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April 24, 2018

How to find — and connect with — alumnae

Grace Grieve-Carlson ’19

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From scientists and writers to athletes and entrepreneurs, thousands of successful people call Mount Holyoke their alma mater — nearly 38,000, to be exact. If you want to discover career opportunities and make meaningful relationships with people in your field, our enthusiastic network of alumnae is a wonderful resource. Here’s how.

Students on Mountain Day sporting MHC tattoos
Students show their love for MHC on Mountain Day

Step 1: Opt in.

Begin by registering with Mount Holyoke’s Alumnae Career Directory, which grants access to information on over 20,000 alumnae in all fields. All alumnae in the directory have personally opted in to this resource, so they have shown their interest in connecting with current students. You can search by company, field, location and more. The Alumnae Association website also has sample emails, questions and more guidance.

Other ways to find alumnae include searching the Mount Holyoke LinkedIn group, the archives from student organizations and the Alumnae Stories page on the Alumnae Association website. You can also stay on the lookout for events on campus that alumnae will attend!

Students attend the Careers in Public Service conference
Students, staff and alumnae attend the Careers in Public Service program in Washington, D.C.

Step 2: Choose a few alumnae to reach out to.

Look for people in your field of interest, people who work for companies you’re interested in, and people whose involvements while at Mount Holyoke (majors, student orgs, etc.) are similar to yours. Make a short list of people (five is a good number) of people who really stand out as being relevant to your life and career path. Making a few strong connections is more valuable than talking to dozens of people. And you can always go back and find more alumnae later!

Next, choose who to reach out to first. You may want to start with recent graduates, as they remember most acutely what it is like to be a student. And even though they might not be CEOs yet, if you value the path they’re on, they will be able to give you good advice. Plan to reach out to high-level alums once you’ve gone through the process a few times and feel comfortable — and after you’ve done your research about them and the industry!

Students processing on Commencement Day
Students process toward the amphitheater on Commencement

Step 3: Make a goal.

While you plan your approach, consider the reasons that people network. You’re probably trying to get information about an industry or find possible employment opportunities, but why are alums networking with you?

Alumnae want to see current students succeed, especially those that they get to know personally. Providing mentorship and paving the way is part of the Mount Holyoke legacy. Make a specific plan for the relationship you want to start with each alumna, and make sure your communication reflects that. (Note: You should not send five alumnae the same form letter.) The more specific and respectful, the better chance you have. Your tone should be personal but not casual.

Some fundamental rules: Never ask for a job, an internship, funding or housing — and never send a resume unless requested. Instead, ask for information on the alumna’s post-college path, including any info on her field that could be helpful to you, and other things that can’t be answered through Google. Discussion of other helpful actions should be initiated by the alumna.

Step 4: Research.

Before you reach out to alumnae, research their background, organization and industry. By Googling the alumna’s name, you may find more up-to-date information than what is in the alumnae directory. By doing thorough research, you can make sure to ask questions that you could not answer through a website or other non-personal source. This will show that you care specifically about this alum’s experience, and will elicit a more thoughtful response.

Remember: you should go into the conversation already knowing about them and why you want to speak with them specifically.

Window detail, Williston Library
Window detail, Williston Library

Step 5: Write an email.

Even if you find an alumna’s LinkedIn, Facebook profile or mailing address, email is your best bet. It’s effective and professional, and studies show that most people check email at least once a day. In your email, be respectful. Consider what you are asking of the alumna and what you can give in return. And always proofread your email before hitting send — show a friend or come to walk-in hours at the Career Development Center.

Email example 1:

Hi Martha,

My name is Grace and I’m a current student at Mount Holyoke! I just got an unpaid internship at the D.C. zoo (Lynk funding woop woop!) and I saw on the Alumnae Network that you live very close. I know this might sound weird, but can I live with you for the summer? I don’t know anyone in D.C. I’m really  good company. I’ve attached my resume so you can know a little more about me. Hope to hear from you soon. :)

Email example 2:

Dear Ms. Ramberg:

My name is Grace and I’m a current biology major at Mount Holyoke. Last summer I interned with the Massachusetts Audubon Society as a tern colony research assistant. As part of my role I was responsible for educating the public about our work and the impact that humans have on the environment. I would like to learn more about environmental education as a career path.

I was looking through the Alumnae Directory and noticed that you spent several years working for the National Environmental Education Foundation as a conservation scientist. I’ll be in D.C. this summer for an internship with the National Zoo and would love to talk to you about how you got into the field and hear about your experience!  

Might you have a few moments to connect sometime this summer? I would love to grab coffee and talk — I could be available at your convenience after 2 p.m. most days.

Thanks in advance!

Grace Grieve-Carlson ’19

The first email has grammatical errors, shows a clear lack of planning on the part of the student, reflects no research into the alum beyond location, and strikes much too colloquial of a tone. The second email is formal, respectful and error-free, and it shows genuine interest in and knowledge of the alum’s career.

A good formula to follow when writing emails: The first paragraph should give the alum a sense of who you are and what you’ve done. The second paragraph should outline why you want to talk with her. The third should be the ask — be specific so she know what you’re looking for!

Graduating seniors take part in the Laurel Parade
Graduating seniors take part in the Laurel Parade

Step 6: Follow up and keep the relationship going.

Woohoo, you followed the steps above, sent an email and got a nice response! Now what?

First, send an email thanking the alumna for her response. After that, reach out periodically when you have new questions or something interesting to share, for example at the end of the semester or the summer. You don’t have to send an email once a month with your life updates, holiday-card style, but if you’re applying for a company she worked for and want advice, or you made strides in your summer research because of advice she gave you, let her know! Try to respond promptly (within a week) every time she contacts you — even if she takes a long time in responding. Since you’re the one seeking her guidance, responding quickly will show that you care.

With this advice, you’re ready to make meaningful relationships with alumnae in your field(s). Networking with Mount Holyoke graduates will be fun, rewarding and instrumental in planning your future. You never know what connecting with the right person can lead to!

Need help drafting that first email or want a tour of the Career Directory?

Come visit us! During the academic year, the CDC offers personalized walk-in advising at the CDC from 2 to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday, and at the MEWS from 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Or schedule a 30-minute appointment year-round by calling 413-538-2080.

Embrace the network. Learn More  

Grace Grieve-Carlson ’19, an English major and Arabic minor, is a marketing and design assistant at the Career Development Center. She is the general manager of WMHC and hosts a radio show on Friday afternoons. She is also a member of the Unusual Suspects improv troupe, a cartoonist for the Mount Holyoke News and co-leads the student organization Comedy Collective.
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