Contacting Alumni: Best Practices
Making Contact with Alumni
The initial contact should be by the method the alumni prefers, if indicated. If not, you can use any method you feel comfortable with; just be sure your communications are professional and non-intrusive. Proof your written communications and evaluate the impression you will make. Also, be considerate of time zone differences and time of day (esp. evening) when contacting alums.
Introduce yourself as a Thayer/Dartmouth student (or alum) and indicate how you were referred to them. Explain why you have choosen to contact them and what you are interested in learning more about. Arrange a method of communicating that is most convenient for the person assisting you. If you would like to arrange a phone call, suggesting several times/days that work for you, may be most effective.
We recommend that you do not include a resume in the first correspondence. If an alum is interested in reviewing your resume they will ask for it.
Questions to Ask
(from Dartmouth Career Network)
For Career Exploration Inquiries
- What projects or tasks are performed in a typical week in this job?
- What would be the top 5 skills needed to be a top performer in this job?
- What kind of credentials, education, training, prior experience are needed?
- What types of other professionals do you work with, inside and outside your organization?
- How was your major related to your current work?
- What was your career path that led you to your current position?
- What was the most significant contributing experience/factor to your being in this type of work?
- Are there any new trends in your profession/industry that will provide new opportunities?
- What type of lifestyle does your job permit?
- How much flexibility is there in dress, work hours, place of residence, travel, etc.?
- How well suited do you think my background is for this type of occupation?
- Are there other professionals to whom you can refer me who are in related types of work?
- What professional associations are recommended?
- Would it be possible to 'job shadow' you over a couple of days?
For Job Search Inquiries
- What departments within your organization tend to hire (interns/entry-level)?
- Is there someone in these departments you would recommend I contact?
- What time of the year does your employer typically look for (interview) hires?
- What qualities does your company look for in candidates?
- What made you choose this employer?
- How would you describe the culture of the organization? (pace of work, workstyles, values, etc)
- Can you talk about the kinds of projects that new hires have worked on this year in your department?
- How often are new hires evaluated?
- What type of professional development/ongoing training is available?
- Where have you worked before and in what capacity? Would I be able to contact these employers?
- What professional associations would you recommend becoming a member of in order to network?
- Are there trade journals that you recommend? Do any have job postings?
For Graduate School Inquiries
- How did you decide on this program and college/university?
- How competitive is the process of getting into the college/program you attended?
*How would you compare this program to other colleges of similar caliber?
- What key qualities did this college/university look for in candidates?
- Did your Dartmouth education prepare you fully for applying to this program?
- How would you describe the faculty advising and mentoring that was available?
- Was there a 'practicum' component to your program?
- Was assistance available in seeking employment after graduation?
Tips for Informational Interviews
Prepare questions in advance. This preparation will allow you to relax and devote your attention to learning as much as you can. It will also help you form meaningful, concise and relevant questions.
Regardless of how you are meeting, bring a copy of your resume to share.
If you are receiving advice via phone or e-mail, send a copy of your resume in advance along with a note that says "Thank you for agreeing to share your insight and advice with me. As I thought it might be helpful for you to know a little more about my background, I am enclosing a copy of my resume. Any constructive feedback that you have would be most appreciated."
Providing your "interviewee" with your resume gives them an opening. Response to resumes in informational interviews generally run the gamut: from constructive criticism on how a resume can be improved, to suggestions on additional coursework or work experience that will enhance your skill set for a given industry. (Remember that everyone has his/her own personal preferences when it comes to resumes. Create a resume that works for you.)
Note: Your "interviewee" may provide you with leads for applying for jobs and internships, or offer to "float" your resume to others on your behalf. You may accept this offer; however, you should not directly ask network participants to do this for you in your behalf. (In other words, they must offer first.)
Speak well (i.e. avoid fillers such as "you know," "like," and "um") and ask intelligent questions.
Immediately send a thank you note. This should be done within 48 hours of your meeting. While handwritten or typed notes sent via U.S. mail are always appreciated, e-mail thank-you notes are also acceptable. The important thing is that you do it!
Always follow through on what you say you will do.
Follow-up by contacting any referrals received, saying, "Mr. Smith suggested I contact you. By the way, he sends his regards. He thought that you would be an excellent source of information. I am interested in investigating the field of biochemical engineering."
Keep a detailed record of your visits.
Don't Make This Mistake
The Dartmouth; April 4, 2002
To the Editor:
I am writing to express my concern regarding current Dartmouth students who are soliciting my help in procuring an internship. I am a member of the Class of 1995 and am listed in the Dartmouth alumni network as someone who would be willing to assist students in their search for summer or off-term positions. I am a New York-qualified attorney working at a large U.K. law firm in London. I was initially very eager to assist Dartmouth students, yet my enthusiasm is rapidly waning following recent events.
I received the first email from a Dartmouth student approximately six months ago—a very polite well-written email to which I was happy to respond. I gave this student my work and home phone numbers with the suggestion that he call when convenient so we could discuss his internship goals. About a week later, I received a call from this young man at 2:00 a.m. London time asking if he was disturbing me and if now was a good time to talk. After I explained that it was 2:00 a.m. and I was rather exhausted after a long day at work, he promised to call back at another time. I heard neither an apology nor from him again.
More recently, I have received two more email solicitations for assistance. I draw your attention to the text of one of them:
"Hello. I found your name from [sic] the Dartmouth College alumni network. I am currently a Junior [sic] at Dartmouth. I am looking for an internship in law or related fields in government beginning in the Spring of 2002 in Great Britain. Enclosed you will find my resume. I would appreciate it if you could give me the name of someone I could contact [sic] regarding this."
This student appears neither enthusiastic nor professional. He has given his summer plans little if any thought. I am happy to help an eager, intelligent student, but he does not appear to me to be either. Furthermore, while he uses the word "appreciate," this is not the overall tone of the email. It is not my job to help him—he is asking a favor and ought to recognize this.
I have only graduated seven years ago (and always cringe when people say this), but "back in my days" my friends and I spent days poring over letters that we planned to send out seeking internships or internship advice. We puzzled over the best way to address someone, the most opportune way to introduce ourselves, the most convincing arguments about why we were the ideal candidates and why our internship choices were in line with our overall career/life plans (at the time). We grammar-checked and spell-checked, and only when we were certain that we had reached what we defined as perfection would we send out our letters.
This pride and humbleness appears to have been lost. I am sure I am not alone in my disappointment at the caliber of Dartmouth students I have come across recently. Students need to be made aware of how to properly approach future employers and alumni contacts. The Office of Career Services should be working towards this end. Such emails as the one referenced above reflect poorly on the student, the Office of Career Services and Dartmouth as a whole. Please educate your students about professional standards. The professional world will not put up with their relaxed approach, and nor should you.
Deborah Smith '95