Comprehensive Networking Guide

We hear a lot about the importance of networking… But what does it mean to build, organize, and maintain your network?

Getting Started

Networking is a type of art that can work really well when you establish your own “personal brand” to help build social capital around who you know, and who knows you.

Establishing your personal brand, or what people will remember you by, can be done through how you cultivate your image, reputation, online presence, and how you communicate. 

Deesha Dyer, President Obama’s final Social Secretary to the White House outlines 7 strategies to Master Networking that are extremely useful in getting started.

  1. Begin with a Vision
  2. Assess your Surroundings
  3. Figure out your Preferred Methodologies (meetings, events, virtually)
  4. Establish what Communities or Groups you’re a part of
  5. Decide what do you have to Offer (Skills, Stories, Passions)
  6. Play the “Follow-Up Game” with a Thank You and Updates (notes & emails)
  7. Create your Trademark

For the networking process, you can use your Willamette e-mail or set up a professional e-mail. While your Willamette e-mail is great, a personal, professional e-mail will be invaluable for making new connections and keeping in contact with your network after Willamette!

Informational interviewing is a key strategy of the proactive job search that provides insights into a profession or organization and allows students to build their network and connections within career communities they are interested in exploring. The interview itself can be you meeting one on one with a professional to learn about their career and profession. Here are some tips on how to get started!

There are three general options to begin building your network which incorporate your personal network and utilizing LinkedIn.

You can get started by asking people you already know to see if they know of anyone in your field of interest. For instance, you can start with staff, professors, friends, former or current supervisors, coaches, etc. Ask if they know of anyone you can connect with. If they do, ask them to introduce you over email.

Another place to start finding people is through LinkedIn. You can access the WU Alumni Tool on LinkedIn to find Willamette grads by location, organization, or industry in the alumni search bar.

If you want to start searching outside of Willamette or Willamette Alumni, you can use the LinkedIn people search feature. To access this, click “search” followed by “people.” You can then utilize the filters to navigate LinkedIn users across the world! Under “Reaching out via LinkedIn” there are sample messages you can consider using depending on your level of knowledge about the contact before reaching out.

New to LinkedIn? Make sure to visit more LinkedIn resources on how to get started, down under the “Organizing Your Network” section.

Another great strategy for meeting new people is going to networking events and socials. Look for events based on the topic or field you are interested in. By going to events with a shared interest as others, this will make it much easier to talk with other people because you already have a conversation starter. It is recommended that you try to meet 2-3 new people at each event and get their business card or contact information to follow up with them later! 

Many Willamette Departments host Open Houses, Socials, Presentations or Speakers which are great ways to meet new professionals and expand your network.

After you find who you are interested in meeting with for an informational interview or networking purposes, it’s important to do some background research before your meeting with a professional!

  • Research people, professions, and organizations.
  • For individual people: Look at their LinkedIn profile where you can see the person’s past work history and education so you can prepare questions. If they don’t have a LinkedIn, you can also sometimes find information on their organization’s website. 
  • Research a profession: Read about the general field on O*Net or the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Both are free databases with up-to-date information on occupations and industries. 
  • Research a specific organization: This can be done with a Google search of the company name, following the organization on LinkedIn, and reading online articles. A good tip is looking at the mission and vision statements of organizations, as well as some of their recent work!

Preparing for the Informational Interview

Visit the LinkedIn Willamette Alumni page or look into career fields of interest (see “Finding People to Interview” section).

When you reach out for an informational interview, be professional. LinkedIn allows 300 characters to “Add a Note”.

Sample LinkedIn message: 

My name is (NAME), I am a current _____(year/class) at Willamette University majoring in (MAJOR). As I was researching career options, I came across your profile and would be interested in speaking with you about your professional experience. Would you be willing to connect for an informational interview?

When asking to meet people over email, use the subject line: “Informational Interview” or “Meeting/Coffee?” In the email itself, mention that you’re a college student or intern, then explain if someone recommended you to meet them, or if you are just interested in their work. For instance, if a professor, colleague, or supervisor mentioned that the two of you should connect because of a shared career interest, mention that. 

Oftentimes professionals have very busy schedules so be sure to make an effort to offer broad windows of availability to meet in order to minimize back and forth e-mailing about scheduling, as this may delay you connecting with them. Be sure to show personalized interest in their organization, and/or the work that they do. 

Below is a sample e-mail:

Dear ____, 

My name is (NAME), and my professor ____ recommended I talk with you. I’m a _____ major and I’m interested in learning more about careers in _____. I was wondering if you would be willing to talk with me about your work at _______(organization), and your career path. 

(Add details about availability here.) Thanks so much for your time. 



Refer to the aforementioned “Background Research” section to prepare.

