Five-Step Guide to Networking

Your Princeton experience offers frequent opportunities to naturally engage in networking — sometimes without even realizing it — including: 

  • Professors’ office hours
  • Event speakers and panelists
  • Career fairs, employer events and professional conferences
  • Summer internships or volunteer opportunities with your manager and coworkers
  • Connections made through on-campus jobs
  • Student organizations and volunteer opportunities 
  • Reunions
  • Princeton alumni clubs near your hometown, post-graduation location or the summer location
  • City Treks and Princeternships through the Center for Career Development

This guide will help you through every step of networking from how to get started to maintaining your relationships. 

Step 1: Lay the groundwork

Know your “why”

Start by clarifying your goals and objectives for wanting to connect with others. There could be many reasons you may want to start networking, including:

  • You are curious about exploring careers beyond those that are already familiar to you.
  • You are considering internships and what might be the best fit for you.
  • You are very interested in a specific career and would like an insider’s perspective to determine if your understanding of the work is accurate.
  • You have decided upon a specific location after graduation and want to better understand how to find opportunities in that area.
  • You are preparing for an interview in a certain career field and want to gain insight and advice from someone who’s been through the same interview process before.
Figure out your “who”

You may not realize it but you already have a network. Networks do not just consist of high-powered people like CEOs. They consist of the people we know, the people they know and the people we make an effort to get to know. 

Start by taking an inventory of your network using this template. Then list individuals with whom you would like to connect and learn more about work that interests you.

Decide on “what”

What approach will you take? Networking can be formal, informal or not planned at times, but nonetheless it is a great way to build relationships. You can have an informational interview to gather information on the person or organization, attend an in-person/virtual networking event, or participate in company or organization information session.


Step 2: Find contacts

How to find people

Start building a list of potential connections. Begin by identifying people who are working in areas that interest you. There are many resources you can use to find people and their contact information, including:

  • LinkedIn: Find individuals, organizations and specific roles that interest to you. You can use LinkedIn to find contacts within a particular organization, as well as Princeton alumni. Be sure that your LinkedIn profile is updated and well organized so new contacts who read your profile can learn about you. 
  • TigerNetPrinceton's official online community, TigerNet is a searchable directory featuring alumni contact information. Paired with the LinkedIn alumni search tool, it's an effective way to find contact information for alumni and contact them for advice and to learn about their career paths.
  •  Career Compass Alumni Profiles: The searchable profiles on the Princeton Career Compass site offer advice and reflections from alumni about their experiences and career paths, as well as a way to contact them directly.
  • Career Chats: This program provides students the opportunity to speak with Princeton alumni from a range of industries and backgrounds. These conversations will offer insight into different career paths and help you start to develop your own network. 
  • CareerShiftProvided for free through Princeton, you can create a CareerShift account to find alumni and others in organizations that interest you. Review our CareerShift Search Tips page to learn how to use it effectively.

Step 3: Reach out

Set up a meeting

When connecting with a new contact for the first time, you should email them to ask for the chance to set up an in-person, phone or virtual meeting.

Email samples

Type of message: Email to alum/professional asking about their career path 

Subject line: Request for career guidance from a Princeton sophomore 

Dear Inge, 

As a current sophomore at Princeton, I am considering a career in journalism and am excited to explore this career path. I [found, received] your information [on Princeton’s LinkedIn Alumni page, from Jane Doe, etc.], and am interested in learning more about [your experience at abcxyz company, your role as xyz, how you determined a career in this area was right for you, etc.]. 

I would appreciate an opportunity to learn more about your experiences, as well as any advice you might be willing to share with me. When time allows on your end, could we meet at a location convenient to your office or schedule a time to talk with you for about 20 minutes on the phone? 

I look forward to the possibility of connecting with you and thank you for considering my request. 

