Jul 05

Networking: Your Tactical Advantage to Stand Out from the Crowd

Today’s blog post was written by Larry Milks, Graduate Career Consultant for the College of Engineering.


Whether you are a 1st year grad student looking for an internship, or a 5th year student approaching the last stages of degree completion, or somewhere in between, at some point you will face the sometimes daunting challenge of seeking meaningful employment among scarce options in a highly competitive environment. So how can you set yourself apart and stand out from the crowd? How can you gain a competitive advantage?

The answer is NETWORKING! Forbes senior editor Susan Adams cites data that show 42% of 59,133 job seekers obtained their position as a result of networking. The next highest source of obtaining work was internet job boards at 21%. Networking is twice as productive as job boards in this survey and far more effective than any other single job search strategy such as using a search agency or online system.

However, as I talk with students I find that many are reluctant to network and find it a bit intimidating, particularly when they are considering asking for an informational interview, perhaps the richest form of networking. They have some fear that they will be rejected, that the person they reach out to won’t have time for them or even want to talk with them. Others are not really sure how to go about it. So be encouraged, you are not alone, and there are good antidotes to these issues.

First, consider for a moment that an undergrad in your department approached you with something like this.

“Hi Feng, I’m an undergrad in electrical engineering and getting ready to graduate next year. I’m thinking though my future and am wondering if a PhD in EE would be a good fit for me. Would you be willing to spend 15-20 minutes with me to help me understand how you decided to take that route, and what it’s like to be a grad student doing research? Maybe I could even meet you in your lab for this conversation so I could get a sense of the environment and get a peek behind the scenes.”

I’m quite sure that most of you would be happy to help out such an earnest and thoughtful student who is interested in considering the path you have taken. You would probably even find it rewarding to be able to share a bit from your life with a younger student. You would also likely be quite supportive and speak positively with your DGS if they did apply in the future.

If you had pressing deadlines at the moment, then you would politely decline the student’s request, but likely you would have an idea of someone else who could help. Alternatively, you might just suggest a delay in the meeting to accommodate your schedule.

Now reverse the roles, and realize that those people you would like to do an informational interview with will generally want to be helpful, just like you would be for the undergraduate. When they understand you are not asking them for a job, but seeking to understand their career area and how to best prepare for a move in that direction, they might even be honored that you asked them. They will also remember you when a future position becomes available in their organization.

In my own recent job search this past year I reached out to 8 different college career advisors. These were all cold call emails with no one to introduce me to them first. I received “yes” responses from 4 of these 8! Imagine the improved response rate that you will get if you can find a bridge person to introduce you to the individual you hope to interview!

Irish Compass is a great resource which can connect you with ND alumni who have already agreed to do informational interviews for ND students! Additionally, they could possibly be a bridge person who introduces you to the individual at their company who would be a perfect fit for an informational interview given your specific needs.

So be bold! Reach out! You have nothing to lose and much to gain!

Do you have a story to tell about how networking has worked for you? Please share below!

P.S. For more on this see strategic networking