I moved to DC this past May with no network, no fall internship offer, and very little knowledge of the employment landscape of the DMV area. I knew that I would need industry connections and a better understanding of the opportunities available to successfully navigate recruiting this fall and spring, and so I spent the bulk of my free time over the summer reaching out to anyone even remotely connected to me, requesting informational interviews. A few hundred cold emails, InMails, and connection requests later I stand one week away from starting an internship at the U.S. Treasury, confident in my understanding of the employment landscape and connected to a substantial number of working professionals across the various federal agencies and private companies I’m exploring recruiting opportunities with for the coming year.
Between May and August, I reached out to more than 300 alumni and second-degree connections, and met personally with more than 80 individuals who work for firms in the DMV area that interest me. The process helped me build a network of working professionals across the various financial services firms and agencies in DC, and allowed me to build valuable networking skills that will undoubtedly benefit me for years to come.
The informational interview process in a nutshell:
- Define your firms of interest
Hash out a list of all firms that interest you, even those you aren’t familiar with. Have an open mind and cast a wide net at this stage – you want to have lots of options when searching for connections.
- Search for connections
LinkedIn is a powerful tool for networking, and using some of the more advanced search options you can identify alumni, former colleagues, and second degree connections who work for your firms of interest. Identify as many potential connections as possible – remember that many of your inquiries will never be opened or answered, so more is better here.
- Reach out
At this point in the process, I started a spreadsheet to keep track of who I had reached out to, how I did so, and whether they responded. In many cases, you’ll be reaching out using LinkedIn’s InMail (this requires a LinkedIn Premium account, which is well worth the cost for those who need to network heavily for a period of time), though you can sometimes find an individual’s email address or other point of contact published online. Your message should be brief, and should state in short why you’re reaching out and how you are connected (we went to the same school, we used to work for the same company, we contribute to the same organizations). Offering to meet briefly over coffee is a good starting point for most connections, and you can also let people know that you’re looking to hear about their experience with “X Company,” and not simply hunting for an internal referral.
Set up meetings with those who respond to your inquiry. Always offer to meet wherever is most convenient for your contact – remember, these people are taking time out of their schedules to meet with you, so make the process easy for them. Have a few questions on hand to keep the conversation moving, and be sure to present yourself well. Never directly ask for an internal referral during an informational interview, even if that is ultimately your motivation for reaching out (this wasn’t the case for me, as I was simply building my network). Often, though, if whoever you are meeting with is impressed, they will offer to refer you internally should you ever need it down the road. Always try to pick up the tab for those who agree to meet with you as a “thank you” for taking the time to talk about their experience and career path.
You should always send an email thanking your connection for meeting with you – do this within a few days after your meeting and keep the message brief.