Sincerely, 
Tori Tiger 


Subject line: Fellow Tiger connecting about your choreography career path 

Dear Amir, As a current senior at Princeton, I am curious about becoming a choreographer. 

I was recently conducting some searches in the Princeton alumni LinkedIn group and noticed your profile. 

I find your path from being a part of [dance group xyz] at Princeton and writing about dance in your senior thesis, to working for a dance nonprofit and becoming a choreographer, to be very interesting and admirable. 

I am involved in a variety of dance-related groups on campus, and feel that my study of anthropology alongside my passion for connecting people with meaningful performances may point towards a career in choreography. 

I’m currently exploring next steps for my career post-graduation and was wondering: do you have a few minutes to connect via phone to discuss your career path and experiences with me? 

Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,

Tamara Tiger


Type of message: Email to alum asking for advice about careers beyond academia

Subject line: Request for career transition guidance from a Princeton Ph.D. student 

Dear Julia, 

I hope this message finds you well! 

My name is Justin Tiger, and I’m a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at Princeton. As I am planning to defend my dissertation next spring, I’m currently exploring my next career step after Princeton and hoping to learn more about technical consulting. 

I found your information on Princeton’s TigerNet and noticed you’ve been with [company name] for a while after Princeton. I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your transition from Ph.D. to work and experience at [company name] as well as any advice you could share with me. If time allows on your end, I was wondering if I could schedule a time to speak with you for about 20 minutes over Zoom or phone. 

I’d be happy to provide any further information that’d be helpful! 

Thank you in advance for considering my request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards, 
Justin Tiger


Subject line: Request for a brief chat for startup career exploration from a Princeton graduate student 

Dear Dr. Jing, 

I hope this message finds you well! My name is Chloe Tiger, and I’m a second-year Ph.D. student in sociology at Princeton. I am curious about career opportunities beyond academia, especially related to diversity and inclusion. Recently, I conducted some alumni career searches via LinkedIn and found your profile. 

Your career journey from being a diversity fellow at Princeton to becoming a founder of a startup working on racial equity and inclusion in the community is very inspiring and admirable. As a head of diversity fellows this year at Princeton, I am eager to learn more about your graduate experiences at Princeton and your current role at [company name]. 

I know you are very busy but I would truly appreciate it if you had any availability for a brief chat via phone anytime next month. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I hope to have the opportunity to connect with you in the near future. 

Sincerely, 
Chloe Tiger


Type of message: Contacting a former supervisor, mentor, or anyone who you think might be able to help you find contacts or opportunities

Subject line: Checking-in and seeking assistance

Hi Susan,

I hope all is well! I saw the photos of the conference you attended last month—it looked like a fantastic event. How was your move to San Francisco?

I’m reaching out because I will be graduating in a few months with my [insert degree & major] and am currently seeking a full-time opportunity this coming Fall. As you know, I have been at The Smith Agency for the past year, but I’m ready for a new challenge [name a role/field/industry of interest]

I know you used to work for Pharma Inc. which is on my short list of dream companies. Do you still have any contacts there, and if so, is there someone who might be willing to speak with me about your experiences? Any introductions you could make would be greatly appreciated.

In addition, if you know of any job opportunities or leads you might be able to share with me, please don’t hesitate to send them my way. I’ve attached my resume for your reference, and feel free to pass it along. 

Thanks in advance for your help! I’ve always appreciated your guidance and support. Please keep me posted on how things are going and if there’s anything I can do to return the favor. Have a great rest of your week. 

Best wishes,

Tami Tiger


Type of message: Following up with someone after some time since last conversation

Subject line: Following up from March conversation

Dear Sam,

I hope all is well. As I was looking through my emails, I realized it has been some time since I’ve [emailed/followed up/checked in with] you about [subject/location/event where you met]. Since we last spoke, I’ve [provide 2-3 highlights of things you’ve done since]. I also looked into the book you recommended me, and I found [connect piece of what you’ve learned between this time]. I’m looking forward to this academic year and building up my portfolio. 

