Most, if not all, higher education institutions keep a database of their graduates. If you don’t know what I’m talking about go find your career center and ask them for your login information.
Using my alma mater, Emory University, as an example, our alumni engagement team keeps a record of my post graduation email and reminds us to update our place of employment on a regular basis.
Back when I was a junior, which by the way is a little late, you should start doing this as a freshman I would go into the directory, select the business school, and the years of our most recent graduates. I was class of 2014 so I selected graduating class of 2007 to 2010, and hit search.
Clicking into a few random profiles I can see most of them have updated their information and if there’s someone working in a field I’m interested in, I’d shoot them an email.
It’s totally understandable to feel nervous about sending cold emails to strangers, but just know these alumni received help when they were in your position and most of them are looking for an opportunity to pay it back. Be that opportunity!
I was about to graduate, I had just accepted an offer with a management consulting company based out of New York and I was chilling.
One day, my Decision Science professor said:
Hey I heard about your offer with EY from an ex-student of mine. She’s the manager who interviewed you. Good thing I didn’t tell her about all the times you missed my class.”
The point being:
Professors are more well-connected than you think and they can play an instrumental role in getting you a job. For example, let’s say you come across an alumni on LinkedIn you want to connect with but can’t find their contact information anywhere including the alumni directory.
If you know what major, concentration and/or classes they took, you could ask the corresponding professors to connect you two since they might have kept in touch or at least are 1st degree connections on LinkedIn.
Alternatively you can try a more direct approach. Maintain a good relationship with professors in the fields you’re interested in, go to their office hours, and after you’ve successfully charmed them with your devilishly handsome smile, ask if they can connect you with their previous students 😏.
The reason is simple: you need the practice.
Let’s say you’ve never done this before and I put you in front of the hiring manager of your dream company right away, you’re going to be extremely nervous and not make a great first impression.
By attending career fairs from freshman year and talking to companies you might not be interested in, you are essentially able to network in a risk-free environment because you have nothing to lose.
I’ve never been particularly interested in CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies like P&G and Unilever and because of that I remember feeling less nervous talking with their company representatives and definitely got to practice networking tips I had learned online, for example:
It was great chatting with you today Jane, I’ll let you go since there are quite a few people lining up. Would you mind terribly if I got your email or business card so I could follow up with questions?
As silly as it sounds, it took me many tries to get that exact wording right. To make it sound as natural and as professional as possible. And this came with practice.
Instead of boring you with a walkthrough, you can use my template I used back in college.
I ended up sending 347 cold emails during my junior and senior years and here are some of my key takeaways:
The objective of the cold email is to ask for a coffee chat or informational interview, since research has shown that face to face requests are much more effective than emails. Therefore, the call-to-action, or CTA of your email, should include that objective
Keep your self introduction to the minimum and instead talk about things you two have in common. The more you do this, the more you show you’ve done your homework, and the more likely they’ll accept your coffee chat request.
And remember, you’ll get a chance to talk about yourself during the meeting, and the cold email is all about locking down that time slot!
Do not include a bunch of questions in your cold email. Typing out replies to a dozen questions is more inconvenient than hopping on a quick phone call so professionals are more likely to ignore your email:
At the end of every single coffee chat or informational interview, literally say:
By saying this 1 simple sentence, you get a chance to tap into their professional network and better yet, they’ll most likely make an introduction so you don’t have the pressure of reaching out to another stranger.
As a small bonus tip, I was looking through my old coffee chat notes, and exact wording I used to say was:
Thanks again for your time, it’s interesting how you were able to specialize in supply chain consulting after just 2 projects. Do you mind connecting me with someone who ended up specializing in the marketing and finance consulting teams? Just so I cover all my bases.
All these people you connect with are going to check you out on social media, so check out my LinkedIn Tips & Tricks playlist next!