by Elizabeth Miclau, ’24, Neurobiology, Secondary in Global Health and Health Policy
Networking can be a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be an invaluable tool for learning and growing as a professional. From identifying who to connect with, to framing outreach emails and preparing for conversations, I’m happy to share some tips and tricks that have worked for me.
Identifying who to connect with:
When I first decided to conduct my informational interviews, I first gave myself a ballpark estimate of my interests and thought of people I knew within that field. I began with the youngest and/or easiest connections to make, such as family, friends, relatives, and teammates. This allowed me to start figuring out how to present myself, get an intuition of what types of questions I should ask, and ask them to connect me with other people that they think I should talk to next. Getting recommendations was my first source of knowing who to connect with.
How to start connecting:
1. Connections: If I received recommendations from family or friends, then I would usually start there. I would ask people for their email or number and mention my connection to my friend in my initial point of contact with the person.
2. LinkedIn: I did some research on which companies were most in line with the type of work I would imagine I would want to do. Then, I would search up those companies on LinkedIn and see if there were any Harvard alumni who worked or currently work at that company. If I found their email on LinkedIn, I would shoot them an email. Otherwise, I sent them a note on LinkedIn.
3. OCS/HVC Resources: FirstHand Advisors and the Harvard Alumni Directory allow you to search for alumni and reach out for a variety of asks. If you’re a student athlete, Taryn Braz has done great work at Harvard with her alumni outreach and shared a massive spreadsheet with Harvard Athletics Alumni who were willing to chat with undergrads. This was one opportunity to leverage my Harvard connections.
Framing outreach emails:
To start, I used Adam Grant’s article “6 Ways to Get Me to Email You Back,” which was hugely helpful in helping me draft my emails. I always started with a brief intro about who I was and why I was emailing. I kept it short but gave enough context to help them understand exactly what I hoped to get from chatting with them and why I was interested in speaking with them.
Note: another resource that can help is the Harvard College Guide to Making Connections.
Preparing for conversations:
Before hopping on a call with anyone, it’s worth looking into what jobs they’ve held, what they currently study or do, where they studied in school, and what their most notable works are (published articles, books, policy memos, etc.). Since these people are busy, my conversations were only scheduled for 30 minutes– which always seemed to fly by. You can save yourself plenty of time if you have already done your research and jump into more valuable questions more quickly. It’s also helpful to have notes about who you are, what experiences you have, and a list of guiding questions that are specific to the person to fall back on if needed.
Questions to ask during conversations:
I always start the conversation with a quick introduction and state explicitly why I was wanting to chat with them and/or what I hoped to get out of the conversation. As mentioned, I generally went in with a few guiding questions that I thought were specific enough to their experiences or my own. This could be “Tell me more about [X]” or “Knowing that you’ve done [X] type of work, how do you think that helped you decide you wanted to do [Y].” After a while, I knew I was on the right track interest-wise since all of the people I connected with were starting to recommend the same few people (or people within a specific field).
Always send a thank you email within 48 hours of the call! More often than not, these people took time out of their day to talk to you and it is nice to know that the person you spoke to valued your time and what you had to say. Also, this was an opportunity to talk about what stood out to you on the call or follow up with something you discussed on the call. Of course, this should be genuine, so if you got nothing out of the call, then keep it complimentary and short.
Staying in touch:
Given that I spoke to 30+ individuals, it wasn’t feasible to keep in contact with all of them. Similarly, some calls sparked a true connection while others remained purely “informational.” It took me a dozen calls to realize that they didn’t all have to be perfect-fits. That said, I do continue to send check-in emails to those who I felt understood me the most or showed a specific interest in my process.
Advice for students who are nervous to reach out to professionals or who aren’t sure of the importance of networking:
1. Starting is always the hardest part. You just have to pick someone familiar (a teammate or a sibling’s friend) to become familiar with the process.
2. TAKE NOTES. It’s so much easier to keep track of who did what, when you spoke to each person, and what specific things you want to add to your ‘thank you’ notes. I haven’t regretted any of the time spent writing down notes before, during, and after each call. I look back on them frequently and also add more notes every time I reconnect with them.
3. Networking doesn’t have to be disingenuous or calculating. All networking means to me is learning, sharing, and connecting with others. I recognize that I’m not entitled to any opportunities or information from them, so in my mind, it’s just another opportunity to stay engaged and hone in on how I’d like to approach my interests.
Elizabeth Miclau, ’24
Neurobiology, Secondary in Global Health and Health Policy
Varsity Women’s Swimming and Diving
What’s next for Elizabeth? “I’m currently planning to take another gap year to train for the Olympics! I’ll be looking into work opportunities soon, once I solidify my training plan. Updates to come :)”