If your schedule allows, it would be great to catch up with you I have availability in the next couple of weeks, please let me know what dates and times work best for you. 

Have a great rest of your week!

Kind regards,

T.J. Tiger


Type of message: Following up with a person you met at an event

Subject line: Following up from [name of event]; Request to connect

Hi Ryder,

It was great to meet you at [name of event] on [date]. I had a great time chatting with you about [something you talked about]. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re currently working on [responsibility in current job/organization or side project]—and [reason why it relates to you]. I’d love to chat some more and ask you some relatable questions. Let me know if you have availability in the next couple of weeks. 

All the best,

Thomas Tiger

LinkedIn message sample

Sending a personalized LinkedIn message increases your chances for an accepted invitation to connect. LinkedIn sets a 300 character limit on all connection requests, so it is important to be concise.

Dear [Name], I’m a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at Princeton. I’m currently exploring my next career step and hoping to learn more about your role. Would you be willing to speak with me this month to discuss how you successfully navigated a career in biotech? Thank you, [Your Name]


Step 4: Prepare & conduct yourself professionally

Confirm logistics

Be sure to confirm all meeting logistics with your contact ahead of time: date, time, location and method of communication (in-person, phone, video chat, etc.). Be courteous and defer to the plans that would be most convenient for your contact. 

If conducting your networking conversation by phone or video chat

  • Be aware of differences in time zones between locations.
  • Find somewhere quiet and private with a reliable signal where you will not be interrupted.
  • Confirm ahead of time who will be calling and the best number or username with which to reach your contact in order to avoid any last-minute confusion.

If conducting your networking conversation in person

  • Confirm the location ahead of time. Ideal settings are public places where you could talk easily and uninterrupted, such as a cafe or an office. 
  • Suggesting a location near your contact’s office is recommended. 
  • Plan your mode of transportation give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to get there. 
  • Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early; it sets a strong impression if you are at the location and ready to go before your contact arrives. 
  • If you’re having a conversation over coffee/tea or a meal, offer to cover your contact’s bill if possible. 

Be responsive as you’re making plans and then follow through on those plans. Being a no-show to a planned meeting or ghosting a contact is unacceptable and can damage your reputation.

Do your homework

You should be ready to talk about yourself and ask your contact informed, specific questions during a networking conversation. This requires some research ahead of time. You should:

  • Familiarize yourself with your contact’s professional background and current affiliations so you can build your questions from this information, connect on similarities and demonstrate the level of time and attention you’ve given to preparing for the conversation. 
  • Resources for gathering in-depth information about your contacts include (but are not limited to): LinkedIn profiles, company websites (particularly the staff or team pages), professional bios, publications written by your contact(s) and articles/news about them or their company. 
  • If something in a contact’s background strikes you as particularly interesting or similar to something in your own life, make a note of it and ask more about it when meeting with them.
Brainstorm questions

When preparing the questions you want to ask in your networking conversation(s), keep in mind the information you’ve gathered in your research as well as your “why”. Build your questions around the topics that genuinely pique your interest. 

Examples of networking questions

  • How did you choose this career and get to where you are now after graduation?
  • What has been your career path? What is the typical career path for someone starting in this field?
  • How has the field changed since you started?
  • What are the leading professional organizations in the field?
  • How does your organization compare with its competitors?
  • If you had to do college or graduate school all over again, what would you do differently?
  • (For alumni) What aspects of your Princeton experience did you find to be particularly useful when you were first transitioning from college to work?
  • What skills, personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
  • What next steps would you recommend for my search?
  • Could you recommend anyone else in your network with whom I can connect?
  • Can you tell me more about your workplace culture as I consider an opportunity with this company?
  • If you were back in college and had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
  • What is your opinion of my background and resume?
  • Do you see any problem areas or weaknesses?

