Professional Outreach Tips for New Grads
Written by Jennifer Urbanski BMOS '09
I am one of those fortunate people who got to go to Western University. Seriously, I bleed purple and will shout "Go 'Stangs!" till my voice gives out. Because of this passion I have for my alma mater, I have spent many years giving back to the school and students. One of the great pleasures I have throughout the year is when I get invited to speak with students about the opportunities they will receive when they graduate and how to navigate their early career days.
In the 7 years that I have been visiting Western, I have built up a network of current students, recent grads and have gotten to watch some of those grads build impressive careers (one of the huge benefits of this experience is the roster of talent I am connected with - some of these young people blow my mind in how professional and advanced they already are and I can't wait to hire some of them one day).
This exposure has given me a wealth of insight and over the years some patterns have started to emerge... so I want to share some advice.
I believe in transparency, honesty and authenticity in life and in business. So along those themes, here is some straight up constructive feedback that will benefit those who are looking to polish some of their outreach skills.
Know how to use email and calendars
If you're going to take a crack at reaching out to professionals for informational interviews or meetings, make sure you know how to use the tools they use on a regular basis (ie. email and calendar tools).
Ensure that you check your email regularly. You want to show your commitment and eagerness in getting that meeting. Many busy professionals get multiple meeting requests and if they've chosen to make time for you, it's a sign of respect to respond quickly back to them. I always shake my head when a student takes a week or a month to respond back to my emails - their level of priority on where to allocate my limited time drops dramatically. Remember, as the student or new grad, you're the underdog so you have to show an effort to beat out your competition and get that meeting.
Also make sure you know how to use your calendar and that it syncs with most standard calendars. In other words, if someone agrees to have a meeting with you, send them a calendar marker right away to book the time and ensure that they are able to accept it. Again, busy professionals have a lot going on and if they've agreed to make time for you, it's common courtesy to send a marker to get it in their schedule. This isn't a matter of hierarchy, I do this with all of my clients because it shows my level of organization and commitment to our relationship.
In outreach, less is more
This one isn't new - when you reach out to a professional to ask for a meeting, keep your messages short. A quick one or two lines about your current status (ie. in my 4th year starting to explore career opportunities; recent graduate working hard to get my foot in the door at a company like yours) and why you want to connect with them (ie. your diverse career experience could help me explore options by getting a broader perspective; your success in digital marketing could help me focus on the skills and experience I need to acquire). From there, ask for a half hour of their time.
If they respond to you (some will, some won't - don't let it get you down if they don't) then be the one to suggest some times. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes - the last thing they want to do is go check their calendar and write down multiple dates/times they are free. It is much easier for them to check the slots you send against their commitments and say yes to one of those times. Again, I do this with my clients and peers. In this case, you're the one who is asking for their time, so you need to make that extra effort.
Show up to the meeting, seriously.
There is nothing more unprofessional than blowing a meeting that someone has agreed to have. In any relationship, especially a business relationship, it is hard to win back priority status and trust. If you can't make the commitments you've set when you're a student trying to beat out a competitive labour market then how seriously are you going to take a job that you've landed? There's not much more to say on this one.
Don't be a robot
One of the best parts of building your career is the confidence that goes along with it. I remember feeling scared or awkward when I reached out to connect with established professionals while I was attending Western and shortly after graduation.
Today I get to meet some awesome students who just have that comfort and confidence when speaking with others - and they do it without any sort of entitlement or arrogance. This type of temperament is something that I always find impressive and something I now look for when hiring. It's a positive and eager perspective with no ego. These are students who illustrate their desire to learn and grow and understand the value of constructive feedback. They make no excuses and show no offence. It is always a spirit of collaboration and good intention.
When you can adopt this type of outlook, your connections become much more authentic and fluid. Feel confidence in yourself and your goals when you reach out to a contact. Imagine you are writing a note to a friend. Don't feel as though you need to conform to some script or perfect way of saying something. As long as you follow the type of structure I suggested above (state your current status and why you want to connect) in a professional way, there is no harm in being a little casual or authentic in your message.
I also recommend that you use the person's first name rather than a salutation. I don't find that there is the same sort of formality that used to exist in the business world. This isn't a bad thing, I believe it actually allows us to connect on a more personal level and common ground.
One of the fastest ways to lose someone is when you don't know anything about them or the company they work for. It sends the signal that you don't truly care about getting to know them more or learning from them. If you aren't willing to make the effort, why should they? Again, they are juggling so many priorities and responsibilities, it means something if they've chosen to make time for you.
Are you sensing a theme here?
The internet is a beautiful thing. You can find out a wealth of basic information about almost anyone or any company. It only takes a 5 minutes to visit LinkedIn to get a basic overview on someone's career, level of education and volunteer interests. In another 15-20 minutes you can cruise around their company's website and social media channels to get a sense of what they do and how they position themselves in the market. Hopefully this exercise will inspire some thoughts and questions you can note for the call. Voila, you are prepared to have a meaningful and effective conversation.
Hope this helps
Some of this feedback might seem basic but you'd be surprised how often I see these things go sour. I can also assure you that there are many people who won't provide this feedback, they'll just write you off. So I hope this helps.
I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts on this and happy to answer any questions from students or recent grads who are looking to gain an edge in the market.
Oh, and go 'stangs, go!