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Networking 101

What is networking?

Networking is a fancy word for meeting people and growing your network of professional connections. Networking occurs in every setting – in a formal meeting, at a party, at a happy hour, waiting for a train – everywhere!

Whether you have a job or are looking for one, meeting new people and connecting with people to get things done is what the progressive movement is all about!

Jump to: Coffee Meetings and Informational Interviews

Networking Checklist:

  • Make your Network List. Keep a spreadsheet of all your contacts and their information (or better yet, use LinkedIn). This includes coworkers (current and past), supervisors, current friends, old friends, college friends, family, people from volunteer, sports and professional organizations, college alumni networks, LinkedIn and Facebook connections - anyone you can think of. This initial step is critical – everyone you know has the potential to know someone that can land you your perfect job! Always add to it. It’s a great way to track contacts suggested by others.

  • Reach out to your contacts. Send individual personal emails to tell people you’re looking and what you’d like to do next. Blast e-mails can sometimes be OK. Attach your resume to these e-mails. See Job Search 201: Targeting Organizations for more detailed information on how to do this.

  • Actively expand your network. Join alumni associations, groups, sports teams, membership organizations etc. Get out there – happy hours, conferences, gatherings, parties!

  • Sign up for LinkedIn and build your profile. LinkedIn is a super-important way to connect to people. Use their tools to find out who people you know are connected to. Ask old coworkers to recommend you.

  • Google yourself. Know what others will find when they look for you. If there’s something that doesn’t look so great, then try to get rid of it. Take down those pictures of you on Facebook playing beer pong!

  • Go on as many coffee meetings and informational interviews as possible! It’s the best way to expand your network and connect to people who might have jobs they aren’t posting. Ask people to introduce you to others.

  • Stay organized and follow up! Make sure that if you haven’t talked to someone in a while you’re reminding them that you’re looking. Send them an updated resume and ‘check in’. People won’t think of you when they hear of an open position unless you remind them to think of you. A good rule of thumb is "one email every two-three weeks” to make sure people know you are still looking and to keep you in the forefront of their mind.

  • Use your network to lobby for a job. If there is a specific job you really want, see who knows people at that organization, campaign or firm. Ask them to call and put in a good word for you.

Things to keep in mind…

  • Do thank-you notes! Handwritten are the best (informational or regular interview).

  • Do NOT talk badly of others or experiences. The progressive movement is a small world. Not only will they find out, but you’ll look unprofessional. Practice what you’ll say if asked about a certain experience that didn’t go well or person with whom you didn’t work well. Be mature.

  • Be interesting. Don’t just talk about work and progressive issues. Remember, you’re trying to build a relationship.

  • Chill out! If you sent an email Monday morning, don’t expect an email back that day. People are busy. Just because they don’t email you back in the first few days doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong.

  • Remember – it’s not you! If you don’t hear back from people, don’t get an interview for a position, or don’t hear back after an interview, don’t forget – it’s probably not you! This happens all the time. Try to have a thick skin and move forward.

  • Help others! Karma.


Coffee Meetings and Informational Interviews

Meeting people in person is the best way to expand your network and learn more about job opportunities. Make sure you learn about the two most powerful tools in your job-search arsenal: the coffee meeting and the informational interview.

The upside: Coffee meetings and informational interviews are incredibly common in the progressive movement. Literally everyone is doing it, so don’t feel nervous or awkward! (Well, not too nervous or awkward).

The downside: Be prepared to receive no response to some requests or even outright rejection. If everyone is rejecting you, you are doing something wrong (follow the tips below); however, it is inevitable that you will be rejected or ignored at least a few times. Don’t take it personally; people are busy. Move on.

Coffee Meetings – Less Formal but Still Professional

Use coffee meetings when:

  • You are making connections for a new position in the same field, career path or sector
  • You would like general advice or information about a field, career path or sector (NOT about a specific job or organization)
  • You would like to hear about a person’s overall career path and experiences
  • Someone has been recommended to you as a general resource

Tone: Relaxed yet professional.

Location: Coffee meetings will likely be at a more relaxed or informal location, such as a coffee shop.

Duration: Coffee meetings can run anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour.


