Networking is simply talking and building relationships with professionals in careers that interest you to help you learn what it's like to work in a particular role, field, or industry. Think of it as talking with people to research and gather information about careers.

What's On This Page?

Why Is Networking Important? | Who Should I Be Speaking With? | Where and When Can I Network?
What Are Informational Interviews?
| Action Steps Checklist | FAQs

Why is Networking Important?

Beyond Penn networkingYou've probably heard from many people that networking is important, but why? For the job search, networking is important because talking with people can give you unique insights into job responsibilities, company culture, and the inner workings of an organization that you may not be able to glean elsewhere. This information can then help you better present yourself in your application as a strong fit for the role and organization. Networking is also important because who you know matters a lot in the hiring process. If a hiring manager receives over 50 applications for one position, you can bet that the hiring manager will want to hear from her network which applicants she should pay close attention to. If you know someone at her organization who can give you a referral or put in a good word for you, your chances of moving forward in the next steps of the hiring process can be greatly improved.

Informational interviewsNetworking, however, takes time. Building good relationships to the point where someone would feel comfortable advocating for you cannot be done over night, so it's better to start talking with people sooner rather than later. Share information about your background, interests, and achievements with professionals you meet, and remember to stay in touch to keep the relationship going. The more often you network, the more people you'll be in touch with and the stronger your professional relationships will be as you navigate your career. Don't forget to keep track of who you've reached out to using a spreadsheet, app, or another organizing tool. You can take a look at the spreadsheet included in the Career Guide on Informational Interviews for graduate students and postdocs as a sample. Knowing who you've connected with over time will be helpful when you're ready to begin your job search.

Who Should I Be Speaking With?

NetworkingStart with the people you know first; these are people already in your network. Think of colleagues, friends, classmates, labmates, former supervisors, mentors, family relatives, neighbors, and anyone else you've been in contact with throughout your life. Are there people in your social circle in jobs and careers that interest you? After networking with those you already know, you'll want to network with those you don't know. Do those in your social circle know other people they can connect you with? Can they faciliate an introduction for you? Having a friend or colleague in common often makes it easier for you to network with someone you haven't met before.

Beyond your own network, there are thousands of Penn alums around the world that are also part of your network. LinkedIn and QuakerNet, Penn's Alumni Online Community, feature over 150,000 alums in a range of fascinating and meaningful careers. You can use both platforms in conjunction in your research; sometimes you might find information, like an email address, on QuakerNet that isn't available on LinkedIn and vice versa. The fact that you are affiliated with Penn is a great way to establish rapport and build a relationship with professionals. Don't forget to also tap into the alumni networks of other institutions you have attended. 

Where and When Can I Network?

NetworkingThe short answer is everywhere! In addition to networking using online platforms, you can network in more structured settings like academic and professional conferences by engaging with people during sessions, breaks, and meal times. You can also network during Penn alumni panels and receptions by asking questions and sharing information about yourself. Networking in less formal settings is also helpful, whether it's striking up a conversation with someone seated next to you on the plane, reconnecting with old classmates at your college reunion, or chatting with someone at a friend's wedding. 

The best time to network is when you don't need a job! Imagine if you're a professional, and a graduate student contacts you to learn about your career and shares that she is finishing up her PhD in one month and will need a job soon. How would you feel? Would you feel slightly nervous that this student might expect you to help her find a job? Perhaps you might decide not to meet with her? To ensure that professionals will be as candid and helpful as possible, it's best to network when you are not under the pressue of needing a job in the near future. 

Career FairsCareer fairs are also an excellent way to network and learn more about careers and employers. Employers that are interested in hiring Penn students come to campus every year with the goal of recruiting top talent and filling their hiring needs. By researching the employers attending the fairs ahead of time, you'll be able to speak with recruiters and Penn alums who represent their employers and ask them questions that can give you insights into particular career paths and work cultures. Each year, Career Services organizes several career fairs in the fall and spring semesters that are open to all graduate students and postdocs. 

If you are under time pressure to find a job, we encourage you to network to gather information about career paths, employers, and roles, but do not ask for a job directly. Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake, and we'll be happy to help you as you network and apply for jobs concurrently. 

What Are Informational Interviews?

Career GuideInformational interviews are one-on-one conversations that you have with professionals to gather information about their career path, the jobs they've had, the industries they've been in, employers they're familiar with, emerging and future trends in their fields, the skills they've developed and used, and more. Think of them as just having a chat with someone to learn about their professional experiences. Remember, the goal of informational interviews is NOT to ask for a job, but rather, to seek information that can help you chart your own career path more effectively.

Once you conduct an informational interview, you can then use the information you've gleaned to make yourself a stronger applicant when you're ready to apply for the type of jobs you have been learning about. You might even learn that some career paths are not going to be a great match for your skills, interests, or values -- this is helpful, too. To learn more, download our Career Guide on Informational Interviews for graduate students and postdocs.

Action Steps Checklist

Below are some suggestions on how you can network throughout your time at Penn. Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to strategize your networking plan, to give us an update on your networking, and to ask us any questions you may have. 

