Networking How-To Guide

Networking. For many it’s a word that evokes the image of awkwardly attempting to mingle with strangers at a professional reception…That does occasionally happen, but it’s a very small part of what it actually means to build your professional network. In reality, networking is about making new friends in a professional context, and building concentric rings of connections to people whose work inspires and informs the young professional you are and/or aim to be. 

Why It’s Important to Build Professional Relationships

Networking plays an integral role in shaping your understanding of career pathways and in honing your professional goals. It also offers strategic advantages in the search for career opportunities. Through connections you can:

  • Explore an industry, organization, or position without having to commit to a formal employment experience.
  • Find clarity about your career pathway.
  • Identify practical learning goals that will help you be more competitive in your chosen field.
  • Feel more confident using the jargon and technical terms specific to an industry.
  • Get the inside scoop about an employer.
  • Learn out about employment opportunities you may not have known about otherwise.
  • Craft stronger and more targeted application materials.
  • Get energized and motivated!

Tip: While it’s not appropriate to ask for jobs or internships, it is definitely ok to let contacts know you’re looking for work, to ask for advice on your application for a role at their current employer, or to share that you recently applied for a role at their employer and would love to learn more about working there.

Start With Your Amherst Community

Your Amherst community: fellow students, professors, staff, recent graduates and older alumni–can serve as a stellar foundation for building your professional network.

  • Your peers can be a resource, not only as collaborators in projects and activities but as advocates for your interests. Keep friends up to date on your professional interests and goals, and ask them to keep an eye out for opportunities or to introduce you to new people. You’re sure to feel bolstered by the support and to find resonance in shared experiences, even across industries.
  • Faculty and staff are often in the unique position of being able to help you articulate how your academic accomplishments and campus activities translate to the working world. They also bring with them their own professional connections and awareness of specific opportunities. Sign up for a professor’s office hours or invite a staff member to lunch to talk about your goals.
  • Alumni are an invaluable resource for connecting your Amherst experiences to the working world. Many alumni enjoy talking to students and sharing their knowledge and perspective on their industry, employer, job, career, graduate school experiences, etc…

Finding Alumni

We don’t expect that you will already know a lot of Amherst alumni. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to find and/or meet alumni while you are a student.

  • Use the College’s alumni directory to find alumni that might interest you. Our Using the Alumni Directory How-to Guide will walk you through how to make the alumni directory work for you.
  • Explore Amherst College’s Alumni page on LinkedIn. It’s another great way to locate alumni and you can use it in concert with the directory to find contact information. 
  • Attend events at the homecoming and reunion weekends, alumni events hosted by programs and offices across campus, and employer info sessions with alumni hosted by the Loeb Center.

Tip: Look for alumni with different levels of career experience for different types of advice. Recent grads can offer timely information and practical advice about how they landed their first internships or jobs. Alumni who are now in managerial roles can offer the perspective of someone in a hiring position. Those in executive roles are a great resource for insights into industry trends and issues.

Contacting Alumni

Before reaching out to any professional, it’s important to have some clarity about what you’d like to learn. Are you interested in the organization they work for? Or interested in their particular role? Curious about how their career evolved from their major (or didn’t)? Wondering how or why they relocated to a particular city? You can learn all of this and much more from but be sure you’re ready to use their time wisely.

  • Your initial email should be friendly, direct, and concise.
  • Craft a clear subject line.
    • Ex. Amherst College Student Seeking Career Guidance
  • Address your note to a specific person and use a formal greeting.
    • Ex. Dear Ms. Jones
  • Briefly introduce yourself—class year, major, campus involvement, career interests, etc.
    • Ex. I’m a rising Sophomore at Amherst College with a prospective major in English. This summer I completed an editorial internship at The Common. I really enjoyed working on the journal and am exploring the possibility of an internship at a small, independent publisher this summer. 
  • Tell them why you’re reaching out to them specifically. 
    • Ex. It would be great to learn more about your work at the Copper Canyon Press and any advice you might have for young professionals. 
  • Offer some ideas for connecting that will make it easier to respond. 
    • Ex. Would you have some time in the next couple of weeks for a short call? My Monday and Friday mornings are typically free, in case that works for you, but I’m happy to work with your availability.
  • Right now, it’s necessary to acknowledge the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people’s ability to connect. 
    • Ex. Given the realities of pandemic life, I recognize it may not be convenient to connect at this time and, if you prefer, I would be happy to be in touch again at a later date. 
  • Keep the sign-off warm and let your enthusiasm come through.
    • Ex. I look forward to connecting! 

Preparing for Your Conversation

Once you have made a connection with an alum, start thinking about what you want to ask and what you want to share about yourself. Read our How-to Guide on Informational Interviews, the formal term for an information gathering conversation with a professional. 

What to Ask

The Loeb Center’s How-to Guide for Informational Interviews will walk you through some helpful, foundational questions you might ask an alum. Even more important, however, is asking your own tailored questions based on what you want to know and the experiences of the alum. Spend at least 10-15 minutes learning more about the alum by doing a little research via their employer website and LinkedIn profile and searching their name online to see if they are linked to any industry news.

