stated at the top of this page, your network of contacts is one of your most valuable assets. Treat it with care.

Meeting with a Career Coach

After reviewing the foregoing, if you feel you could benefit from the expertise of a CEC career coach around networking then contact the CEC to set up an appointment with a coach. A coach can help you develop your networking skills as well as your job search strategy through networking contacts.

For more information

CEC Resources

CareerSpots Videos