If you are an unknown candidate, employers will be less likely to take an interest in you. While you might have the right education or background to do the job well, employers tend to favor candidates who are known to them and who they know through personal experience could do the job well.
You may be asking, “how do I get to know people at a workplace where I don’t know anyone?” The best way to do this is to conduct a series of informational interviews (see below). A good place to start is by reaching out to graduate alumni from Michigan State who work at the organization you would like to work at. Second, identify the positions that would be the best fit for you and reach out to people currently working in these positions, stressing you want to learn more about the work they do. The best resources through which to find potential informational interviewees is through browsing the staff page of company’s website (if available) and also by using LinkedIn. If you’ve never used LinkedIn and are unfamiliar with how to use this tool to build your network, please read the handout on using LinkedIn that our office has developed.
Once you identify who you want to reach out to, compose a note requesting an informational interview. If you have never heard of an informational interview, this is a brief meeting (usually 20-30 minutes) in which you gather information on the work someone in your field of interest is doing. Since informational interviews can be done over the phone, do not limit yourself to professionals working your geographic region.
Remember: an informational interview is about gather information, and the purpose is not to ask for a job. Appropriate questions to ask during an informational interview include:
- How did you become interested in the work you are now doing?
- What are your major responsibilities in your current position?
- What skills are necessary to succeed in this field?
- What steps did you take in order to successfully break into this field?
- How do people new to this field like myself break in?
- What is your favorite part of your job?
- Do you recommend talking to anyone else?
For more information on informational interviewing, read the PhD Career Services handout on networking. The independent website Branching Points also has an excellent how-to guide on informational interviewing geared towards PhDs.
In general, it’s better to focus on quality, not quantity, of job applications. We recommend that you customize your resume, cover letter, and other requested materials, for each position you apply for. This requires more time and research, but also makes you a more attractive candidate to employers.