Questions to avoid

  • How much money do you make?
  • What do you hate about your job?
  • Does your company have a job/internship opening I could apply to right now?
  • Can you get me in touch with your company’s hiring manager for a position?
  • Can you recommend me for a position at your company?
Be professional

Respect your contact’s time.

Everyone’s time is a commodity, even when someone is excited to connect with you. Keep your initial conversation to 30 minutes. Wrapping up your conversation within this timeframe will demonstrate respect for your contact’s time. This could also make your contacts more willing to schedule follow-up conversations with you and/or refer you to contacts of theirs. 

Listen twice as much as you talk. 

Be attentive during the conversation and practice active listening. Give your undivided attention to your contact. Refrain from having your phone or laptop out during the conversation in order to cut down on distractions. Ask open-ended questions to get the conversation going and ask clarifying questions when needed. Seek to understand — not to judge —what the other person is saying. 

Stay positive. 

Communicating a positive attitude through both your words and your body language is essential to making a good impression. When telling a story about a challenging situation from your past, be sure to frame it in a positive way and wrap it up with what you learned from it. 

Re-frame sensitive questions. 

If you are genuinely curious about the tough parts of someone’s job, instead of asking: “What do you hate about your job?”, ask: “What are some common challenges you face in your role."


Step 5: Manage your relationships

Track your process

A simple spreadsheet can help you stay organized. You can design your network tracking system however works best for you, but usually you’ll want to capture the following information:

  • Names
  • Contact information
  • Current positions and employer
  • Dates of your conversations
  • Notes/takeaways from conversations
  • Follow-up steps you’ve taken or plan to take
Thank you email sample

Sending a thank you email after each conversation takes only a few moments of your time and leaves your contacts with an impression of you as a courteous professional. Take the time to personalize your thank you note; refer to specific topics or takeaways from the conversation that were particularly impactful to you or about which you plan to follow up. Below is sample thank you email:

Subject line: Thank you! 

Dear Inge, 

Thank you very much for taking time to connect with me and share your wisdom and experience as a journalist. I especially enjoyed hearing about your adventures abroad, as well as the many interesting places you have lived throughout your career. 

Thank you also for referring me to your colleague Jordan. I look forward to hopefully connecting with him soon. Many thanks again! 

Sincerely, 

Theo Tiger

Keep in touch

How you remain in touch with a contact will depend on the nature of your relationship. There could be many outcomes from an initial conversation, including: 

  • After gaining insight into someone’s workplace or career, you may no longer be interested in exploring that profession. In this case, it is fine to not pursue any further connection with a contact after sending a thank-you email. 
  • If you get along well, you both may be interested in staying in touch and possibly developing a mentor or professional relationship. In this case, you may end up communicating regularly. 
  • If you ever have a negative experience, don’t give up on your networking efforts. Conversations that don’t go well could be due to differences in personality or someone having a bad day. It’s always best to send a thank-you email and move forward to other things. 

You can use the network tracking template to help you stay in touch in ways that don’t feel forced. Record takeaways or follow-up items from your conversations. Use them as segues for keeping in touch and updating your contacts over time. Examples could include: 

  • If a contact suggests that you contact one of their colleagues, check back in with them once you’ve done so. You can discuss what you learned from their colleague, ask other questions that arose and thank them for their help. 
  • Ask if your contact would be open to sharing their thoughts about your resume and experience.
  • Add people on LinkedIn following your informational interviews with them. 
  • If your contacts mention a milestone in their lives, reach out to congratulate them. 
  • If something you discussed with a contact comes up in a class, the news, a publication or a project you’re working on, tell them about it. 
  • Use transitions in the year (e.g. holidays, the start of new semesters) as excuses to reach out to contacts whom you haven’t heard from in a while, wish them well and update them about yourself. 

In the future you may find yourself on the receiving end of a request for an informational interview or networking conversation from a student or a new professional. From your experiences here and now, you will know just how to pay it forward.

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