Networking: It’s a matter of connection
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.
Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.
The idea of networking makes many people uncomfortable. But consider this:
- Networking is a skill that can be learned. It is not an inheritable trait or an activity only extroverts are good at.
- You already are networking. In fact, you’ve been networking since you were old enough to make your own playdates as a kid. Now you are learning to do it with a bit more intentionality.
- It’s ok to feel some trepidation about it. You don’t have to let those feelings stop you.
Did you know that 70% of jobs are never published publicly? Establishing a network of connections is a vitally important aspect of navigating your path to a meaningful career and ultimately to a successful job.
Whether you are hoping to connect with CHC alums about their thesis, seeking inspiration about internships, or looking for more information about possible career paths, honors college alums can be excellent resources, provided you approach them in a professional manner. Although the idea of reaching out to alums may feel daunting, rest assured that most are very willing to offer their knowledge and advice. They were all once standing in the same position you now find yourself.
Why connect with alums?
- Increased awareness of career sectors, organizations, or academic pathways
- Potential links to internships and summer job opportunities
- Clarification of your interests
- Greater confidence in job and internship interview situations
- Expanded web of connection
Utilized correctly and thoughtfully, alum contacts can help you build a powerful career network. To enhance your alum networking experience, read through the pages below on the networking process, questions to ask alums, and etiquette tips.
In an informational interview (or career conversation) you are not the one being interviewed! Informational interviewing is an opportunity for you ask questions of an alum (or other professional) about their job or career path. It is a way to uncover information about an industry you are exploring, find out about potential opportunities, reinforce your interest in a particular career path, and learn about internship or job search strategies.
How to find alums
- Current CHC students have access to the online alumni book, CHC Connections. Students can search for alums by major, company, area of interest, graduation year, and more. Alum pages in the book include contact information, and most alums welcome students reaching out with questions about career paths and thesis topics.
- CHC faculty often have personal connections with alums.
- UO faculty may have alum connections as well.
- UO Alumni Association is another source of information.
Advice for contacting alums
- Start by reaching out through email and be sure to explain how you received their information or mention a mutual connection. Let them know that you are a current CHC student interested in hearing their perspective about a particular career path, thesis topic, major, or place of employment.
- Ask if they would be willing to meet for 15-30 minutes over the phone or via Zoom.
- Provide basic information about yourself and why you are interested in speaking with them.
- Explain that you are not looking for an internship or a job; rather, you are conducting research to help you make better career decisions.
- Remember that people generally like talking about themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- No response? People get busy, and emails get lost. If you do not get an immediate response, wait a week, and try again.
- If you and the alum decide to proceed, make sure you know in advance what questions you want to ask if you are connecting via phone or Zoom. For email exchanges, avoid overwhelming your contact with a long list of questions.
- For phone or Zoom interviews, be sure to call (or start the meeting) precisely at the agreed upon time and ask your relevant questions in an attentive, interested, and professional manner.
- Remember to verify time zones if contacting someone in a different time zone. Phone or Zoom interviews typically last for 15–30 minutes.
- Keep a record of who you talk to, as well as addresses, phone numbers, job titles, meeting date and what you’ve learned.
Pay special attention to etiquette and netiquette
- View your initial email (and all follow up communication) as you would a resume or cover letter; it’s a professional contact.
- Check spelling and grammar before you hit “send.”
- Consider typing your email first, proofreading your message, and then adding the recipient’s email address. That way you don’t accidentally press “send” before you are ready.
- Use a strong subject line. Your recipient will be more likely to open the message if the subject line contains a brief but descriptive opening; include your affiliation to the recipient (ie. CHC, University of Oregon, etc.)
- Use “Dear First Name Last Name” instead of “Dear Mr./Ms.” to avoid any assumptions about gender.
- Keep the tone professional rather than informal.
- Customize every email sent to an alum. Never send the same email to multiple alums.
- Do your homework. Know something about their field or company so you can be thoughtful about the type of questions you ask. Be sure you are not asking a question that could easily be found on your own by doing a little research. Alums are very busy, so be respectful of their time.
