Networking 101: What to Say

In my last blog, Networking 101: Where to Start, I spoke about how to begin the process of networking. However, many students also have questions about “what to say” when reaching out. In this blog, I will cover how to put your best foot forward when reaching out to alumni and professionals.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. To illustrate a successful method of outreach when networking, let’s start with an example. Below, you will see a sample message written to an alumnus on LinkedIn. (This same message can be modified for email correspondence as well). Notice what seems effective about this message.

If you look closely, there are three techniques that Jenn uses to communicate her message.  Let’s review each of these strategies below:

1. Identify “Who You Are”

The first thing that Jenn does in this outreach is identify herself.  She shares her name, what she is studying, and what university she attends.  These descriptors help her contact to gain a sense of who is reaching out.  Providing this context builds credibility and connection.  You never want to leave a new contact guessing about who they are speaking with.  Remember, the first rule of outreach is to identify, “who you are.”

2. Establish Common Ground

Next, Jenn establishes common ground with her contact by mentioning their shared connection – the University of Pennsylvania.  Referencing a mutual connecting point is always a good way to develop rapport with a contact.  Reaching out to Penn alumni is also a smart strategy to employ.  However, sometimes you may be interested in a company or role where there is no alumni connection.  In this case, you can mention your interest in the same field.  Jenn also shows that she and Jacob are interested in the same industry – consulting.

3. Make an Ask (But Offer Some Flexibility)

Lastly, you will notice that Jenn makes a request.  She asks to connect and learn more about Jacob’s experience.  Another important rule in networking is to be clear in asking for something.  What do you want to learn?  What do you want to know?  However, don’t ask for something that your contact is likely to say “no” to.  Don’t ask for a job.  You also don’t want to be pushy about when to meet.  Once your contact agrees to meeting with you, then you can give them some options for when to connect.  Remember to always thank your contact for their time as well.

So, there you have it.  These are three techniques that you can use when reaching out to Penn alumni or other professionals.  Be clear about “who you are,” establish common ground, and make an ask.  I believe these tips will help you in forming professional connections.  And as always, know that the staff here at Penn Career Services are willing to help you with the process.

By Mark Kaloko
Mark Kaloko Associate Director, The College