I know I need to do more networking but I’m not the most confident person in the world. How can I be a more confident networker?
The Career Doctor responds:
One way is to buddy up with someone else. You can hold each other accountable and give each other morale support as you build confidence and networking skills.
Another way is through informational interviewing.
Informational interviewing is just what it sounds like-interviewing designed to produce information. What kind of information? The information you need to choose or refine a career path learn how to break in and find out if you have what it takes to succeed. Informational interviewing is an expanded form of chatting with your network contacts. It’s the process of engaging one of your network contacts in a highly focused conversation that provides you with key information you need to launch or boost your career. The term “informational interviewing” was invented by Richard Nelson Bolles author of the best-selling career guide of all time What Color Is Your Parachute? Bolles refers to the process as “trying on jobs to see if they fit you.” He notes that most people screen jobs and companies after they’ve already taken a job while informational interviewing gives you the opportunity to conduct the screening process before going after or accepting a position.
An informational interview is not the same as a job interview by any means but it is probably the most effective form of networking there is. I require my students to perform three informational interviews per semester. Most of them are skeptical about the assignment in the beginning but I can’t tell you how many have ended the semester amazed and delighted with how much they learned and how influential the process was for their careers. I’m not the only teacher whose students have been thrilled with informational interviews. In her book A Foot in the Door my partner Katharine Hansen quotes Terry Carles a student recruitment counselor at Valencia Community College who reported “I teach career development and my students are required to do an informational interview. Every semester someone returns with a job internship etc. from their experience. One student completed an informational interview with a network administrator and returned the next week with a job offer.”
I’ve had students who have realized as a result of informational interviewing that their career paths and even their majors are totally wrong for them. They made this discovery when there was still time to make a course correction. Others haven’t needed such a drastic change but have adjusted their assumptions and expectations based on what they learned in the interviews. When you are considering entering or changing to a certain career it just makes all kinds of sense to talk to people in that field. Yet most people never do. They trust their professors textbooks or romantic notions about professions gleaned from TV or movies. When you really think about it you miss out on an incredible opportunity if you fail to research your career field by talking to people in it.