University alumni can be the most important, yet underutilized, source of information for internships that college students have at their disposal. These alumni can offer students insight into the internship recruiting process and provide tailored guidance and assistance based on what the student is attempting to accomplish. Here is an easy seven step guide to follow to ensure that you get the most out of your alumni relationships:
Students sometimes forget to look in the most obvious places to get started on their internship search. Most colleges and universities have a database of alumni with their current job, title, and work location with contact information. Be sure to filter the type of experience you’re aiming for and get in touch with these potential connections! You’d be surprised as to how willing alumni are to connect with college students.
The best way to connect with someone on a personal level is to learn more about them. There are many ways to find a person’s career path and experience – whether this be through LinkedIn or on their company website. Get an idea of the type of jobs this person has had and write down questions to ask them based on your findings. The purpose of this is to understand what skills this person has acquired and how they were able to apply them in a new setting. Anything that you have on your mind should be put onto paper.
Once you’ve found a few alumni whose profiles match your aspirations, the next step is to reach out to them. Briefly introduce yourself in a few sentences with your year, major, and possible career aspirations. After doing so, explain why you’re reaching out and where you got their contact info (it’s a little off-putting to receive emails from people you never provided with your personal information). Request to set up a phone call or a coffee chat if they’re in a nearby location. Be respectful and express your gratitude for taking their time.
Whether these alumni have agreed to speak over the phone or to meet in person, you want to make sure they feel at ease. Remind yourself that the alumni is just like you and enjoys talking to interesting people, so don’t sound like a robot with rehearsed questions and statements. Be confident in your ability to connect with the alumni and understand that they are there to help you. There’s no need to stress or get nervous. Most importantly, don’t come out and immediately start asking questions about their company’s internship opportunities. This will make it seem like you are not interested in them and are just using their available time and resources to better yourself. In fact, don’t even mention the topic of internships and just stick to getting to know these new acquaintances.
After your phone call or coffee chat, be sure to follow up in the next 48 hours. Thank your new connections for taking the time out of their day to speak with you. Personalize the thank you email by referencing some of the advice they gave you, what you enjoyed about your conversation, and anything that stood out to you. It’s imperative that you mention that you hope to keep in touch, and ask permission to reach out to them if you have further questions. This is also the time when you can ask, politely, if they would mind taking a look at your resume for any feedback and if they know of anyone else you might connect with.
Actually make sure to keep in touch with the alumni. Circle back around to them once every few months to update them on your progress in school, any clubs or activities you’ve joined, and how you have implemented their advice in your daily life. Connect with them on LinkedIn so that you can keep up-to-date with any updates on their professional lives. You can even go the extra mile of scheduling another phone call or coffee chat after an extended period of time to catch up. Treat them as your mentor and friend, and all will go well.
After you’ve managed to put in all this work and have been keeping in touch with the alumni, then it is okay to ask them about internship opportunities. It might not necessarily be at their company, but they will definitely point you in the right direction. By now, they’ll have a much better idea of who you are and what you’re capable of.
It is important to note that this process must begin well in advance of the time period when you’d ideally like to have the internship. Give yourself at least half a year or more to start putting in effort towards getting to know them before you actually start pursuing internship opportunities. Remember, not all connections will lead to an opportunity and some might lead to a dead end. The main thing is to get practice in dealing with professionals and building a strong network. Good luck!
Teja Ganti is a summer intern at MPOWER Financing from the University of Virginia. He has previously interned as an equity research analyst for Redmond Asset Management, investment analyst for In This Together Media, and business development associate for Alkemy, Inc.
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