Networking for Alumni

"You Want Me To Talk To Who?

Networking: A process of getting to know people and building relationships that are mutually beneficial, frequently with the goal of gaining greater knowledge about career paths and organizations.

As you're reading this, let us ask you this.  Is job searching an:

A: Active process where I do whatever I can to let people know that I am job searching and try to meet as many people as I can.

B: Passive process where sending a few resumes to companies that are hiring on Monster.com will probably do the trick. My summer is too full of fun stuff to search very much.

Ideally, you will have chosen A. You are choosing the direction of your life after college and it's a big job, so it makes sense to get as many people as you can assisting you along the way. Networking is one key way to do that. Look at it this way-would you buy a car without researching it? Would you plan a special dinner for your significant other without asking for some advice first? Choosing your path after college is just as important, and networking is how you seek advice for your career path. We've built this area of the website to provide you with some resources to understand the value of networking and building relationships, and ways to get started.

Getting Started
Informational Interviews
Questions to Ask
Getting in Touch
Follow Up


Getting Started
So you've realized that you need to get to know more people out there beyond The Hill.  Great!  But how do you go about deciding who to talk to?  Here are three easy ways to get started: 

  1. Clarify your goals: What do you want to know?  Would you like to meet people in a specific career field?  Or in the case of alums, would you like to meet people that participated in the same activities as you?  Are you looking for experience in a particular career field? 
  2. Seek to connect: Networking can and does start with the people that know you best-your family and friends.  Once you're done some self-reflection to think about what you are interested in and why, and what your goals are, start reaching out to your circle of family and friends.  Ask them to connect you with people that are directly working in things that you are interested in, and be specific about what you'd like to gain.  You can also begin using Hampden-Sydney resources: printed alumni directory, alumni mentors on Tiger Connections, and speaking with coaches or faculty members about alumni that they know.  Keeping a sharp focus ensures that you don't waste your time or anyone else's.
  3. Polish your resume, your shoes, and your speaking skills: Be prepared with intelligent questions, an up-to-date resume that you're proud of, and the ability to clearly express who you are and what you're interested in-in about a minute or so.  Here's a good example:

    "Hello!  My name is Joe Student, and I'm a junior at Hampden-Sydney College.  I   
    have been heavily involved at the college, and currently serve as a volunteer EMT  
    and president of my fraternity.  I enjoy both opportunities because they give me
    different ways to help people-one to become well, and two to grow in their
    personal development.  I am interested in pursing careers in hospital administration
    or emergency management, and I'd like to know more about how graduate school
    can help make me more marketable in the field." 

Why is this brief introduction so important?  It gives people a sense of who you are, what you value, and what you are looking for.  Also, it offers people a point of connection-perhaps they were a fraternity president or volunteer EMT as well.

Just for fun: Test your networking skills with this quiz at selfmarketing.com


Informational Interviews
Now you have developed a list of who you'd like to talk to, and what you are hoping 
to gain.  One way to gain information from professional contacts is through
informational interviews. 

But what is an informational interview?  It's when you interview a potential contact
within your network about their career path, their field of interest, how their   
Hampden-Sydney education assisted them in life after college, and anything else you
want to know.  It's important to note: networking is a separate activity from
informational interviewing.  You don't need to sit down with each person that you
consider to be a part of your network.  You pick and choose who you would like to
know more about.  For example, you might consider your former supervisor to be a
part of your network, but you're not interested in pursing the career path they are in. 
However, you did get to meet an alumni of your fraternity during a football game
who's working for your dream company.  The alumni would definitely be a good choice for the informational interview. 

What not to do in an informational interview

 Courtesy of the William and Mary Career Center web site

DO research the field you're exploring so you have questions to ask.
DO dress as if you're going to a job interview or as professionals in this type of work    
would dress. You don't want to embarrass yourself or your contact.
DO schedule about 30 to 45 minutes for the interview and be aware of the time. Watch 
for cues that it's time to leave, such as glancing at a watch, or winding down a conversation.
DO pay attention to your thoughts, body signals and reactions during the interview. If  
you feel energetic and excited, this type of atmosphere may suit you. If you feel bored or
tired, perhaps this isn't a match.
DON'T ask for a job -- even if you are bursting to do so! You could, however, say  
something like this: "I really enjoyed meeting with you and learning about your television
station and what a producer does. WGJX is the kind of setting where I would like to
work. Do you know of stations with a similar work culture that I might contact?"
DON'T book too many interviews back-to-back. Allow flexibility in case your contact
chooses to spend more time with you or to introduce you to others.
DON'T just talk about yourself. The more the contact talks about the job, the career
steps and the field, the more you will learn. In fact, the whole idea is not to focus on yourself, but to talk about the contact.
DO ask for names of more people to contact, and if it's okay to use his/her name when you contact others.
DO write a thank-you note within two days of the interview, referring to any particularly helpful or thought provoking information the contact gave you.


