1. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If the thought of contacting someone you don’t know for career advice is daunting, you can take on the role of a reporter and liken the experience to an interview to gain information. A good strategy is to engage the contact in talking about themselves and their experiences, including their time at Princeton if they are an alum. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, and you can use that as a springboard for any advice they may have for you and referrals to more contacts. If you are courteous in your communication, there is no harm done in making the effort to contact someone.
2. Use your first communication with a contact to introduce yourself and establish common interest.
Tell the person where you found them, a brief introduction of yourself, and what in particular interests you about their background, position, or organization. Be as specific as possible about what kind of help you might like: “more information about a career in R&D”, “types of entry-level positions that would lead to curatorial work”, “skills needed for a successful career in environmental consulting”, “job resources for a particular geographic area”. Emphasize that you are looking for information about career options; do not ask them directly for help in finding jobs or internships. Do not send your resume in this first communication. Click here for sample correspondence
3. Be patient yet persistent. Keep in mind that many alumni have demanding jobs/schedules and may not have the time to respond to your email or phone call immediately. If you do not get a response after two weeks, make contact again reiterating your original contact information and asking if it is preferable to make contact at another time.
4. Try to arrange an in-person meeting if possible. Interviewing people at their place of work allows you to get an inside view of the working environment, to see how people are dressed and act toward one another, and to generally evaluate the pace of the office. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and be professional. Bring one or two copies of your resume, just to be prepared.
5. Write out questions to ask and be considerate of your contact’s time.
Before you speak with anyone, you need to define what you’d like to know. Try to determine what questions to ask
so that you’ll be able to use your time wisely. Do some research on your contact’s place of work so that you don’t waste time asking questions you could have found out on a website.
6. Ask for additional people you can contact and continue to talk to people. At some point in your conversation with a contact, you will want to ask specifically if they can think of 1-2 people you could speak to further about __. Ask permission to use your contact's name when contacting these new people. You will want to continue researching careers and options, since no one person is an authority on their careers. It is up to you what you do with a contact’s advice, but if you are given names or resources, try to follow up with these as soon as possible.
7.Send a thank-you note and keep track of your contacts.
A personalized thank-you note
goes a long way in ensuring that a person stays one of your contacts. Along the way let your contacts know about your progress, particularly if your progress is due to something they’ve recommended. You may be colleagues with this person in the future or be in a position to help them at some point, so it will be to your advantage to stay in touch. You may want to use LinkedIn
or another professional networking site to help you manage your contacts.
Here are some final thoughts from an alumna who has generously given of her time in assisting students:
“I have been on the ACN for several years and as I am a recent alumna and live in London I seem to get a lot of inquiries from current students. I am always happy to help and I spend a lot of time responding to email inquiries about working in finance, getting work permits in London, transferring from NY to London, etc. The vast majority of inquiries, however, are very vague. I find that students rarely respond to my emails, follow up, or thank me for my input. This is very frustrating and it quickly burns bridges to friendly, well-placed alumni. It also makes me less willing to help each successive request. Please continue to emphasize to students the importance of communication and follow-up when seeking guidance and advice through the ACN.”