- Be transparent when contacting more than one alum within one organization. Here are a few recommendations on how to do that:
- “Hi Alum A, I’d love to talk to you about XYZ. I’ve also contacted Alum B and Alum C and am waiting to hear back from them.”
- “Hi Alum A, I’d love to talk to you about XYZ. I’ve already spoken to Alum B about this but would like to get an alternative perspective.”
- “Hi Alum A, Alum B, and Alum C, I’d love to talk to you about XYZ.” (This is transparent and allows these alums to decide who should respond.)
- Do not miss appointments or phone calls.
- Respond to all emails and calls within 24 - 48 hours.
- Confirm your meeting 24 hours before the scheduled time.
Sample email template
Dear First Name Last Name
I am a freshman/sophomore/junior/senior at Clark Honors College. I found your name and contact information on LinkedIn. OR Professor Jones gave me your name and recommended that I reach out to you. I was intrigued to find that you [insert what about the alum is of interest – major, thesis topic, industry area, etc].
I am considering a career/major in [specify area] and would like to learn more about it. [add a sentence or two that briefly describes your interest in the field] I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to briefly answer a few questions about your work and career path. I would be happy to arrange a short phone call or Zoom session, or simply send you an email, depending on what is more convenient for you.
Please let me know if this is something you might be interested in doing. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sam Student, class of ‘25/Major (if declared)
Prepare for your meeting
- Do some background research. Demonstrate that you have done your homework and are prepared and interested in learning more about their career. Look up the professional on Google and LinkedIn, review any website or blog they might have, and acquire basic information about them. By doing this, you can spend your time asking more in-depth questions and gaining more valuable advice. Keep a list of questions that occur to you while you are doing your research.
- General questions to consider:
- How relevant was your undergraduate major to the work you do now?
- What do you feel is the most important thing that a student choosing this major should know?
- How did you get started in this field? If you were to start over again, what would you do differently?
- What are the greatest pros and cons of the work that you do?
- What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success in your job/this field?
- What are some common obstacles/challenges that prevent students from being successful in this major/field?
- How is UO’s/CHC’s reputation in this area of study viewed among employers/graduate schools?
- Did you participate in any student/professional organizations that were helpful to you in exploring this major/field?
- What additional exploration resources would you recommend that I look at?
- Can you suggest anyone else I could contact for additional information?
- Can you recommend trade journals, magazines or professional associations which would be helpful for my professional development?
- If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?
- What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job (or career path)?
- Thesis-related questions:
- What connections did you make in the process of completing your thesis?
- Did you talk about your thesis with potential employers?
- How have you highlighted your thesis on your resume and/or in a cover letter to potential employers?
- What advice would you give to students in terms of making connections between their thesis project and their career/professional goals?
- If you are applying for an internship at a company, you might consider questions such as:
- What are the best ways to stand out as a top candidate in this field?
- What skills does this company value?
- What kind of on-the-job training exists in this organization?
- What might I expect in the interview process for this type of position? Are there any specific questions I should ask or ways to stand out?
- What do you like most about working for this company? What do you like least?
- What else do you think I need to know before determining if this is the right place for me?
- Be prepared. If you are meeting in person, make sure you know how to get to the location and plan to arrive at least 5 minutes early. If you are meeting via Zoom or by phone, make sure you have a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted. For Zoom meetings, your location needs to have good internet connection.
- Build rapport. Making a personal connection with an alum or other contact can go a long way in building the relationship. It is important to present yourself professionally, but you can take a minute to talk about an experience that might connect you both (e.g. being involved in Mock Trial, or studying in Chapman Hall).
- Take notes. Have a notebook handy (digital or analog) so that you can jot down tips and information provided by the alum. This will also further indicate that you value their advice and their time. Do not use a tape recorder.
- Ask for a referral. Based on your conversation, ask if there is anyone they might recommend you connect with for an additional informational interview. This is an excellent way to grow your network!
- Follow Up
- Send a thank you note, either email or hand-written, within 24 hours of the interview or from when the alum responds to your emailed questions.
- Stay connected. If your contact expresses interest in your search or asks to be kept informed of your career progress, make a note to yourself to follow up. Connect on LinkedIn.