Questions To Ask
Preparation:
What preparation is necessary for entry level jobs in this field?
How important is graduate school in this field?
Could you recommend some courses that I should be taking now in preparation for a
career in this field?
How does your education and experience relate to what you are doing now?
How did you get into this field and into this position?
What are some alternative routes into the field?
What kind of background, training, special programs or other learning
experiences does one need to enter the field?
What professional journals, books, newspapers or publications do people in your field
generally read? Are any professional associations particularly influential?
Is there any advice you would give someone just entering the field, maybe something
that you wish someone had mentioned when you were starting?

 

Lifestyle:
What kind of "lifestyle" choices have you had to make?
How many hours do you work in a typical week?
Do you take work home at night?
Is travel involved in your job and if so, how often are you traveling?
What is the typical salary range for an entry-, mid-, and upper-level position?
Do you need to dress in a particular way?
Has your work experience differed very much from what you imagined it would be? In
what way?

Job Outlook:
Do you anticipate employment in this field to grow, decrease, or remain stable?
What are the opportunities for advancement?
Is there a high turnover rate and if so, why?
What types of employers hire people in your line of work?
You mentioned that you made a transition into this field from another career path. How
difficult was this?
What job choices are there within this field and to what types of other organizations can
one move?

Job Routine:
Describe how you spend your time during a typical work day/week.
What major satisfactions do you derive from working in this field?
What are some of the issues/problems that you must deal with in your work?
(If you are interested in the company the alumnus is working for)
Could you tell me a little about the management style here?
How are promotions decided?
What does one need to be successful in this field?

Job Search Techniques:
What strategies would you be using if you were in a job search for a position in this
field?
Would you mind reviewing my resume and giving me feedback on it?
What types of questions should I expect when interviewing for a job in this field?
Could you give me the names of others who might tell me more about your field?
May I say you suggested I contact them?

Additional Questions from the Hampden-Sydney Career Planning Guide
What do you like least about your job? What do you like the most?
Why did you choose this career?
What skills do you use most often?


Getting In Touch

If you find yourself thinking, "I get nervous speaking in front of my class, let alone
talking to complete strangers over the phone!", don't worry. We've got an easy
template that you can follow.

Sample Email Correspondence
Dear Mr. Busby,

I am currently a senior at Hampden-Sydney College and am considering a career in the
real estate industry. After visiting my Career Development office, I found your contact
information through the Alumni Career Network and would like to speak with you
regarding your experiences in the field. My interest in real estate has come from
working this past summer with Acme Real Estate in Farmville, VA. Through this positive
experience, I was able to learn many aspects of the industry which further emphasized
my career goals. Please let me know when a convenient time would be to contact you
by phone to discuss my ambitions further. Thank you for your time and I look forward
to speaking with you.

Sincerely,
John Weeks
weeksj@hsc.edu
(434)555-1212

Things to Keep In Mind
Introduce yourself, how you found their contact information and the purpose of your email.
Articulate your experiences, goals for the future and how you want the alumni to help you.
End on a positive note emphasizing that you will be contacting this person at a time convenient for them.
Sign your email using the name you wish to be called. For example, if your given name is William but you go by John, sign your name as John.

E-mail or Phone?
It might be better to e-mail the contact first, to establish a paper trail. Give them a couple of days to reply, and if they haven't, then give them a call to follow up. You'll want to clearly identify yourself and the purpose for your call, but don't overwhelm them. If you end up scheduling some time over the phone, aim to be brief-20 to 30 minutes should work. You don't want to overstay your welcome!


Follow Up

3 Things To Do With Your Networking Contacts:

1. Thank them for their time: Write a thank you note on nice paper or follow up with a professional e-mail from a professional sounding address. As a student, showing gratitude illustrates that you are aware of people and their needs beyond the limited circle of campus.
2. Keep them informed of your progress: As you obtain internships, or begin your job search, keep people informed of what you're doing in your life. It doesn't take more than e-mailing, "Hi, just wanted to let you know that I've accepted an internship with XYZ company for the summer. I'm really excited about it and am grateful for your feedback on my resume. I'll be in touch to let you know what I've
learned!"
3. Be aware of how you can help them: If you are heavily networking with alumni, keep them informed of things on campus, such as news from their fraternity. Read up on their business or hobby, and share articles that they may enjoy. You, as a student, have a different and refreshing perspective that they value.