Talking to people is the most effective way to learn about specific industries and organizations and find opportunities.

Networking is about building connections and learning from the insight and experience of others. It is a lifelong process of involving people in your life and work. If you are truly interested in learning from others and show them respect, they probably will want to offer you support. In turn, be sure to:

  • Express your appreciation
  • Use good follow-up skills to nurture the relationship,
  • Return the favor when you can
  • Pay it forward when others ask for help

Explore this guide to help you learn more about networking and informational interviews:

Why networking is the most effective way to spend your time

Ask around and you’ll find that most people have landed a job through networking. Making connections, especially in combination with other search strategies, is significantly more successful than merely applying to positions. For one thing, it’s easier and more appealing for organizations to interview candidates that current employees know. Secondly, many positions are filled before they ever get posted to the public. Smart networking will ensure that you know about the “hidden job market” of un-posted positions that may open up or are being created. Networking can make the difference between being selected for an interview and being left out.

Exploration and preparation

Before you start networking, you’ll need to educate yourself. This starts with searching the internet, reading industry guides on Vault, and sifting through Handshake. Check out position descriptions and get an idea of the major players in your industry. Utilize our Search Strategies handout, meet with a career coach, and develop a list of target organizations. Take a look at profiles on LinkedIn and take note of the internships and jobs that led to their current position.

Find your community & become a super fan

Follow them and regularly read stories (or at least headlines!). For example, someone interested in advertising will learn a ton from following Advertising Age, and future venture capitalists should read the Wall Street Journal.
Reading the same things as industry professionals will help you build your vocabulary and ability to make smart conversation. It will show employers that you are a student of the industry- something that will set you apart from others. It may also alert you to possible contacts.


The good news is that you’re already connected. Brainstorm a list of people in your world, beginning with your family, friends, WashU faculty and staff.  Think about friends of parents, parents of friends, current and past supervisors, coaches, religious leaders, and doctors. These people might not do exactly what you want to do, but they might know someone who does. Reach out and ask. You can expand your contacts by identifying and reaching out to new people. Social media has made this easier than ever, but don’t underestimate the power of meeting face-to-face.

Get involved and be social

Be an active member of campus and community life. Serve on committees and volunteer. Ask for advice from respected acquaintances, co-workers, and supervisors.

Find WashU Alumni

  • Join WashU CNX and set up your profile to be matched with mentors comprised of WashU alumni and friends. Those in the database have chosen to opt-in, meaning you will have a higher likelihood of creating meaningful connections.
  • Join the Washington University Alumni group in LinkedIn. It has over 25,000 members and will increase your odds of finding a relevant connection when you do an advanced search.
  • Join a regional young alumni group offered through WashU Alumni & Development to network at social events with others in a specific city.

Engage in Professional Communities

  • Attend meetings and conferences for professional associations. As a student, you can often join professional organizations at a reduced rate.
  • Reach out to those whose work has impressed you. Stick around after presentations to compliment the speaker and introduce yourself.
  • Follow thought leaders on social media and comment or re-tweet.
  • Attend the Center for Career Engagement’s programs and information sessions. We often invite professionals to campus. Introduce yourself and ask questions to form a personal connection.

Informational interviews

An informational interview is an exploratory conversation with someone who has worked or is working in a field or organization that interests you. Here are some key tips to excel in an informational interview:

  • Keep in mind that people’s work and home lives are likely busy. Be sure to demonstrate flexibility, sensitivity and appreciation.
  • Evaluate the intimacy of your connection. Have you met this person in real life? Are you connected on social media? Do you have a shared experience — interned for the same employer, alum of your program, have a close friend in common? The closer of a connection, the more likely your outreach will be well-received and the more likely you’ll receive a response.
  • Be specific about your familiarity with their work or workplace, versus saying you generally want to talk. People like to help those who are already working hard themselves, so refer to something they’ve posted on LinkedIn, or a project they’ve worked on and say how it relates to your interests, experience, or research. Your primary approach should be to ask about their career path and request their insights and advice, as opposed to a “what can you do for me” mentality. However, if you ask thoughtful, informed questions, it’s likely that people will want to do what they can to help you.

Questions to consider asking

  • What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were my age?
  • What are the challenges/rewards of your daily work?
  • What do you read daily to keep updated on industry news?
  • What professional groups are you a part of?
  • Tell me more about how you ended up in your role (or transitions you’ve made).
  • What would you be doing now, if you were me?
  • Are there organizations that I should put on my list to look into?
  • Can you recommend someone who does x that you think I should reach out to?
  • What skills should I try to gain now to make me a good candidate for x?