Informational Interviews – More Formal and Specific

Use informational interviews when:

  • You are doing more intensive research about a potential field, career path or sector that you are less familiar with
  • You are interested in a specific position at a company
  • You are targeting a specific company to work at that may not have an open position yet, but you want to get on their radar when a position does open

Tone: Professional. Treat this as an interview in all but formal business attire.

Location: Informational interviews can take place anywhere, but they are somewhat more likely to take place at the person’s or organization’s offices.

Duration: Informational interviews may run a bit longer, 30 minutes to 1 hour. But still be sure to respect the time of the person you are meeting with!


Tips for Great Coffee Meetings and Informational Interviews

Setting Up the Meeting

  • Make your ask brief. E-mails requesting these meetings should not be longer than 100 words.
  • Share your connection with this person and what you hope to learn. Polite flattery and kindness go a long way. People love to help others and to share information about themselves.
  • If you don’t receive a response, follow up a week later.Some people recommend contacting the party a third time; it’s your call. If you don’t receive a response the third time, let it go and find other people to talk to.
  • Be flexible on time and location. You have a schedule and a life as well,so don’t feel the need to rearrange the universe to meet. But be mindful of the person’s schedule and work location and try to meet them at a mutually convenient location and time.
  • If you are requesting an informational interview and are interested in a specific position at this person’s organization: WITHOUT asking for a job, let the person know you are interested in this particular position and that you hope to learn more about it and the organization’s culture.

Preparing for the Meeting

  • Spend at least 30 minutes researching the person’s employer and position. You should go in well versed in the mission, primary programs and key players at the organization.
  • Come up with a list of questions that a) are substantive and b) you actually want to know the answer to! Your questions should help you learn more about the nature of the work, the organizational culture, the mission/vision, and future organizational plans. You should also take the opportunity to ask about the role of the organization in the broader movement and with which other groups they work.
  • Especially for the informational interview, prepare answers to possible questions that you will be asked.Treat it as an interview (because it is!)

During the Meeting

  • Dress neatly. No need to wear a suit, but don’t wear ripped clothing or clothing that shows a lot of skin. Be tasteful. Bring an umbrella.
  • It is OK if the person offers to buy you coffee or a snack; accept graciously. Be prepared to pay your own way (much more common).
  • You’re in charge. You were the one to call the meeting, and you should start out with a quick recap of who you are and what you are interested in. Do NOT sit back, fold your hands and wait for your interviewee to start talking. It’s up to you to get the information you want and need out of this process!
  • Prioritize your questions in case the person has to cut the meeting short.
  • Respect the time of the person you are meeting with. Don’t ramble. If an hour has passed, end the meeting gracefully, even if the person seems to have more time.
  • Do NOT ask for a job.This support will come later, once you have developed and nurtured this relationship.

At the End of the Meeting

  • Always ask: "Who else would be good for me to talk with about this career path/industry?” or "Can you recommend any other companies or organizations I should look into?”
  • If there is a specific position open at their organization in which you are interested: "After hearing more about X position, I am even more interested because of X. I plan to apply for the position immediately. Do you have any recommendations for navigating the hiring process?” Follow the person’s lead. If you have prepared for your interview, asked questions and have come across as genuine, people will want to help you and may forward your resume or suggest another course of action.
  • Say thank you!

After the Meeting

  • Write a thank-you note. E-mail is fine in most cases these days, but handwritten notes are also great.
  • Prompt follow-up with other actions. If the person has asked for your resume or any other follow-up was discussed, do it promptly.
  • A few weeks later, tell the contact how you followed his/her advice. Write him/her a quick note thanking them again and explaining what steps you have taken since the interview. People love to know that their advice has been followed, and it keeps you in the top of their minds if any opportunities arise.
  • If anyone asks YOU for an informational interview, say yes! Pay it forward. You never know whether today’s recent college graduate could be in a position to help you in the future, and you can feel good knowing you helped her in her success.

These are just the basics; networking, coffee meetings and informational interviewing is covered extensively elsewhere online, and it is no different in the progressive realm. Check out:

Alison Green’s "Ask A Manager” blog posts about networking’s section on networking

Steve Dalton’s book The 2-Hour Job Search

Want more help? Check out our trainings in our Career Center