June 21, 2018

Guidelines on Reaching Out to Alumni

Some tips on reaching out to Duke alumni (or anyone else) for an informational interview:

  • Unless the contact resides in your area, your goal would be to ask for a phone or video conversation. (Email is useful to establish the connection, but there’s no substitute for a real conversation.)
  • Keep the email professional and concise. Use “Dr.” “Mr.” or “Ms.” as an initial salutation, and provide a link to your online profile (such as Scholars@Duke, your department profile, LinkedIn, or another personal site you maintain). Explain briefly why you are reaching out, and what you hope to gain from the conversation (e.g., “I am curious about what it’s like to work in a corporate environment, and the kind of learning curve I might expect.”)
  • Understand that these are busy professionals, and they may not have time to reply to your email quickly. If you do not hear a response after a week or so, it is acceptable to follow up (“Just circling back to see whether you’d be available for a conversation. Thanks!”)
  • Let your contact take the lead on scheduling. Likely you will not have a wide choice of dates or times. They may allocate 20 minutes, or half an hour. You will need to work within these limits.
  • If you ask for the conversation, you will likely call them (not the other way around).
  • Prior to the conversation, have a few questions planned in advance. Be mindful of your goals for the conversation (this will help everyone to stay on track).
  • A helpful question to ask at the end of any informational interview is “Who else do you recommend I speak with?”
  • After the conversation, always send a thank-you email, preferably within 24-48 hours.