How to introduce yourself

Help others help you by making a poised first impression. Give context for why you are reaching out and be as specific as possible about what you’re looking for. Most professionals are happy to help someone who is gracious, respectful, and prepared. You may have heard of a 30 second commercial or elevator pitch. No matter what you call it, it boils down to a concise, smooth introduction that includes:

  • Who you are and how your got their name
  • Why you are approaching him/her
  • What you hope will happen

Sending and email

Review these best practices for crafting and sending emails.

Introducing Yourself in Person

You’ll want to sound polished – but also natural and conversational. Practice ahead of time to feel confident when you do it for real. Here’s an example of a face-to-face introduction:

“Hi, my name is Kim Lee and I’m an anthropology major. I’m interested in public relations, and I loved hearing about your work! I enjoy writing, and I currently manage social media for X student group. Would it be okay if I connect with you on LinkedIn and reach out to set up a time when I could ask you a few questions? I’m starting to look for a summer internship, and would appreciate your advice about pulling together writing samples and expanding my target list.”

Connecting through LinkedIn

Maximize your chances of someone accepting your invitation to connect by customizing the personal note field. State who you are, why you want to connect, mention any mutual acquaintances, or point out something you have in common. You have a limited number of characters so make them count.

“Hello- I’m a member of the Government & Public Policy group at the WashU Center for Career Engagement. I under- stand that you were involved when you were a student. Are you open to connecting so I can ask your advice about exploring NGOs in D.C.?
– Amy Craig”

Following up with a phone call

Professionals are very busy so don’t despair if you don’t get a response to your outreach. After a week or so, a follow-up phone call is a good way to touch base. Phone contact is rare, and therefore might stand out. You may get voicemail, but be prepared for a conversation just in case. If you do get voice- mail, speak slowly and clearly and repeat your name and phone number before you hang up.

“Hello Ms. Cochran. My name is Ravi Patel, and I am a student at Washington University. I sent you an email a week ago about possibly setting up a time to talk about your work in finance. I know you must be very busy, so I thought I’d try to catch you by phone… (proceed to mention possible dates and your contact info.)”

Preparing for your discussion

Research and planning will help you make the most of your informational interview. You’ll want to develop insightful questions that help you determine fit and that also impress your contact. Spend time learning about the industry and organization where your contact works. Learn about how current events have affected the industry. Look at your contact’s LinkedIn profile and social media accounts. Then, come up with a list of open-ended questions.

Here are some example questions that you’ll want to ask and build on: 

  • What are some things you do on a daily basis?
  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What is most challenging about your job?
  • How did you start out? How did you get to your current position?
  • What kinds of entry-level positions should I look for? How do people advance?
  • What will make me a strong candidate?
  • What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out?
  • What is something about your work that you didn’t anticipate before you started?
  • What blogs, articles, thought-leaders or organizations should I follow?
  • Can you suggest other people I can contact to continue my research?

Conducting your interview

Arrive 10 minutes early. Dress professionally- always a notch nicer than seems necessary- to indicate motivation and respect. Bring copies of your resume and your list of questions in a portfolio folder.

Your discussion will likely be conversational, with you asking intermittent questions. Bring paper to take notes. If it feels appropriate, go ahead and ask for advice on your resume, or for ideas about where to look for an internship or job. Keep an eye on the time, and begin wrapping up after 15-20 minutes. Always end with a “thank you,” ask for a business card and if it’s okay to connect on LinkedIn to stay in contact.

Expressing gratitude and keeping in touch

Networking is not a one-time event. It is about relationship building and reciprocation. Send a thank you note ASAP to express appreciation for the time and insight shared. Make your note concise and specific, and be sure to give updates about advice you followed or next steps you’ve taken as a result of your conversation.

In the weeks and months after your meeting, let your contacts know about your progress. Pass along information they might find interesting or helpful. It’s smart to track your contacts in a spreadsheet (or something similar) to keep tabs on when you last spoke. Emails should be conversational, but also concise and professional.

Here are some ideas for staying in contact:

  • Share links to relevant articles
  • Send LinkedIn notes to congratulate them on job transitions
  • Ask for advice on a project or paper
  • Comment on their social media posts
  • Volunteer to share a job listing from their company with students on campus
  • Send greetings for birthdays, holidays, or special occasions
  • Make plans to grab coffee when you’re in the area
  • Update them on your search or ask about progress on one of their projects
  • When you land a job or internship, let contacts know where you end up working. Thank them for the role they played in helping you get there. Continue keeping in touch; you never know when your paths might cross again.

Pay it forward

Someday (sooner than you think – maybe even when you’re still a student) you will be in a position to share your story and advice with others. When that day comes, remember that taking time out of your schedule to give of yourself may be the best way to keep the karmic power of networking on your side.