Careers and Employability Centre


Many job opportunities are not openly advertised but are filled by people who are already known to the organisation. You can increase your chances of finding out about these vacancies by utilising your personal network and developing new contacts.

Your contacts might come from: 

  • friends, family, neighbours, friends of family or family of friends
  • tutors, fellow students and Sussex alumni
  • work/volunteering colleagues (current or previous)
  • professional bodies.
How to develop your network
  • Ask your current contacts if they can put you in touch with people they know who work in areas of interest
  • Find names of people to contact from job advertisements, news articles, web searches or by phoning an organisation
  • Seek out more opportunities to meet people in your preferred sector - conferences, exhibitions, fairs might be free to attend
  • Join Sussex Connect, a members-only site for former and current Sussex students to connect for mentoring and networking. Great for insights and advice about different careers. Please be aware that any advice given is not moderated by the university.
  • Join LinkedIn and Twitter and network with individuals or organisations (for more details about using these, see social media for job hunting)
Connecting with new contacts

Networking isn't about making direct requests for work; it can be about asking for information, advice or further contacts.

If you've not met in person, your first contact is likely to be by email, letter or via social media. You can then follow up your initial approach with a phone call, which might lead to a face-to-face meeting. Be persistent at all of these stages, your contact will be busy with other things. It's your responsibility to do the leg work and make it easy for them to talk to you.

If you're going to be speaking to your contact by phone, prepare carefully and decide first what you want to know. Then script some questions to help you get started. Some phrases to use when you're stuck:

  • I would just like the opportunity to talk to you about …. 
  • I’ve been told you are a good person to advise me on ….
  • I’m not looking for a job, just some guidance on how to ….
  • I’ve already read quite a bit about this online and now, would appreciate checking out my understanding with someone who really knows about this from the inside.
  • I hope it's convenient for me to talk to you now?
  • When's a good time for me to call back?  
  • Can I come to your office to meet you face to face? 
  • Is there someone else in your organisation I could talk to as well as you? 
  • Can I meet a recent graduate recruit and hear from them what it's really like here?

Be prepared to talk a bit (not too much) about yourself then send your CV too; a short version introducing yourself and making your relevant experience sound impressive is better than a lengthy version at this stage.

Asking the right questions

Once you've established communication, or have the opportunity to meet a contact, you'll want to prepare a series of questions to help you make the most of the opportunity. This is known as information interviewing.

Your questions might cover:

  • The work role: a typical week, main activities, priorities, skills used, working conditions
  • Career progression: how is the sector changing, what does this role lead to, what’s a typical career path?
  • Getting in: how did you get started? is it different now? Are there stepping stones to getting in? where are vacancies advertised?
  • Organisational culture: what matters to the organisation? Are there values that unite the workforce? Is there a particular ethos here?
  • Tips about approaches to make and CV style
  • Finally, who else do you suggest I talk to? Are there websites or journals I might not have discovered yet? Can I take away any information about this organisation?

There's lots more information on informational interviewing at Quintessential Careers and how to conduct an information interview from University of Warwick.

Afterwards, do remember to write to thank your contact for their time and useful advice; follow up the tips they gave you and keep in touch with new developments in your career thinking.

  • Keep reviewing what you're learning. Are you still committed to the sector? Is it matching your expectations and still sounding interesting? Are there short courses or skills you could develop to increase your chances of securing an opportunity? 
  • Try to arrange workshadowing or an internship through your contacts
  • Your contacts will be interested in your progress; drop them a line with news of your progress and current thinking

Make it Happen

Join us in February to gain insight into potential career paths, ask questions and make contacts at Make it Happen. Hear from recent graduates and seasoned professionals about what it's like to do their job, and find out how they got to where they are today.