Whether you like it or not, effectively networking plays a significant role in getting internships and jobs during and after college. Everyone has their own thoughts on what are dos and don’t and my recommendation is that you talk to several people who have experience in networking before creating your own strategy. In this post, I want to focus on the process I used to network which can be broken down into five steps. This is somewhat of a case study from my experience from June - August before my third year internship recruiting season.
Step 1: Finding people
Before my third year, I was unsure what sort of internship I was looking for so I decided to break down my search into three main categories: consulting, product management, and systems engineering/aerospace jobs. I compiled a list of ~15-20 companies that I was interestested in and then went on LinkedIn to search for UVA systems engineering alums who currently worked there. I only reached out to UVA systems engineers because I believed they would be more eager and excited about talking to me because we had a fairly significant connection. When deciding which people to specifically reach out to, there were a few factors I considered. If possible, I tried to contact people who were more recent grads who occupied a position I might fill as a recent grad. If there was a wide variety of options, I chose to reach out to someone who I thought had similar interests to me such as volunteering, sports, traveling, etc. Lastly, I considered the specific location where the person was working. Many companies have different procedures for recruiting, but based on my experience specifically with consulting firms, recruiting is highly office specific for final round decisions. If possible, try to reach out to someone working in a specific office where you want to work.
Step 2: Reaching out
I didn’t see the merit in trying to find a specific firm’s email format because that seemed rather intrusive; however, others will probably disagree with me. Instead of sending an initial email, I reached out to people via LinkedIn. I never got LinkedIn premium, where you can send messages to people who you are not connected to, either. Instead, I sent connect requests to these people and attached a short message introducing myself (there is a strict character limit): “I am a rising third year at UVA majoring in Systems Engineering with minors in business and design integration. I am interested in interning at COMPANY XX next summer and potentially working there and would like to learn more about what it is like to work there.” I found this fairly effective and probably got a 40-50% response rate. Because of the varying response rate, it is important to do this in waves because you want to go ahead and schedule a call fairly soon after the person responds. I probably sent 3-5 requests a week.
Step 3: Scheduling a call
When the person responds, I quickly respond asking for his or her e-mail so that I can schedule a half hour time to talk. Make sure to give the person a wide window and be accomodating with talking early in the morning or late at night if necessary. I had calls at 9 pm and 7 am.
Step 4: Having a conversation
After all this hard work, you finally have the opportunity to talk to someone. It’s important to stay relaxed and know that this is informal and a learning experience for you. I always took calls using ear buds (I don’t have air pods!) while at my computer so that I could take notes. I also created a tentative call plan with a few questions I wanted to ask that I tried to follow. However, do not feel the need to strictly follow a plan and see how the conversation goes naturally. Here is a sample call plan that I made.
- Introduction: Thank the person for coming and provide a 1-2 min overview of myself: where I’m from, something I do at UVA, and that I’m starting to figure out what I want to do with my systems degree after graduating.
- How did you end up at the job you are at today?
- What is a typical day at work like for you?
- Can you tell me about a project you have worked on or currently working on?
- What systems engineering knowledge do you use at your job?
- Conclusion: Thank the person for taking the time to talk and mention that I will be applying to his/her companies internship program in the coming months. Casually ask if I can stay in contact with this person as I go throughout the process.
It is very important that you make the call be about the other person and not about yourself. After doing a brief introduction, all my calls were just me listening about what these people do in their jobs. These conversations became quite easy and relaxing because everyone loves to talk about themselves and what they do at their job. You make a much better impression doing this than just coming out and asking for advice, tips, and help with applying for an internship at the person’s company. You don’t want the other person to feel like you are trying to use them. Once the call is rapping up, it is important that you thank the person and remind him/her that you are going to be applying to work at the person’s company and you would appreciate if he/she could be a resource during the recruiting process. I probably did around 20 of these calls and every single person happily agreed that I could follow up with him or her. I’m putting this into step 4: Send a quick thank you email the next day and try to highlight one interesting aspect of your conversation!
Step 5: Following up during the application process
I did most of my conversations early in the summer and did not apply to internships until maybe 2-3 months later. Once I submitted an application, I sent an email to a person I talked to at that company letting him or her know that I had just applied for INTERNSHIP X. For a couple specific people, I asked a couple of questions about what the interview process was like as well as if he/she knew anything about the time table. For a few companies, as I went through the recruiting process, the alumni who I had originally reached out to starting reaching out to me offering to give advice and connect me to other people at the firm.
I’ve probably rambled on long enough, but this is basically how I went through the networking process with several tips and advice sprinkled in. I obviously believe you should listen to what I have to say, but make to get advice from a variety of people. My strategy definitely was not perfect, and what works for me may not work as well for you.