For phone interviews and general informational interviews, make sure to schedule the date and time in advance for a meeting of about 15-20 minutes. By offering a 15-20 minute meeting time with wide availability, it will save back and forth emailing that could result in the professional losing interest. In the 20 minute increment of time, you can expect to get 4-5 questions in, but always have extras prepared if you have extra time.

For the meeting itself, dress based on the profession. If you are meeting with someone from Willamette (faculty, staff, professors, administrators, etc), what you typically wear to campus will probably be okay. If you are meeting with a professional in a career field of interest, dress professionally. Refer to our Interviewing Skills page for resources.

Prepare a list of questions! (Below are samples you can pull from).

Storytelling can be a really useful method in pairing narrative and active listening to build genuine connections. You can discuss your career interests, goals, interests, passions, clubs, associations, and your motivations. Anecdotes are great way to get a natural conversational going.

There are really three parts you want to accomplish during your informational interview:

  1. Demonstrate interest
  2. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions about the person’s career, company, job,  education, and career path
  3. Ensure you leave with the next steps clearly defined

As the discussion wraps up, try to personalize the meeting, ask about their career, issue areas, or even shared interests. At the end of the meeting, ask them to connect you with others: 

Are there additional people or professional associations you recommend I connect with? (Always make this your last question!)

The bottom line is to make sure you walk away from each meeting with an action item secured for what to do next.

Career Path Questions

  • How did you get into the industry?
  • Was there anything that surprised you about the professional world? 
  • What kind of struggles/difficulties did you encounter? How did you address them?
  • Are you in the industry/position that you thought you were going to work in when you were a student?

College Related Questions

  • What were you involved in as a student?
  • What skills did you gain from college that you find applicable to jobs you had once you graduated?
  • What advice would you have given yourself as a college student? 

Career Job & Field Questions

  • What advice would you give someone interested in this field?
  • What was your first job out of college?
  • How did you get into the industry? What was your career journey?
  • Did you need additional training/education to be considered a competitive candidate in your position/industry?
  • What does a ‘typical’ day look for you in your position?
  • What is the most rewarding part of your job?
  • Do you plan to stay in this position for a while? If not, what are your plans?
  • What do you (or your company) look for now in folks that you hire?
  • How do I reach out to someone who I’m interested in working for?
  • How does your identity affect you in your workplace?
  • What does self-care look like for you? How do you cope with any stress in your job?
  • What did you learn from college that helps you in your job now?
  • Is a graduate degree necessary for this kind of work? 
  • How does the future look for this field? How has it changed since you first started working?

Networking Question

  • Are there additional people or professional associations you recommend I connect with? (Always make this your last question!)

This cannot be stressed enough. Send an email within 24 hours after you’ve met with someone, subject line: “Follow Up/Thank You.” In that email, thank them for their time, summarize what you discussed, add some personal tidbits from the meeting, and add the specific to-do’s or next steps (both theirs if they are connecting you with someone or yours). 

Using Your Network

Some folks say to keep every business card you’ve ever received but there are more effective ways to track your network in our digital age…

Create a master spreadsheet with all of your networking contacts. While this may take more time upfront, in the long run it’s worth it. You can start by typing up all of the contents of the business cards (Name, Job Title, Organization, E-Mail, Phone Number, Website, and Social Media) in an excel or Google sheet and then recycle them. 

Our Mail Merge video below further explains this process.

Here is a template where you can make a copy for yourself.

In addition, make sure to add them on LinkedIn after you’ve met with people. LinkedIn is a great way to manage your network, keep in touch with your contacts, and organize your online professional network. Attached is a guide made by Willamette’s alumni on how to further utilize LinkedIn.

Now that you have built and organized your network, how do you keep up with it? 

Since you’ve been adding people to LinkedIn after you’ve met with them, you can post and share professional life updates there to engage your online network. 

Another great tip to keeping up with your networking is sending relevant articles to folks in your network. This is a way for people to remember you and for you to keep in touch!

If you have a very expansive and diverse network, I would recommend sending out emails when you have professional life updates or when you make a major update to your resume. This can be done through sending out a personalized email, or “mail merge,” to your entire network to keep them engaged with your professional developments. Below is a sample mail merge format.

Sample mail merge format:

Dear {First Name},

My internship at ______ (organization name) has ended and I wanted to reach out and thank you for the interest, guidance, and support you have offered me during my time interning with __________ (person/organization name). 

With the completion of my _________ (Summer/Semester/Internship) in ________(location) I plan to return to college at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in ________(major).For your convenience, I’ve attached an updated version of my resume. Thank you again for your guidance throughout my internship opportunity. 

Best Regards,


An easy way to stay in touch with your network is by using MailMerge to send career updates to your professional network.


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