Reaching out to Alumni for advice and insights

Conduct informational interviews

Talk to alumniThe William and Mary alumni community typically enjoys helping one another and students.  Tapping into this wealth of experience and wisdom is one of the most effective strategies for your personal career development there is.  The most effecient way to identify and contact alumni you want to talk to is to use LinkedIn.  
Note: Alumni can be information resources for you—it is not appropriate to solicit them for funds or sales leads!  The conversations you have with alumni are called 'informational interviews'.

 Talk to alumni about their majors, about the internships they did, about the skills they think is important for you to pick up.  Find out why their work is personally meaningful for them.  Ask them where you should be looking for internships and jobs in their career fields.  Stay in touch with the alumni you talk to!

If you don't yet have a LinkedIn account, you'll have to create one first, complete your profile, then join W&M groups. 
*Don't create an account and then just leave it with a partially completed profile--the millions of users of LinkedIn can see your profile and leaving it incomplete makes you look unorganized or lazy.
Sample LinkedIn groups to join as a new user:  William and Mary Alumni Career Network (and it's sub group, TribeConnections),  College of William and Mary Alumni Network

Are you feeling too shy to approach a total stranger? 

 

Still hesitating to contact an alum?

*Search the 'members' tab in the LinkedIn groups you've joined to send a message directly to individuals at no charge. View the 15 minute tutorial for coaching on this.

Remember, this alum ASKED to be put in this database because s/he WANTS to talk to you!  Your initial contact will be through the Tribe Connections group in LinkedIn.com.  Keep it brief and personalize it--nobody likes to get something that looks like spam!:
"I'm a W&M sophomore, and would like to talk to you about your experiences in the xyz career field."
"I'm a W&M senior planning to move to your city to conduct my job search.  I'd like 15 minutes of your time to get insights about living in and job searching in xyz city ."
"I'm a W&M junior panning to go into xyz, and would like to ask you about your graduate degree program.  I'm trying to decide between in and xyz."

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Etiquette—Do's and Don'ts of informational interviewing

Remember that the goal is to have a real conversation with someone.  If you can at all arrange a face-to-face meeting, that would be ideal.  Failing that, a telephone conversation.  You might wind up just exchanging emails through the Tribe Connections system initially. 

  • DON'T ask for a job -- even if you are bursting to do so! You could, however, say something like this: "I really enjoyed meeting with you and learning about your television station and what a producer does. WGJX is the kind of setting where I would like to work. Do you know of stations with a similar work culture that I might contact?" 
  • DO send a thank-you note/email immediately, referencing some point or bit of information from your discussion
  •  Do stay in touch!  Your goal here is to build relationships with people, not have a series of one-off conversations.         

 Keep it light and breezy:  "Thanks for talking to me last spring about xyz; I was able to xyz with the information."  "I see that congress has xyz; how is that impacting your mission?"  "I found this blog article, and thought you'd find it interesting."  "I'm going to the xyz conference, will I be able to meet you there?"

  • DO research the field/industry/organization  you're exploring so you have good questions to ask.  You want to make a good impression on these people you are meeting.
  • DO try to arrange to have a face-to-face conversation, or at least a phone conversation.  You want this interaction to be as real and human as possible.
  • DO schedule about 30 minutes for the interview and be aware of the time. Watch for cues that it's time to leave, such as glancing at a watch, or winding down a conversation. 
  • DO dress as if you're going to a job interview or as professionals in this type of work would dress. You don't want to embarrass yourself or your contact.  DO pay attention to your thoughts, body signals, and reactions during the interview. If you feel energetic and excited, this type of atmosphere may suit you. If you feel bored or tired, perhaps this isn't a match. 
  • DON'T book too many interviews back-to-back. Allow flexibility in case your contact chooses to spend more time with you or to introduce you to others. 
  • DO ask for names of more people to contact, and if it's okay to use his/her name when you contact others.

 

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Sample Informational Interview Questions
Preparation:

What preparation is necessary for entry level jobs in this field?

How important is graduate school in this field? 

Could you recommend some courses that I should be taking now in preparation for a career in this field? 

How does your education and experience relate to what you are doing now? 

How did you get into this field and into this position? What are some alternative routes into the field? What kind of background, training, special programs or other learning experiences does one need to enter the field? 

What professional journals, books, newspapers or publications do people in your field generally read? Are any professional associations particularly influential? 

Is there any advice you would give someone just entering the field, maybe something that you wish someone had mentioned when you were starting?

