Networking is not something that comes naturally to me. I'm pretty lame at staying in touch, I stress about meeting strangers and using the phone. But all the experts agree, networking is the key to landing your dream job. I used to think this meant I was going to have to meet someone who needed to hire someone like me, then coyly mention how great I would be for this job so they might consider making me an offer. Not so,but you do need your network to help you hear about jobs, and to help you appear to be a great candidate for them. So, I'm working on it.
One networking tool I am trying to use a lot right now is the informational interview. I hope to be sharing more of my interviews with you, but in case I am not talking to people with your dream job, here are a few tips about how to do an informational interview so you can get the information you need for your own job search. But first, the purpose of an informational interview is to learn from someone who has been through the same process you are facing. You aren't asking for a job. You probably aren't talking to someone who could hire you anyway. Most people are willing to share their experience if it is clear you aren't going to ask more of them.
First, who to talk to. It's great if you know someone directly, or maybe one person removed that you can ask to talk to. My most recent interview was an e-introduction from someone I was also e-introduced to, which is just shy of a cold call. If you can find a person who has a position or worked for a company you are interested in, chances are they would be willing to talk to you. Have you ever talked to an undergrad about getting in to graduate school? Then you can understand why someone professional might be willing to talk to you, just be brave and reach out.
Second, getting the interview. Once you've found someone who is interesting, send them an email or call them to ask for a couple minutes of their time. My last couple emails out were a few lines, to 1) Introduce myself, 2) Explain my interest in them and 3) ask if they'd be willing to talk. In my experience, a phone call or face to face visit is easiest for the interview, and it needn't take more than half an hour.
Third, what do you talk about. My last several interviews, I've had about 4 questions. You probably know generally what this person does, but the reason you are talking to them is to learn about how they got there, and specifics about their job. So when you introduce yourself, take a moment to explain why you want to talk to them, "I'm really interested in pursuing a career in drug development, but I am not sure how to make the switch to clinical research. Your colleagues told me you are very happy in your job, so I was hoping you could tell me about how you got there." Or "I'm interested in working for Pfizer, but I haven't had much success finding a job posting that matches my qualifications. Can you tell me about how you found your position?" Again, you aren't asking for a job, you are getting information to help you find a job or ace an interview, or navigate your fellowship application or some other aspect of the job hunt that you need some guidance on. Although this isn't meant to be a journalistic endeavor, I tend to scribble some notes, and just let the professional talk. Respect their time, try to keep this to about 30 min.
Fourth, say thank you. Wait a day or at least a few hours and then send a follow up email, first to the person you talked to. You want to have something to follow up with, "Thanks for your advice, I've been exploring the webistes you've pointed me to and have found a lot of great information there," "I am looking into the certifications you reccomended," etc. And did you find this person through a mutual contact? Thank them for their help, too. You want to reinforce to everyone that speaking with you was a good use of their time, in case you have more questions later.
Try this to get access to the information you need at every stage of your career.