How to Use Networking to Explore Career Options

If you are unsure of a major or career path, you might have already taken a few steps to try to explore what some of your options are. Maybe you have done research online about different careers that relate to your major(s) of interest. You could have also taken Focus 2, a self assessment that helps you to connect your skills, interests, and values with career options. You might have also talked with parents, friends, and advisors about what potential career options could be. Chances are, after doing all of these things, you might still have doubts or uncertainties about what the right career path is for you.

While career research is helpful as a starting point, simply reading about careers online or talking to others about job descriptions does not give you an accurate idea of what it would be like to actually have this career. It cannot tell you the day-to-day life of that particular job or describe how that career fits in with the unique hobbies and values that you have. The best way to gain a sense of what working in a particular industry is like is to ask someone who is currently where you see yourself being in the next few years. Reach out to alumni and set up informational interviews with them to learn more about what their careers look like. They can offer a lot of advice and tell you much more about a career than what you can read online!

How to Find Alumni to Network With

  • LinkedIn: The most popular professional networking platform is LinkedIn. Binghamton University has a LinkedIn page where every alumni that has a LinkedIn profile is listed! Search and filter results on this page to see if anyone looks interesting to you and send them connection requests.
  • Mentor Match: This platform is exclusive for Binghamton University students and alumni and serves as a place for connections and mentoring. Create an account, fill in your information and interests, and Mentor Match will match you with a list of alumni who are a good fit for your goals and interests. From there, reach out and ask to set up an informational interview.
  • Ask Around: The person with the answers to all your career questions might end up being a second connection in your network! Reach out to professors, friends, family, and others you know to see if anyone can connect you with a professional in your field of interest. Professors are an especially good resource for this since they are well established in their industry and often keep in contact with previous students. See who knows someone they can introduce you to.

How to Conduct an Informational Interview

Okay, so you’ve connected with an alumnus . . . now what? Get ready for an informational interview! Ask them if they have 15-30 minutes that they can spare to talk to you over a Zoom or phone call and prepare a list of things you want to discuss.

Here are a few helpful tips for conducting an informational interview:

  • Research the alumnus before your interview. Make sure you have a good idea of their background and work history.
  • Prepare a list of questions you want to ask. Make sure these are things that you genuinely want to know and will help you in your career exploration. For example, you could ask any of the following questions:
    • What does a typical day look like in your role?
    • What skills or programs do you use the most in your role?
    • What is something that you found surprising about your role?
    • Is there anything about your career that you don’t like?
  • Make sure to talk about yourself as well! This will help it feel more like a conversation and lead to a stronger connection.

After the Informational Interview

Once the informational interview has ended, you will know much more about your new connection’s career and what your future could look like if you decide to go down a similar path. Be sure to reach back out within a day after your conversation to thank them for their time and information.

What did the informational interview tell you? If this seems like a career you could see yourself in, it is time to do more research on entry level position requirements and potential internships or other opportunities in that field. Also be sure to keep in contact with the professional and schedule more informational interviews in the future with them! They have even more knowledge and advice that they can share as you move forward down this path.

You might have also discovered that this career path is not a good fit for you. That is also valuable information! You are working your way towards narrowing down your options and settling on a good match. Look into other alumni in different fields who you can meet with next.

By Julia Sullivan '20
Julia Sullivan '20 Assistant Director of Communications