Lifestyle:

What kind of "lifestyle" choices have you had to make? How many hours do you work in a typical week? Do you take work home at night?

Is travel involved in your job and if so, how often are you traveling?

What is the typical salary range for an entry-, mid-, and upper-level position?

Do you need to dress in a particular way?

Has your work experience differed very much from what you imagined it would be? In what way?

Job Outlook:

Do you anticipate employment in this field to grow, decrease, or remain stable?

What are the opportunities for advancement? Is there a high turnover rate and if so, why?

What types of employers hire people in your line of work?

You mentioned that you made a transition into this field from another career path. How difficult was this?

What job choices are there within this field and to what types of other organizations can one move?

Job Routine:

Describe how you spend your time during a typical work day/week.

What major satisfactions do you derive from working in this field?

What are some of the issues/problems that you must deal with in your work?

(If you are interested in the company the alumnus is working for) Could you tell me a little about the management style here? How are promotions decided? What does one need in order to be successful in this field?

Job Search Techniques:

What strategies would you be using if you were in a job search for a position in this field?

Would you mind reviewing my resume and giving me feedback on it?

What types of questions should I expect when interviewing for a job in this field?

Could you give me the names of others who might tell me more about your field? May I say you suggested I contact them?

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Student Instructions:
  1. Username: Your W&M email prefix up to the "@" sign followed by _wm (Example: axhenderson_wm) Password: Your entire student ID number. On your first visit to this site you will be asked to complete your personal profile--only complete the required fields. 
  2. Click on "Alumni Mentors" located on the navigation bar at the top of the page. 
  3. You can conduct a simple search by Job Function, Job Title, or Industry, or you can conduct an Advanced Search. Begin searching by using as few criteria as possible; you can always narrow the search if necessary. 
  4. If you would like to see more detail about an alum, you may click View Mentor Profile. Once you have found a mentor you would like to contact, click Send Mentor Connection Request. 
  5. From there, you will draft an e-mail message to the mentor. You may use some of our pre-designed templates to get started, but make sure to personalize and customize your message. You don't want it to feel like mass or junk e-mail!
  6. Once you click Send, an e-mail will be sent to that person, asking them to Accept or Decline your request, also including your e-mail address so they may contact you directly.
  7. What to do if that alum hasn't followed up in a week or two? Please write alumnicareer@wm.edu and we will do our best to make sure that we have their most current e-mail address on file.

TIP: To organize your contacts, you may use "Tags" which operate similarly to folders.

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External Links

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Access Alumni through LinkedIn

1.  Create a free LinkedIn account by going to LinkedIn.com
2. Complete your profile

3.  Log into your LinkedIn account

4.  Put 'William and Mary' in the search box
     a. On the left of the resulting page, filter by "Groups"
5.  Click the 'Join' button on the groups you'd like to join--especially the larger ones.

6.  Once you've joined a group, you can search the 'Members' tab to find the people you want to talk to.
     a.  Roll your cursor over the list of members, and you'll see a link that allows you to send a message directly to the alum requesting a 20 minute conversation (informational interview).
     b.  Personalize that message!  Explain who you are and why you want to talk to him or her specifically.

7.  Don't send a connection request to someone you don't know.  Ask for that conversation first, then send a 'thank-you' message and then ask him or her to connect to you.
     a.  Once that person accepts your connection request, he or she will be a first degree connection to you, and all of his or her connections will become second-degree connections to you. 

* You don't have to complete your LinkedIn profile before contacting an alum in Tribe Connections--however, people are more likely to respond to you if they can see who you are. Leaving an incomplete profile up gives people the impression that you are disorganized or lazy.

 

 

3 Things to remember before contacting a W&M alum advisor/mentor
  1. Don't ask these alumni for a job or an internship--they've volunteered to serve as advisors, not to place you.  If you are fortunate, the alum may be able to point you to a specific job, but that can't be your expectation.
  2. Do keep in mind that as much as these alumni want to help you, they are very busy!  Be respectful of their time and energy. Be courteous.  Thank them for any information or advice they can share.
  3. Stay in touch, even if this alum has no direct input on your immediate goals!  Your goal is to build relationships with people, not have a series of one-off conversations.  The alumni have invested their time and attention with you and would like to know what happens to you. 
If all works out according to plan, you yourself will be a W&M alumni mentor/advisor one day.  Behave towards these generous people in the same manner as you will expect to be treated when you take on this role.