Networking is perhaps the best way to hear about jobs, and informational interviewing is perhaps the best way to network when looking for a new job, considering a career change, or defining your interests.
The BUSSW Career Consultants Network, a volunteer network of nearly 300 alumni willing to assist students and other alumni in career decision making, is available through the BUSSW Career Center. The network is accessible by specialization within social work or by geographic location.
Although the network is readily available, it is not the only way to establish contacts. The more assertive you are in your networking, the better your chances of uncovering the job that fits your skills, values, and interests. Each time you talk to people in the field, ask if they know anyone else who might be helpful to you. Seek out people within agencies of interest to you and request a brief informational interview. As busy as people are, they generally like to talk about what they do and how they got there.
Prospective interviewees would typically like to be contacted by letter with an enclosed résumé. In the letter, you should include:
- An introduction—who you are
- How you got his/her name
- Why you are writing
- Next steps—when you will next be in contact
A phone call is not unacceptable, but a letter makes a good impression and gives the person time to review your résumé and think about what he/she might have to say to you. Basically, you are asking the person to share his/her experiences with you. You can get a sense of what the person does within the specialty area and agency, tips for job searching and networking, and a sense of the person’s career path. Click here for an example of a sample letter to request an interview.
Informational interviewing gives the person a chance to meet and like you. Although you can interview by phone, interviewing in person is preferable because you would like your new contact to feel comfortable referring you, should a job open in the agency. It is important to make clear to the interviewee that you are not asking for a job when you contact him/her. However, if you are impressive, he/she will remember you if they hear of a job opening.
Networking is also important because people actually practicing the social work you want to practice can give you the best sense of prospects in the field, including which agencies may have picked up contracts or received grant monies to hire or start new programs.
Be prepared for the interview. Know what you want to ask. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your life, nor do you need to know exactly which job you want. You can use the interview to shape your ideas about these things. You should, however, go in with questions that will help you get the information you need to make some decisions and expand your network. Click here for some basic interviewing guidelines.
You should not ask the interviewer to contact you. Make it clear how you can be reached, but tell him/her you will follow up your letter with a call within a week or two.
Be sure to follow up the interview with a thank-you note (either a card or a formal letter is acceptable and appropriate) and highlight what was valuable about the interview. Click here for an example of a thank-you note.