Often, a job seeker will jump to a question like “Do you know of any openings that would fit my background?” Chances are the networking contact doesn't know of a specific opening at the moment, and the conversation stalls there, becoming awkward for both. So… Truth #1 – Asking for a job or internship may harm networking relationships! It may sound counterintuitive to not ask. After all, the conversation is about looking for job leads, isn't it? Well, yes, and no. As soon as they realize you're looking for a job/internship, they understand that you're interested in leads. In the course of the conversation you should certainly tell them that if they know of, or come across an opportunity you would appreciate the referral. However, don't put them on the spot at the moment by asking them if they know of leads directly.
So what is the objective and what should you ask? Although you hope they may offer up a potential job or internship lead, your objective in each conversation is to get 2 or 3 additional people to talk to.
Networking Myths and Truths
Myth: The purpose of networking is to get a job or internship.
Truth: The purpose of networking is to make connections with professionals in fields that interest you, which can lead to opportunities. Don't ask for a job or internship! Chances are the networking contact doesn't know of a specific opening at the moment, and the conversation stalls there, becoming awkward for both of you.
Myth: Your networking contact's current position is your dream job in your dream location.
Truth: It is rare to find a contact who is in the exact field, job, organization, and location that interests you. Try to find someone that meets one or two of these areas, instead of all four.
Myth: Since an informational interview is a conversation, you don't really need to prepare.
Truth: If you prepare, you're much more likely to leave a good and lasting impression. Show up with good questions. Have a copy of your resume or business cards (there are several places that print these for free). Do your research on the individual and organization so you'll be prepared to ask informed follow-up questions and respond intelligently to questions they may ask you.
Myth: You can only ask about their job.
Truth: There are many aspects that influence a job. You don't want to ask personal questions, but use this opportunity to ask about living in the city where they work. Ask about the culture of the industry or insight into the field in general. Get tips for finding an internship or job. These are all non-threatening and people are happy to share.
Myth: Your contact is limited to their personal experience.
Truth: They, too, have a whole network of professionals who can provide different perspectives. Ask your contact for referrals! They often will have 2-3 other people that they can suggest you talk to.
Myth: Networking is more important the closer you get to graduation.
Truth: It is fundamental to the beginning of your career exploration process. Networking allows you to gain information that will help you decide if you want to do this kind of work before you commit. Networking opportunities can be used to help advance your search or to find out if this is even something you want to do with your life or even just your summer. It is just as helpful to rule out things you do not want to do, as it is to find things you do want to do.