Networking with Alumni
January 21, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

What is the proper way to use an alumni directory when inquiring about internship positions? More specifically, what should be in the contents of a letter to an alum who has a cool job but whom I've never met -but potentially could offer a position based on our shared experience at a campus newspaper?
posted by moooshy to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm hardly famous or ultra-successful, but I get a lot of requests like this, generated from all variety of association directories and web communities (including, among other things, the MeFi member directory).

Here's what I think you should consider:

First, use a very specific subject line. Whether because of prominence or spam, most people you'd want to contact are going to be using exclusive e-mail filters. Mail from an unrecognized address and unprivileged domain is going to be diverted from their inbox into an auxiliary basket which gets checked only every so often, and the vast majority of which gets deleted without being opened.

Second, don't worry about your text. Just state the affiliation and interest very straightfowardly. The kind of people who might help you out will write you back because that's the kind of people they are. The rest will delete your e-mail no matter how well written it is, because they just don't care.

Finally, a lot of what you can hope for depends upon alma mater and location. Notre Dame grads in Mississippi -- go for it, the alum will definitely want to look after Domers in Dixie. Penn grad working in New York -- doubly damned by lack of strong alumni feeling, and a location where you Penn grads are extraordinarily abundant.
posted by MattD at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2005

I probably wouldn't ask for an internship in a letter. Better, I think to get acquainted with the person in an "information interview" and inquire about the possibility of internships either with them, or with someone else they might be able to refer you to while speaking to them in person. The contents of the letter I might write in this situation would be approximately:

Dear Ms. X

I am a fellow graduate of SmartPeopleU, and found through the alumni directory that you're involved in AwesomeCoolIndustry. I'm interested in pursuing a career in AwesomeCoolIndustry and would like to hear your thoughts on the industry as a whole and the best way for a new graduate to break in.

I've completed my degree in ReasonablyRelatedSubject at SmartPeopleU. While there, I also worked on SharedInterestWeekly. I know you also worked on SharedInterestWeekly, and I'm interested in hearing how you've translated that experience to your position in AwesomeCoolIndustry.

If possible, I'd like to meet with you for an information interview at your convenience. If you're open to this, please suggest some dates and times in TimeSpanForMeeting that would be best for you. I can be reached at BestMethodofContact.


I would, as an aside, prefer to send this letter on paper, rather than email, unless AwesomeCoolIndustry is very tech-oriented.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:52 PM on January 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you. That will be very helpful, especially the subject line.

Do you think I should wait until Sunday night to send these out? I'm really only free on Fridays and Saturdays because of the paper, but if it's going to get cluttered, I could write them now and send them on Sunday, if that would prove more helpful.
posted by moooshy at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2005

Response by poster: Jacquilynne,

Thank you. Most of these people probably communicate by email most of the time, and say that they welcome requests for internships. Since the paper is well-known and people tend to have fond memories of working for it, it seems like asking isn't the problem.

I also thank you for the sample letter. The ones that I have crafted look similar.
posted by moooshy at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2005

I've gotten a few of these, but they were mostly just looking for an angle to get into the industry - I'm too young to twist very many hiring screws. Also, my alma mater has a place that lets students/other alumni search for people who are happy to do this sort of thing - and I'm one of them.

Always mention where you found me. If you don't, I'm going to wonder where you came across my name/email.

Try to state why you are contacting me - just tell me that you are interested in the area that I work in, are considering making it a career and would like to know more about it.

Any request should be pretty open ended and reasonable. I'd be glad to have lunch with you, answer questions about what I do, what all is done in the industry and try to offer some insights into what you're in for/what employers want. And if there's a specific opening at my firm, I might ask you some light, straightforward interview-ish questions or gauge your interest in what we do ("What kind of math background do you have?" "Have you used programming language XYZ?").
posted by milkrate at 1:59 PM on January 21, 2005

I'm in MattD's camp, people often contact me with questions about the library profession or, when I was doing more freelance work, to ask "how can I get freelance work?" I think jacquilynne is spot-on, I just wanted to add that if the guy/gal with the cool job that you'd like to talk to really does want to take you up on your informational interview offer, come prepared having done some homework so that you're not just basically making small talk trying to look like you're not asking for a job. You're asking about the profession but you're also making yourself seem like someone that would be useful to work with in the long run, if not in the short term.

Learn about the job your alum has, learn a bit about what he/she wrote when they were on the paper, learn a bit about what the school was like when they were there, how it has changed, whatever. If you're naturally comfortable in these sorts of situations, then you'll probably do fine, but if you're not used to the interview scene, and informational interviews in particular, you might want to read up a little bit on what they're like.
posted by jessamyn at 2:07 PM on January 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

I would actually prefer lunchtime meetings to just find out stuff about these people, but since I am in Philly and they are, most likely, in NYC, this would be difficult given such restrictions as class and the paper and whatnot.

I will read more about the paper (121 years old this year :)) and will do my homework before any further email conversations.

Thanks :)
posted by moooshy at 2:19 PM on January 21, 2005

Be prepared for a letdown! I did this when I was trying to break into journalism lo these many moons ago and found someone at a big famous newsmagazine had gone to my tiny quirky high school. I wrote to her (on paper! they didn't have email back then but use snail mail even now) and arranged a lunch. She was gracious, I suppose, but utterly completely unhelpful.

Remember this too: many people started out as interns and will remember the people who gave them breaks when they are faced with an eager young thing.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:11 PM on January 21, 2005

I just went through this and got a terrific response from the alumni I contacted--nearly 90% welcomed my email, and everyone I met suggested I call them if I pursue their specific career paths. I did it for graduate school, so YMMV regarding your own alumni.

Best suggestion I have for you is to *not* ask for a job. You are looking to learn more about the industry, and see if the contact knows of opportunities that may be of interest to you. A good contact will often refer you to a colleague in another company.

Here is a version of the letter I used. Hope it helps.

Dear [alum]:

I am a [school] student about to receive my [degree]. In my time at [school], I have discovered that my strengths lie in [skillset], and I'm targeting [field] as a likely career path.

Are you available for an informational interview sometime this [month]? Speaking with people in the field will aid my career pursuit, and I would greatly benefit from a conversation with you.

You can reach me at.... Thank you in advance for your time.


Good luck!
posted by werty at 9:43 PM on January 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

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