If you’ve never been to an alumni or networking event before, it’s easy to create a script in your mind of how it’s all going to go down. You show up, wow everyone with your amazing intellect and boundless enthusiasm, and get hired on the spot. Ha. Sadly, that’s not usually the case.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes you’ll go to a networking event and Every. Single. Person. you meet is also looking for a job. Sometimes you’ll meet people who will talk about themselves so much that you’ll just stand there silently stuffing your face with mozzarella sticks and barely have a chance to say your name before the event’s over. And sometimes you might just meet someone who can introduce you to someone in your field, knows about a job opportunity, or is currently looking to fill a position.
Even in those cases, though, your work is far from done. Getting someone to tell you about a job opportunity or possible connection? Easy peasy. Getting them to actually send an email intro or get you in for a job interview? Not so much.
Guest writer Deirdre Quirk talks to her friend Amy J., who made a connection at an alumni event that led to a real job… eventually. Find out how Amy did it, and get some ideas for how alumni from your school can help YOUR job search.
My good friend Amy J., also a recent Reed graduate and Chemistry major, has a sweet job as a research intern at a pharmaceutical start-up. But she didn’t get this job through the usual tactic of sending out endless résumés and cover letters; instead, she started by identifying a company she wanted to work at. Through a combination of networking, willingness to reach out, enthusiasm, and persistence, she convinced them she would be a great person to add to their team. She graciously agreed to be interviewed to share her story and advice with other recent graduates.
Deirdre Quirk: Let’s start with, what is your official job title?
Amy J: Research intern at a pharmaceutical start-up.
DQ: And how did you first hear about this company? What got you interested in them?
AJ: I met a Reed alumnus at Working Weekend [an event hosted by the Center for Life Beyond Reed where alumni give presentations and meet with current students in one-on-one sessions] who is one of the co-founders of the company and he and I had a conversation about my interests and career goals. He told me he thought that those, along with my skill set, would make me a good fit for the company, so he offered to put me in touch with one of the directors.
DQ: Did you end up emailing the director? Did they get back to you?
AJ: I ended up emailing the alum I met who sent an introduction to the director. Then he never got back to me, but I followed up with him. I just let him know I was interested and asked again if he thought any position they had would be a good fit for me and eventually we set up a phone call after I sent him a summary of my research experience.
DQ: And how did the phone call go?
AJ: It went well, I think. He and I spoke for about 30 minutes and he pretty much told me that they hadn’t even considered hiring anyone; the company was really growing and getting very busy so he wasn’t sure what they might need, but he would ask around the office and see what people thought about hiring an intern/temporary employee to help out for a time. And if so, what their job might look like, where they could use the most hands. He wanted to be sure I knew that if anything were to be decided it would be temporary and he wanted to get a feel for my interests, what I wanted out of the position, and how flexible I was about the kind of work I would be doing.
DQ: Were you feeling flexible and open to temporary work at that point? Or did talking to him make you feel like it was a realistic possibility?
AJ: That was more or less what I was looking for. At the time—and still—I wasn’t sure when or if I was going to go to grad school, but I wanted to use my degree and sort of explore what kinds of careers might be available to me outside of an academic setting if I were to continue my education. I felt like doing an internship or something temporary would be the best way to get some experience without committing too much.
DQ: That makes a lot of sense. And did the phone call lead directly to a job, or was it more complicated than that?
AJ: It was a bit more complicated, haha. Over the phone he and I also discussed my research experience and he asked if he could speak with my former boss (from when I had done research at Reed over the summer) and also my thesis adviser. I cleared it with them and he contacted both of them as references for my research experience. After that, he got back to the other directors at the company about me and my experience and then he suggested that I have a Skype interview with three of them to talk about my experience and interests and what sort of work each of them were doing to see if we lined up and if any of them might want me in their respective groups.
DQ: Wow, that sounds intimidating! How did you prepare for that? How did it go?
AJ: It was a bit overwhelming. I just prepared myself to answer basic interview questions, reviewed my summer research, and made lists of relevant experiences and examples that demonstrated qualities I felt I had. It was a bit awkward doing an interview over Skype with so many people even though it was rather informal. And I wasn’t sure how receptive most of them were to me really. It was difficult to tell. I think the whole thing lasted maybe 40 minutes. Each of them told me what their research focus was and their role in the company and then they asked me what my background was and what I was looking to do. Each of them also told me what they thought I may be able to help them with and they asked me about how a position with them would help me achieve my goals and how certain I was I wanted to continue on in chemistry and research.
DQ: Whew. At the end of the interview did you feel like there was one person you really wanted to work with, or were they all about the same?
AJ: I actually really ended up liking the director of biology, somewhat ironically. They seemed to be the most enthusiastic and supportive, but I more or less knew I wouldn’t be working with the director of biology just because I didn’t have the necessary experience and am not particularly interested in exploring the biology side of things.
DQ: That’s funny. Who did you end up working with?
AJ: I ended up in the pharmacokinetics group.
DQ: How did that happen? Did that director choose you? Also, what does pharmacokinetics mean?
AJ: I’m not really sure how it happened. I think they probably needed the most assistance and had the most lab space up for grabs. The chemistry lab was already pretty tight to begin with. I just got an email from the director I was initially in contact with saying that they would like to move forward and the director of pharmacokinetics would be in touch to describe the details of the position if I also wanted to move forward with them.
Pharmacokinetics basically deals with how drugs are metabolized and what happens to them in the body. It’s a lot of animal studies to see what the response is to different doses of the drug, if it is absorbed, if the body alters the molecule, how quickly it is excreted, that kind of thing.
DQ: Huh. Interesting. What do you do in your job?
AJ: Most of my time is spent preparing solutions for the compounds to be given to animals in the in vivo studies, analyzing the solutions to be sure we’re giving the correct dose, and then analyzing plasma that is collected from the animals in the studies for drug compounds and metabolites. I also just do a lot of kind of odd jobs around the lab. Organizational stuff and maintenance of equipment and instruments.
DQ: Cool! Do you enjoy it? Are you happy with the position you ended up with?
AJ: I do enjoy it. I like the people that I work with and it’s a really fast-paced environment. Since it’s such a small company I get to see and do a lot of things that wouldn’t be accessible to me with a larger group. I am happy with how it worked out.
DQ: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice for someone else who’s looking to get a job at a specific company?
AJ: I would say to definitely not give up until they tell you a firm no. Keep reaching out—persistence and enthusiasm can get you far. And definitely take advantage of any connections you may have, however distant. It’s surprising how helpful people can be even when you get in touch with them out of the blue. Also, I would say most people in higher-level positions find it much less awkward than us recent grads do.
Homework time! The first step is to put yourself out there. If you’re still in school, see if your career services office has any upcoming events where you could meet alumni or other industry professionals. If you’ve already graduated, see what’s going on in your city. You can look for formal or informal alumni events, or just events that are related to your industry. If you meet someone who could help you, don’t be afraid to follow up afterward!