Tips for Connecting with Alumni

First things first:
While Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) members have volunteered because they want to help fellow Loggers with their careers, that does not mean they can find you a job. Approach ASK volunteers and other alumni to learn about their career or their organization, not to ask for jobs and internships.

Put your best foot forward. People respond far better to email messages that are courteous, well-written, and spell-checked.

Make it easy for alumni to respond quickly. Keep in mind that the alumni you want to connect with may be busy professionals with limited time to spare. Is your request a reasonable one? What can you do to make the interaction more convenient for the alum? 

Always send a thank you. If someone takes time out of their day to respond to you, meet with you, or connect you to someone in their personal network, it is essential that you thank them appropriately. Hand-written notes are always appreciated, and show that you made an extra effort. Email messages can be acceptable as well, but the most important goal is to take the time to thank your alumni contact.

Sample written introduction
Sample telephone introduction

Sample re-introduction
Sample questions

Sample written introduction:
Greeting:
Dear Mr./Ms. _________:

First paragraph:
Identify yourself, and indicate where you acquired the alum's name. Also, briefly explain why you chose to contact this individual in particular (because of their specific occupation, graduate program, career field/industry, employer, etc.) and what your purpose is for contacting them (exploring internships, investigating occupations, considering graduate school, researching their employer, etc.).

I am a University of Puget Sound junior majoring in Foreign Language and International Affairs. I have a strong interest in law and have been exploring career options related to the legal profession. I found your name while reasearching Puget Sound's Alumni Sharing Knowledge database--I understand that your firm, Wheelock & Sons has a significant litigation practice, an area I would like to better understand.

(By referencing the litigation practice of the alum's firm, the writer is indicating that he has done some research on the business.)

Second paragraph:
Because you are not enclosing a resume in your initial contact, summarize briefly your interests, experiences, skills, etc. that relate to why you selected this particular alum to contact.

My interest in law started in high school. While at Puget Sound, I have taken several political science and law courses including constitutional and environmental law. I have maintained a 3.4 GPA while also participating in several extracurricular activities including the pre-law society. 

Third paragraph:
If your firm offers summer internships, I would welcome the opportunity to connect with the internship coordinator. Also, it would be extremely helpful if I could learn more about your graduate study, career path, and perspective on the legal profession. Is there a time when I might schedule a brief 20-30 minute call or visit with you at your office?

Salutation:
Sincerely,

Brian Warner

The author has made a reasonable request. He doesn't ask for an internship; he asks to be referred to someone in charge of the internship program. It would be easy for the alum to simply pass along an email address.

In his request for a personal connection, he defines the amount of time he would need. Generally speaking, 20-30 minutes would not be a burdensome length of time for the alum to commit to. Also, he offers the option of a phone call or a quick meeting. Even if meetings are better for him, they may not be for the alum.

Sample telephone introduction:
Telephone introductions need to be more condensed than a written request, but will include the same basic concepts. Tip: Practice saying your introduction aloud beforehand so that you will sound natural when you call.
Hi. My name is Kristina Alder and I found your name in the University of Puget Sound Alumni Sharing Knowledge database. I'm a junior at Puget Sound and have decided to pursue some type of environmental work after graduation. I've been reading about Cascadia Consulting Group and its strong commitment to sustainablility. Since you've been working there for several years, I was hoping you might be willing to answer a few questions so I can learn more about your organization and the industry. Is this a convenient time, or can we arrange another time to visit?

Sample re-introduction/follow-up message:
In these messages, it's important to remind the alum of where you met and anything about you or your conversation that might help jog their memory. Below is a weak and strong example of an email message a student is sending to an alum they met at ASK Night.

Weak Example:

Dear Mr./Ms. _________:

I got your card at the reception last month. I have some interviews in 2 days with firms in your industry and was hoping for some time to ask you questions as I prepare for my interviews. Do you have any availability tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning? If not, here are the questions I have. Perhaps you can give me your thoughts via email.

1. What are the most important trends in the industry?

2. What do you think are the key differences in the top companies?

3. What interview questions should I be prepared to answer?

Sincerely,

Karen Jones

Strong Example:

Dear Mr./Ms. _________:

I enjoyed meeting you last week at ASK Night. I tried out that "hidden" study nook in Collins that you suggested. I've already had some quality study time there this past week. Thanks again for the recommendation.  

I have several upcoming interviews in the industry, including with your department at Boeing. I wanted to follow-up on your kind offer to talk further. I'm specifically interested in the impact increased Department of Defense spending is having on the industry and on Boeing in particular. Do you have any availability for a 15-20 minute conversation in the next 7 days?

Sincerely,

Karen Jones

The Strong email is succinct, establishes a connection, and reminds the reader of the offer to help. It provides the reader a reason to want to help--the author has been invited to interview at his company and competitor companies. The request for a 15-20 minute conversation on a specific topic is reasonable and relatively easy to fulfill.

The Weak email is too vague on the connection. The tone is brusque and doesn't offer any incentive to the reader to be helpful. The request is too burdensome--these are questions the author needs to get answered, but she is asking the reader to do all of the work for her.

Below are some questions you might consider asking during your conversation. Visit the CES page about Informational Interviews for additional details.

Questions about the individual's career:
How did you first get interested in this line of work?
What has been your career path?
Does your work relate to your experience at Puget Sound?
What skills and/or experience are necessary?
How did Puget Sound prepare you for this career?
What do you enjoy most (and least) about your industry?
What is your typical day like?
What kind of hours do you work? Are they flexible?
What lifestyle choices have you made to work in your industry?

Questions about the organization:
What is a typical career path in this organization?
Does your employer offer any type of training program?
How would you describe your corporate culture?

Questions about the career field:
What type of education or training is recommended or necessary to excel in the field?
What are the typical jobs, particularly at the entry level?
What is the salary range for these positions?
Can you recommend specific trade journals, publications, or web resources which would be helpful in researching this field?
Among my strongest assets are (skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits, and values). Where might they fit into this field?
Who else might you recommend I approach for advice about entering this particular field?
Is this field comprised of a diverse workforce?
Do professional networks exist that provide support to individuals like me who are seeking to enter this field?