PDS Seminar Recap: Informational Interviews & How to Use Networking to Your Advantage

PDS Seminar Recap: Informational Interviews & How to Use Networking to Your Advantage

Lana Smith-Hale

Lana Smith-Hale, Graduate Career Consultant of Career Services at UCSB

Networking has immense value in all types of careers. In the same way that we trust the recommendations of friends and family for restaurants or hair dressers, companies trust the professional networks that can help connect you to your next employer.  Additionally, maintaining an active network within a science or engineering discipline allows you to stay current with the technical trends in your field.

On October 27, 2016, Graduate Career Consultant Lana Smith-Hale presented to an audience of graduate and undergraduate students about the importance—and challenges—of professional networking. She addressed questions that frequently arise for graduate students preparing for the job search and delved into several strategies for taking advantage of networking opportunities.

For graduate students in particular, there is a notable contrast between the independence of research and the networking interactions necessary for career advancement. Because of this, networking can be particularly challenging. Nonetheless, Smith-Hale emphasized that networking is a skill that can be developed through practice. Since networking is ultimately about building new relationships, one way to practice on a weekly basis is to reach out to “warm connections” such as your parent’s friend or your friend’s cousin. By practicing in more comfortable spaces, reaching out to “cold contacts” (people that you don’t know) will start to feel less intimidating.

A typical opportunity for graduate students to apply networking skills is at research conferences, where there is an expectation that networking will occur. When interacting with company representatives, two important tasks to undertake beforehand are to do research about your companies of interest, and have specific, directed questions that are relevant to your career pursuits. Outside of conferences, Smith-Hale advised the need to strike a balance between paper preparation (e.g. resume, cover letter, CV) and interpersonal networking. In terms of planning, you should consider networking months in advance of your job hunt deadline.

In the latter half of the seminar, Smith-Hale gave some advice for informational interviews and your LinkedIn profile. Informational interviews are meetings that you can initiate with industry professionals to learn more about their specific line of work. To get the most out of these interviews, be sure to consider the following:

  • Come prepared with a list of questions
  • Do not ask for a job during the interview
  • Exchange business cards
  • Ask, “Do you know anyone else I might talk with?” to initiate connections with additional people and thus build your network
  • Send a thank you note/email after the interview. Follow up is key.

To use your LinkedIn page effectively, you should refine your content to match your goals. According to Smith-Hale, this includes specifying your expertise with keywords in the headline and summary sections of your profile. It is also worth exploring LinkedIn groups as another network you can build, especially groups for alumni.

Additional resources:

LinkedIn + Versatile PhD Workshop: An upcoming event that takes a deeper look into online tools for networking.

“Hidden Job Market: Grad Student’s Guide to Networking and Informational Interviews”: A scheduled event set for 11/30/16 3:30-4:30 SRB 2154. Wait for a GradPost announcement for full details.

“Networking Seems So Sleazy” by Fatimah Williams Castro, an article referenced during the seminar that addresses several common preoccupations about networking.

Versatile PhD, a website available through UCSB Grad Division where you can read through case studies, industry panels, and career autobiographies.

Beyond Academia, a spring conference aimed at connecting grad students and post-docs “with professionals who have established careers outside the professoriate in industry, government, administration, nonprofits, and more.”

If you’re interested in setting up an appointment to learn more, please call Career Services at 805-893-4412 and provide your information.