Friday, March 30, 2018

It may surprise you, but graduate school is an ideal time to make professional connections. As a student, you are protected from "job-seeker" status and can freely ask people for advice, talk about your work, and seek guidance. These tips will help you leverage your current connections and build new ones. Use this group of informal advisers to build a robust career plan that's open to opportunity. Your next goal? Conduct three informational interviews (formal or informal career chats) with individuals whose careers fascinate you.

Instead of seeing informational interviews as the perfect transactional moment, think of them as an investment that will pay off down the line.

Let's get started:

1. Find individuals with jobs that interest you. Depending on your field, you might start your search with LinkedIn, undergrad alumni networks, VersatilePhD, or even faculty contacts. How you ask:

  • Brokered contact - Use LinkedIn to find out if you know someone who knows the person you want to interview. Ask your connection if they are willing to introduce you with a brief note. If your connection says they can't, no problem; try another approach or find another interview candidate.
  • Cold contact - Point out similarities (“We both went to Luther for undergrad,” “we both study the genetics of fungi,” "I'm also a medievalist transitioning to a non-academic job"). Make it specific in at least one way.
  • Make the request brief (3-5 sentences) - Spell check and edit carefully. You can say something about your connection, but DO NOT go on about your research area. It's about them, not you.
  • Make their time commitment minimal - Asking for 15 or 20 minutes by Skype or a quick coffee can usually get you what you need. Offer to go to them, if that's possible for you.

2. Prepare ahead and dress business casual. Look over these questions (this is a classic non-academic script) and think about what you want to learn. Have a notebook or tablet to take notes. Dress up a bit for meeting the person. It doesn’t need to be a suit, but dress pants or skirt and blouse or shirt/tie is nice. Try to do this for an in-person meeting or for Skype; it will make you feel professional while you chat. If you are meeting with an academic faculty member in a field where dress is very casual, you can adjust accordingly.

3. Ask who else you should talk to. They will have ideas, and this will help you learn more/network with new people who could help guide you on your path. Listen carefully to their recommendations and take good notes.

4. Connect after. Thank them on LinkedIn (or email if they are not on LinkedIn, but I recommend LinkedIn when possible). Connect with them. Follow their company (if it’s a non-ac contact), and follow them personally on social media.

5. Set goals and don’t give up! If 5 of 10 people say yes, then you are winning. People are busy, so don’t get too frustrated or think they don’t want to talk if they don’t respond. Just move on to another person and learn from them. So many surprising people will have good stuff to offer.