Action steps

Identify and attend networking opportunities in your department, school, organizations, and at Penn.

Action steps

Attend Career Fairs at Penn to learn about specific employers and industries. 

Action steps

Download and review the Career Guide on Informational Interviews for Graduate Students and Postdocs.

Action steps

Consider your academic, professional, and social networks and reach out to those you already know to learn more about their careers.

Action steps

Use QuakerNet and LinkedIn to find alums in your networks with whom to conduct informational interviews.

Action steps

Craft an outreach email that you can use to request informational interviews from professionals.

Action steps

Conduct at least 2-4 informational interviews each year; more if you're near the end of your program.

Action steps

Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to discuss your networking progress.

Action steps

Check out articles related to networking from Carpe Careers, a weekly column focused on career and professional development for graduate students and postdocs that provides personal, optimistic, actionable advice.

Action steps

Move on to the next step in your career planning: Professionalize & Gain Experience


Q: What are some networking tips for someone who is an introvert?
A: Networking in settings with a lot of people can often feel overwhelming and even intimidating. Prepare for networking events ahead of time if you can. Try to figure out who you'd like to speak with, read their biographies, and prepare a few questions beforehand. If you're nervous or uncertain about situations where you will be meeting new people, focus on connecting with people one-on-one at the beginning so you can feel more comfortable as the networking event progresses. If you see someone standing alone in the food line, for example, that can be a perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation. As you talk to more people and get introduced to others, it'll be easier to insert yourself into slightly larger group conversations. Another way to ease your anxiety around networking is to help others when you can, like making introductions for people who don't know each other and volunteering for a small task at the event.
Q: What should I do after I've spoken with a new professional contact? How should I stay
in touch and keep the relationship going?
A: Whether you meet a new contact from a networking event, an informational interview, or through personal introductions, always connect with that person on LinkedIn with a personalized message and express your thanks for the conversation or connection. Connecting on LinkedIn will also allow you to stay in touch with that person--you can "like" their updates and comment on their posts, for example. Other ways to continue your relationship include sending that person a message if you have a professional update, like starting a new role or graduating from your program, sharing an article or book recommendation, and asking relevant questions. If that person will be at an event that you're attending as well, that can be a great opportunity to meet up again.
Q: How can I make the most of career fairs if I'm not actively looking for a job?
A: It's helpful to attend career fairs when you don't need a job, so that when you eventually do, you'll know what to expect. These events can be a great career exploration tool given the diversity of career fields represented by the employers who attend. If you haven't been to a fair yet, do some research ahead of time to figure out which employers will be attending and look up their company websites to understand what they do and what roles they hire for. You'll want to take some time to come up with specific questions to ask recruiters and representatives. Are you curious about what skills are most relevant for their opportunities? Or how you can best prepare yourself for an internship or full-time opportunity with an employer? Beyond that, make sure that you're ready to answer the "Tell me about yourself" question. You shouldn't have an answer memorized verbatim, but be prepared to share information about yourself that is relevant to the employer. This will allow you to network with recruiters and forge a connection with the employer.
Q: I have been doing a lot of networking, but I haven't gotten a job offer out of it yet. Am I doing
something wrong?
A: If you're speaking with people in career fields that you're interested in, attending networking events, and staying in touch with the contacts you've made, you're doing the right things to stay on track for your job search. Networking is about building professional relationships, and this process takes time. It is not a transactional relationship, and the point of approaching professionals when you network is not to ask for or expect a job. However, you should feel assured that the time you've spent networking has been worthwhile. If you've been learning new information about a career field or employer, gaining insights into different experiences and perspectives of the roles you're interested in, and expanding your professional network, then you're actively working towards what will be a successful job search. You can use this information to write more tailored resumes and cover letters, and you will find that you have smarter questions you can ask new people that you meet in the field, and this will definitely put you in a good light.
Q: How long do I have to network for in order to get a job?
A: There's no set timeline for networking, since networking is a lifelong process throughout your career. We recommend that you start networking before you need a job. If you are currently in your last year of your program before you graduate, start networking as soon as possible by attending networking events and reaching out to colleagues, friends, and alumni for informational interviews. While networking does not guarantee that you'll receive a job offer in a given amount of time, it will allow you to gain knowledge and develop professional contacts that could help you through the application and interviewing processes that can lead to a job offer. The information that you acquire and the network that you develop can also be useful in your career five or ten years down the line.
Q: When I reach out to people, no one gets back in contact with me. Why is this?
A: Since everyone receives an overwhelming amount of email everyday, it's common for some people to not respond to your initial email as it moves further down in their inbox. However, if you're not hearing back after following up with people, you may want to review how you've written your outreach messages. Make sure that you compose a brief email that introduces who you are, what you have in common with that person, and how you came across their name. You also want to make clear what your "ask" is and frame it as a question. Don't forget to end your email with gratitude. If you'd like to see a sample outreach email, take a look at our Career Guide on Informational Interviews. You can also discuss the approach you are taking with a career advisor, and so set up an appointment to talk about adapting your strategy.