So You're Looking For A Summer Internship: The Networking Game

Welcome to part two of my four-part summer internship series! If you’re taking this internship search journey with me, you’ll remember last week’s daunting beginnings of looking for opportunities through your existing network of friends, family, and professors. I touched on the power of LinkedIn as a tool to expand that network, and this week we’re diving deeper into what I like to call The Networking Game: a set of procedures one typically does to land just the right connections with the coolest people at the coolest companies. (Or so we hope). It forces us to shoot our shot (despite often getting ghosted… but thanks to the New York dating scene we’re used to that anyway), get a little uncomfortable, and grow as the confident, qualified undergrads we are, chock full of potential. 

Before we start The Networking Game, let’s finish off last week’s LinkedIn tangent. You’ve connected with dozens of professionals and sent out a handful of messages requesting a brief conversation. Your phone dings with a LinkedIn notification, and to your delight, someone has finally responded! They are willing to speak with you! Great. Now what? Well, once you’ve set up a time and determined your method of communication (phone call, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc) it’s time to prepare for what’s called an informational interview. If you’ve never done one of these before, I’ll guide you through your first one. Let the games begin! woman sitting at laptop Photo by cottonbro from Pexels An informational interview isn’t an actual interview, but rather a Q + A of sorts to learn about your industry of interest from someone in the field. You’re interviewing them, not the other way around! This is your chance to get a candid take on the actual nature of the industry you’re looking into. An informational interview can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, so you should prepare your questions accordingly. Here’s a list of questions I like asking:

  • How did you become interested in this field? / How did you begin your career in this field?

  • What are your main responsibilities as a [insert role here]?

  • What does your day-to-day look like as a [insert role here]? 

  • If you’ve connected based on a shared undergraduate major: How relevant is your work to your undergraduate major? 

  • What advice would you give an undergraduate student like myself exploring careers in this field?

  • Might you have any books or other resources related to this field that you would recommend?

 

Another great thing trick to have up your sleeve in The Networking Game is an elevator pitch. Your elevator pitch is your 30-60 second opportunity to talk about yourself and your interests--just enough time to make a great first impression to a potential employer you meet in an elevator (with masks on, of course). In the context of an informational interview, an elevator pitch is a great way to start off the conversation and give your interviewee an idea of who you are and how they can help you. I typically use my elevator pitch as a way to open up my first question, ending it off with something like: “So that’s a little bit about me, I’d love to hear a bit about your career journey as well!” Below is a loose guideline you may want to consider as you craft your golden first impression: 

Background information: Your name, program of study, and graduation date at TNS

Job Target: Role (not job title), Industry, Where, When 

Transferable Experience: Sector, selected work

Strengths: Research and knowledge areas, one accomplishment

Special skills: Languages or other industry-related skills 

 

Another thing: calm those nerves! The good thing about an informational interview is there’s no concrete internship at stake, so you’re under way less pressure to perform. You’re there to learn, and the person on the other end has willingly agreed to help you out! In fact, they’ll likely be doing most of the talking while you absorb it all like a sponge (or discreetly take notes if you’re as forgetful as I am).

Now, let’s say you’ve had a great conversation with someone who happens to work at a company with internship opportunities available. I’ll typically end a conversation like this off with the following question: “What advice might you have for someone like me looking to dip my toe into this field? I’m looking for summer internships but don’t quite know how to navigate my search.” This gives my interviewee the opportunity to tell me about any internships available at their company, but whether they do so-- or even better, offer to refer me-- is up to them. I’ve gotten a couple of referrals from this tactic, so I recommend using it when appropriate. Side note: I chickened out once and instead brought this question up in a thank-you email, and the referral worked out here, too. 

Speaking of thank-you emails, do not forget to thank the people you’ve spoken to! This is SUCH an important step in blossoming your professional relationships, no matter how helpful the call may or may not have been. I recommend sending a quick thank you 12-48 hours after your conversation. This leaves your communication with the person on a positive note and increases the likelihood that they’ll give you professional guidance and support in the future. Brownie points if you mention your key takeaways from the conversation!

Whew! That was a lot, but with a little time and preparation, you’ll play The Networking Game like a champ. And who knows-- these informational interviews may lead you to the just-right connection with that cool person at that cool company.

Next week I’ll talk real interview prep, but in the meantime, go crush those informational interviews!