Imagine you’ve come to know about a job or internship opening at your dream company, and the position or internship seems right up your street.
Suppose you also find that an alum from your school or college is an executive at the target organization. What a stroke of luck, you tell yourself. You can ask the alum to help.
But soon, you are back on terra firma: you don’t have the faintest idea how to approach the alum, how you should ask for help, and what questions to ask.
A simple advice from an expert blogger on the subject is to tread “carefully, cautiously, and professionally.”
You need to follow etiquette, prepare your questions beforehand, remember to be sensitive, and after the conversation, thank the alum for her time.
How to ask alumni for help with internship and jobs
How alumni can help
Surveys have found that at least 70-80 percent of jobs are filled through networking and are not advertised. Networking with your university/school alumni is a great tool for securing jobs and internships.
Alumni network is one major resource you can use for getting information (through “informational interviews”), passing on resumes, and securing recruiting interviews.
Most alumni are friendly. They may prove to be highly valuable to in your job or internship search, particularly if you attended, or are attending, an academic program similar to the one the alum attended.
After all, they can relate to you well as a former student who walked the same campus paths, sat in the same classes, and went to the same cafeteria.
If you and the alumnus / alumna were members of the same campus organizational group, you could strike an instant rapport.
Schools keep in touch with their alumni through their career services or alumni offices. These offices can help you find alumni working in your target field or company, and you can schedule your interview with them.
You can find alumni who are working in your target field from your school alumni database, too.
Once you have their contact information, you can set up an informational interview and explore opportunities.
You can also use LinkedIn to identify alumni who are working in your field of interest and target organizations. You could send an Inmail through LinkedIn requesting for a chance to speak to them about their career, internships they have attended, and interests.
Breaking the ice
You should never start a conversation by asking whether there’s any position suitable for you at the alum’s organization or whether this person can recommend you for an internship at his company.
You could initially pose genuine queries about your field of interest and opportunities, and then about the alum’s experiences in the field and with his current employer.
Only later should you ask the alum if he would be willing to take a look at your resume and pass it on to a recruiter in his company.
At a subsequent conversation, based on the vibes from the alum, you could go on to ask whether there might be a job opening or internship for you.
Keeping track of updates in alumni magazines about former students who graduated from your school will help you start an interaction on a pleasant note.
For example, you could send a first email to an alum congratulating her on winning a professional award and request for a chance to speak her about her perspectives on the field and advice for graduates taking their first steps in the working world.
Alumni can tell you how your school has prepared them for internships and great careers.
Alumni interview do’s and don’ts
Once you have started an interaction with an alumni, you will be setting up an informational interview. Here are some tips for the interview and do’s and don’ts you should keep in mind during a conversation with an alum.
You should schedule informational interviews at a time suitable to the alum and ascertain that the time still works for her just before the actual interview. You can expect the alum to spare 10 minutes to an hour.
Prepare your questions. Good questions include the challenges in the alum’s current role, success factors, how her education (which may be similar to yours) has helped, the stages of her progress to their current role, and job-related training she may have had.
Ask for general advice about the field, any missteps to watch out for, and the name and contact information about other resource-persons you could speak to. Of course, after the interview, you should email her a thank-you note.
What shouldn’t you do?
You shouldn’t, in any situation, ask for a job during an informational interview. Perhaps, you could request the alum to pass on your resume at a subsequent conversation, if it takes place.
You should also not interrupt or pose personal questions such as the alum’s salary.
Don’t ask yes or no questions, as they will limit the scope and depth of the interview.
Questions to ask alumni when you’re looking for jobs or internships
Here are some good questions to ask the alum during your informational interview.
How the alum’s career has shaped up
First up, you should show an interest in and regard for what the alum has done and is doing.
Some great questions are:
- How did you get into this field?
- What has been your career path?
- Does your graduate training help in your job? If so, how?
- Which of your personal traits and professional skills help you the most?
What a typical work day is like
- What is your typical day at work?
- What are the typical hours?
- Most difficult seasons of the year? Toughest problems?
- What is the most rewarding or enjoyable part of your job?
- The least appealing part that could change your perspective and plans about your future career?
What the field is like
- Does this field have place for fresh talent?
- Are there too many applicants?
- Will the field undergo any big transformations in the near future?
- What are the opportunities for career advancement?
- What other fields would you suggest that I explore?
What the company is like
- How long do employees stay on average?
- Why do people leave?
- What is the company’s corporate culture?
- Are there frequent lay-offs?
- What formal or on-the-job training does the company provide?
- How well does the company fare against competitors?
- What employee-friendly policies are most appreciated by the employees?
Recruitment, salary, advancement
- When does your company typically recruit?
- What is the typical salary of an employee with my qualifications?
- What is a typical career path?
- How long does it require for managers to rise to the top?
- What are the backgrounds of the most important people in the company?
Qualifications, skills required
- What are the typical backgrounds of successful applicants?
- What prior experience and personal qualities, skills, and education are vital?
- What is your evaluation of my resume in comparison with other resumes you have seen?
- What are the strong and weak points?
- What other companies and roles would you suggest that I explore?
- Do you feel I would be a good fit?
- What personal attributes are essential for employees here?
- Does the job involve changes to life style, such as travel, late-night entertaining, and living in another city for prolonged periods?
An applicant for internship might ask about the most successful interns at the company and their character, abilities, work ethic, and performance.)
How your school helped
You may choose to ask questions that bring out the advantages or disadvantages of your academic course in your job search:
- How did your academic experience help you in finding your first job (was it your academic program, internship, etc.) or an internship?
- If you were a recruiter hiring from our school, what qualifications would you look for in new graduates?
- What would you do differently if you were still a student at our school?
- What additional courses should I take to master topics that I didn’t opt for at school?
If you were an online student
If you were a part-time or online student, you can ask questions about how industries and companies perceive the value of online courses.
You may ask questions about how you can prove that you are as good as a full-time student who has done the same course.
Of course, you are likely to get better answers from an alum who found a job on the strength of a degree earned through an online course.
- Where can I find updated information about the industry, companies, and salaries? What industry news sources should I be in touch with?
- Would you like to give me any other advice or information?
- Can I keep in touch with you?
- Can you refer me to others who would be willing to speak to me?
- May I use your name for reference?
Of course, you can’t possibly ask all these questions suggested even if the alum has allowed you a long interview. Select questions that seem relevant to you, and feel free to add specific questions that could help you in your job search.
How to write an email to an alum
Be specific about your request, stating whether you want a job or internship, the location, the industry, and if possible, examples of companies you would like to work for or intern at. You could also provide a three-word description of what you’re looking for in the subject line.
Address the alum as “Mr./Ms.” if you’re not sure whether the person is a man or a woman. Introduce yourself and say how you found him.
Write a couple of sentences about yourself. Tell him that his professional and personal insights could help you find a job/internship.
Whether it is an internship or a job, you should make it easy for the alum to forward your resume to someone she might know.
You could attach a PDF version of your resume. Ensure that your email to the alum as well as your resume has all your contact details.
If you hear back from an employer after having been recommended by an alum not personally know to you, you should find the person’s contact details and thank her.
If the recruiter asks how you know your recommender, you should never say that you know each other from Facebook or LinkedIn, but simply that this person is an alum who was willing to help you.
Patience is one quality you need when asking alumni for help. You may not hear from them for days or weeks.
You should put up with the delay as alums are busy professionals.
Or, for all you know, they may be trying to dig out information about a person they know who could help you. Yes, an alum can often prove to be a friend in need.
– How MBA alumni networks work
– How to reduce the MBA Networking costs
– How MBA internships work
– How to convert summer internships into fulltime jobs
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9