Based on the true student story of Maggie, Business Information Systems, Class of 2020
I knew a summer internship was important, so during the start of my junior year I was active in my search. I completed applications on and off handshake, attended recruitment events on campus, participated in the Career Expo… but didn’t make much progress in securing an internship and I felt over all it didn’t go well. A rejection from one of the big four left me feeling discouraged, and that's when I decided I needed to do more to put myself out there.
I decided to identify young Lehigh alum at some of the companies on my list. LinkedIn has a Career Insights page that lets you sort and filter by company name and graduation year, so I started there but also directly searched for companies or names from the search bar. I didn’t worry about targeting someone in the exact same department I wanted to be in, or even limiting my search to recruiters, I just wanted to talk to someone who had recently gone through the hiring process and had insider information about the company and it’s hiring processes.
But I didn’t shy away experienced professionals, in some cases I contacted the Vice President of the company or the Hiring Manager directly on LinkedIn, some with Lehigh educations but many did not. I was simply introducing myself and asking questions that anyone could answer. Instead of asking “Are you hiring?” or “Can you help me get an internship?” I asked about company culture, their career path within the company and for referrals.
LinkedIn message example:
I am currently a Junior at Lehigh University and recently submitted my application for the (position title) internship, and am extremely interested in this opportunity. I know you are a (job title), but I was wondering if I could talk to you about your experiences with (company name) thus far in general and if you knew of anyone I could get in touch with in (department of interest). Thank you so much!
I am currently a Junior at Lehigh University studying (academic major). I recently applied for the (position title) Internship and am very excited about the opportunity. I would love to get in touch with you to hear more about your experiences with (company name) thus far and your advice on a possible interview.
No Embarrassment in Follow Up
When I received responses, I tried my best to take things off line by scheduling phone calls or in person coffee meetings. This allowed me to connect in a more personal way and also ask many questions I had prepared. It's critical to realize, this wasn’t always easy but I made it my mission to put myself out there, appear professional and demonstrate I was a go-getter. I did my research on the company and individual before hand so that I could prepare questions to ask, but also let the conversations naturally drift to related subjects and topics.
One of the questions I regularly asked: Tell me about an average day in your role. I had learned this lesson the hard way after being asked this in a previous interview where I was unable to answer the question. I didn’t have insight into the job other than the job application description and tanked my interview response as a result. I was sure to ask this of many of the professionals I networked with later, it was an excellent way to get to know their roles more practically and start a conversation.
Later, during a dinner as part of a pre-interview reception, I sat with several recruiters and felt comfortable enough to engage in conversation and professionally communicate. I was able to ask several thoughtful questions, stress my interest in the company and also help them get to know me on a personal level. Though in this case I did not receive an offer for the specific internship I applied to, one of the recruiters reached out to me directly to say that she had enjoyed meeting me throughout the interview process and was willing to be flexible and try to find a place for me in another role. I feel this was largely in part because I honed my networking skills and the recruiters got to know me in a more casual way where I felt comfortable enough to be myself. I’d suggest a tweak to the common phrase to say “It’s not what you know, it’s who you make the effort to get to know”. People often think that connections are made through prior relationships, rather, you can make those connections yourself… and be PROUD of it.
Perhaps one of the best results from networking was due to a strong relationship I had with a Lehigh alum at my top choice company. Part of the company’s interview process included submitting recorded interview questions and a response to a case study, both were part of a critical test to be considered for the position. As I began to work on the case study I experienced a technical glitch that froze my screen. After trying several fixes, I closed the window thinking I could re-enter but the screen said “Thank you for submitting your response” despite a lack of any added content! OH NO! I immediately reached out to my contact at the company to explain what had happened and through her assistance I was able to send her my response to the case study which she forwarded to the HR department. Not only did I pass the test as a result of her assistance, I was invited to super day and later offered a competitive internship that I happily accepted.
One of the biggest surprises I found through my networking was most people responded to my messages. I heard back from VP’s, young and experienced alum, hiring managers and even professionals with no Lehigh affiliation. It didn’t seem to matter if they were in advanced positions or new to their careers, I was able to communicate with many individuals at several different big name companies. I don’t attribute this to luck, but to my initiative to reach out and be proactive during an active time in the recruitment season. Timing, content, and demonstrated drive all played factors in my success.
Even after I had accepted an internship and updated one of the contacts I made at another company, I received this response. “Hey Maggie, I'm happy to hear you secured an internship for the summer. Please keep (company name) in mind for your future. I've been here almost five years and I can't recommend it enough. There's tons of opportunity for career growth and excellent benefits. Keep in touch and keep me posted if in the future you find yourself applying to (company name) post-grad. We could use more people who think and act boldly, like you.”
Learn from Me
The networking process taught me a couple important things. First, I can make connections myself. It's not always easy or successful, but I went out of my way to build these relationships.
Second, rejection is just a part of the process. Expect to hear no, or worse, no response at all from some applications or messages.
Lastly, networking is a skill you have to learn and practice. Just showing up to a networking event or sending that one email says a lot about your character and is impressive in itself. Don’t expect to be a natural at it right away, ask for help from the Career Center or students around you who have more experience with it. In my approach, I was determined to be bold and it paid off in many ways, so I hope you've learned from me and will boldly network for yourself.