How to Get the Most Out of Your Professional Network: Informational Interviews

Sofía Becerra-Licha is project archivist at Berklee College of Music. She is also a member of the REPS steering committee. She earned her MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012.

Whether you’re a student or a new professional, chances are you’ve been advised to network and seek out mentors. In fact, you’re probably a member of REPS (or at least reading this post) because you’re seeking to connect with peers and resources that will aid you in preparing for the next steps in your career. But what does it mean to make the most of your professional network? How do you go about making professional connections?

Informational interviews are a great way to start, particularly if one-on-one conversations in a setting that encourages in-depth discussion are more your style than making the rounds at a professional mixer. It can take some courage to start setting up informational interviews, especially if you’re new to the field or the area, or if you’re not sure of your career goals.  Arguably, however, these are some of the best reasons to reach out and see what you can learn from others and informational professionals are some of the friendliest people out there.

So start small, but don’t be shy. Be as specific as possible when reaching out to people, both in terms of time and scope, but don’t be afraid to say you’re just exploring an area of interest. Look to people around you doing the kind of work you’re interested in doing, individuals working on projects or topics that interest you, or simply individuals whose career trajectory you would like to emulate. This can include supervisors, professors, colleagues, and friends. Some interactions may feel awkward, but all will be learning opportunities of some kind.

Honestly, I can’t recommend informational interviews enough: they helped inform my decision to go to library school in the first place, they steered me towards fantastic professional development opportunities as a MSLS student, and they’ve continued to be an invaluable source of support as a new professional. If nothing else, informational interviews made me realize the importance of being explicit about your long-term professional aspirations to as many people as possible.

For one, repeatedly introducing myself and articulating how my background and interests connected with the work I hoped to do meant that my career goals became increasingly nuanced and reflective with each subsequent meeting. Having developed a network of people who knew about my strengths and interests made for better references, another set of eyes and ears for internships and job opportunities, and at the very least a few more friendly faces at professional gatherings.

More concretely, it was an informational interview that opened my eyes to the fact that making the most of your internships, assistantships, and other working experience includes not just doing a fantastic job, but taking the time to take advantage of your supervisors as resources. Not every manager can or wants to be a mentor, but by being vocal about your long-term career interests (and backing that up in your work and professional activities), you can at least open the door for potential opportunities for increased responsibility or more interesting projects.

In short, informational interviews are a great first step in making the most of your professional network. They provide a platform for vocalizing your professional aspirations and passions, they can lead to mentoring relationships or other long-term collaborations or professional pay-offs, but they can also simply provide one-time opportunities to be exposed to something new. Rather than being overwhelmed at the thought of cultivating a professional network, start small, focus on areas you’re passionate about, and odds are, before you know it you’ll have a solid foundation of folks to carry you through the job search and beyond.

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