Though you should be prepared, keep in mind that you do not need to be a subject-area expert to have a meaningful conversation with an alum. One of your most valuable skills is your capacity to combine curiosity with intellectual rigor which will come in handy during your conversations.

What to Share

The alum you speak to may have some questions for you about your interests, goals, involvement at Amherst, or your experiences at the College in general. Or, the alum may not ask you any questions at all! Either way, be prepared to share a little about yourself. 

  • What might interest the alum about your experiences?
  • What have you learned at Amherst or elsewhere that is relevant to their work?
  • What information would help them get to know you and what’s important to you quickly?
  • What is your goal for this summer or post-graduation? 

Reaching Out Beyond Amherst

As you build your network and your confidence making connections, extend your outreach to broader professional communities.

  • Brainstorm people in your existing network who can introduce you to professionals working in your areas of interest. This might include friends, family, previous supervisors, professors, former teachers, mentors, neighbors, alumni from your high school, etc…
  • Create a LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people in your existing network. Check out LinkedIn’s guide for student users and their tips for a strong profile. The Loeb Center’s new platform Big Interview also has a great 12 minute video on LinkedIn basics under the Job Search Curriculum section.
  • Participate in virtual content with thought leaders in your interest area and/or engage with leaders via Twitter & LinkedIn. Listen and read closely before joining the conversation and make sure your own online presence is on-point!
  • Apply what you’ve learned about an industry to identify people and organizations you want to connect with. Follow them on social media or email them directly to set up an Informational Interview.
  • Outreach should always be specific to a particular person, their work, and/or their organization. This specificity also extends to how you contact someone. You should attempt to contact someone directly over email, be introduced to them over email by someone else, or contact them through a professional network like LinkedIn. If you’re having difficulty finding someone’s email address, search their name + the organization name + .com/.org/.edu to find their contact information, or at least be able to see how an organization formats employee emails, like firstnamelastname@organization.com. You can also try email finder services like Rocket Reach and Hunter for limited, free information, though it is not always accurate.

Everyone needs mentorship and support so professionals expect that people just coming into the industry will want guidance and many are eager to offer it. If you don’t hear back from some busy folks, kindly follow-up a few times and then move on.

TIP: If you have a dream organization where you have no connections, a “cold email” can’t hurt; however, you should spend the vast majority of your time reaching out to professionals that you are connected to in some way (i.e. shared alma mater, friend of a friend, acquaintance of a family member, etc…) These connections are much more likely to be meaningful and useful.  

Networking Events

Occasionally, you will hear about in-person opportunities to meet and network with new people, and usually these formal networking events have a specific focus that brings people together (e.g. a tech-focused event in Boston, an Amherst Alumni Association event in Chicago, or a conference on public policy). Before you go, try to determine who will be there and whether there is anyone in particular you’d like to meet or any information that you’d like to gather.

In these contexts, it’s expected that young professionals will be looking to make connections for professional education, mentorship, and recruitment. Regardless of the direction your conversations take, be sure the people you speak with are left with a succinct understanding of your background and aspirations. So, be ready to make the most of any scenario by sharing with everyone: 

  • Who you are (name, school and class year, major)
  • What inspired you to attend the event
  • What you have focused on accomplishing as a student or young professional
  • A goal or aspiration you want to the listener to know about 

Don’t overthink it. This should be a 60-90 second introduction and it will become more organic the more you practice, which is what formal networking events are all about. Be sure to get contact information so you don’t feel pressure to have every connection feel complete or perfect. There’s always follow-ups. 

Say Thank You

It might be the most important aspect of networking: saying thank you. Expressing gratitude for people’s time and advice is essential, regardless of whether it is a one-time interaction or a relationship that will grow and develop. Whether it’s by email or by post, after a job interview or a networking call, a timely and tailored note helps to build a solid foundation for mutual respect and future interactions. Both young professionals and those who are well established are always in conversation with peers in their industry, and you never know who a great job lead or referral will come from.

As a current student, when you connect with Amherst alumni or prospective employers you become an ambassador of sorts. Through your connections, you help keep alumni tuned into the campus experience and the contemporary concerns and aspirations of current students. Consider that an unprofessional experience with you could be a disincentive to connecting with students in the future. 

If the conversation went differently than you had anticipated–if it confused you, was awkward, or was inappropriate–reach out to someone you trust, like a Loeb Center advisor or mentor for advice on how to proceed.

Stay in Touch

Networking requires a long-term view. It could be an hour, a week, a year, or a decade before a professional contact has a direct impact on your employment opportunities. Some may never make that kind of impact. While many young professionals have the more immediate concern of getting a job, you’re unlikely to find success in networking if you only view it as transactional relationships. Bring your curiosity, enthusiasm, and engagement to extending the most promising professional relationships beyond your initial conversation.

  • Keep your contacts in the loop by sharing professional opportunities, updates on your current work and projects, or by sharing an article that ties into their work. 
  • Be direct about your transitions so the connections you’ve maintained can help you when the time is right. When you start the job search, send out a short newsletter to your contacts that outlines what kind of work you’re looking for (specific types of roles and organizations), where you’re looking (geographic locations), and how they can help (referrals, resources, recommendations). Attach your up-to-date resume.

TIP: Being tuned into industry news makes it easy to find ideas for topics to keep a conversation going with a professional contact.

Resources