Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Teaching the Importance of Networking by Conducting Informational Interviews

Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Teaching the Importance of Networking by Conducting Informational Interviews

Article excerpt


The mentor-protégérelationship is the most significant relationship for career development [Levinson et al., 1978]. Levinson et al. [1978] stated that the mentoring process consists of teaching, providing feedback, and counseling. A mentor is a role model the protégécan follow. The benefits of the mentor-protégé relationship were supported in the literature as providing both career and psychosocial support [Allen & Finkelstein, 2003; Higgins, 2000; Higgins & Kram, 2001; Blake-Beard, 2001].

Kram [1988] proposed a constellation of relationships to foster career and psychosocial support. Higgins and Thomas [2001] studied those individuals who take an active interest in, and action to advance, another's career by assisting with the mentee's personal and professional development. This turns out to be a myriad of relationships. Due to a number of changes in the current work environment, Kram's constellation of relationships concept is re-examined.

The more conventional terms to describe the constellation of relationships are networks or networking. Networking represents proactive attempts by individuals to develop and maintain personal and professional relationships with others for the purpose of mutual benefit in their work or career [de Janasz, Dowd, & Schneider, 2002; Forret & Dougherty, 2001]. Because networking is so important to the individual in their career, it is important that educators teach the definition and concepts of networking, and provide students the opportunity to learn and improve their networking skills [Whiting & de Janasz, 2004].

One way to incorporate teaching the principles of networking into a course syllabus is to include an exercise which promotes collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is an educational practice that (1) encourages student-faculty interaction; (2) encourages cooperation among students; and (3) promotes active learning [Barkley, Major, & Cross, 2014].

I have used the Networking Research Project (NRP) exercise ten times in the past five years within a business communications course and a first-year introductory course for freshmen, both at the undergraduate level at a university located in Los Angeles County. Approximately 400 students, in class sizes ranging from 20-40 students, participated in this exercise. The exercise is introduced and conducted over a six week period within a college semester.

This exercise is based on collaborative learning theories with a reflective assessment component aimed at giving students an opportunity to network by conducting an informational interview, gathering data on the purpose and benefits on networking, and analyzing the groups' data to determine similarities and differences. Students are given an opportunity to reflect on ways to enhance the NRP and ways to incorporate networking activities into their college experience.


Networking is important for a number of reasons. Networks satisfy the same needs as in the mentor-protégérelationship and may include providing sponsorship, exposure and visibility, coaching, protection, and challenging assignments [Kram, 1988; Adler & Kwon, 2002]. Psychosocial support is directed at enhancing one's sense of competence, clarity of identity, and sense of self. These functions include role modeling, acceptance and confirmation, counseling, and friendship [Robinson, 1996; Kram, 1988].

Next, networking is identified as important in the job search and reemployment process [Eby & Buch, 1994; Wanberg, Kanfer, & Banas, 2000]. Seventy to 80 percent of professional jobs are obtained through networking [Koss-Feder, 1999]. The "hidden" job market can assist in establishing contacts, obtaining interviews, and identifying and cultivating mentors. Last, contacts obtained through networking enable the individual to meet people who can provide new ideas and timely information, obtain business leads, and provide social support [Baker, 2000]. …

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