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BrettBy Brett Boettcher, NCA associate director of professional program strategy & management, serving students in the School of Professional Studies and master’s students in The Graduate School.

Welcome to the final installment of Northwestern Career Advancement’s (NCA) 5-part international master’s student blog series.  This series is designed to provide international master’s students with career information and strategies. Find our previous posts here. This blog series is a collaboration between NCA and The International Office.

Networking is a strategy that is essential to any Northwestern student’s job/internship search. Networking assists you to learn valuable industry, company, or job information. This information can aid you in making career decisions as well as provide insider tips for application and interviewing success. For international students, American-style networking may be quite different than the cultural norms in their home country. This can make networking confusing and intimidating. In the U.S., it is acceptable to contact Northwestern alumni or professionals to ask questions about a certain industry, company, or even that person’s job.

A common question international students ask at the beginning stages of networking is how they can identify and contact individuals. Who is acceptable to contact? What if I don’t know the person? What do I say?

It is always best to start networking with individuals you know. It is acceptable, however, to contact individuals who you do not know. A great way to start identifying people you don’t know, is to find individuals with whom you have something in common. Northwestern alumni are a great option since both you and the alum have Northwestern in common. Alumni can be helpful to international master’s students and should be used in any job search. Another way to find contacts with a connection to you is to find individuals from your home country, whether you are job searching for a position in the U.S. or at home. The intention of this blog is to present useful ways in which international master’s students can find home country contacts to begin networking.

How to Find Home Country Contacts Living in the U.S.

LinkedIn allows you to search through public profiles from any university that you attended, providing search criteria such as “where they live”, “where they work”, or “what they do”, to assist you in finding alumni who can be most helpful for what you are seeking. You can find alumni at various universities and colleges by typing the name of the university/college in the search bar (upper left-hand corner) and clicking on “see alumni” once you are on that institution’s profile page.

If you attended a university for your undergraduate degree in your home country, you can use LinkedIn to find home country networking contacts living in the U.S. or abroad. Find your home undergraduate university (for example, Beihang University), then search for profiles of alumni who work in the U.S. city that interests you.

Some Northwestern Master’s degree program departments offer access to alumni through events, listservs, or lists to assist students with networking and professional development. This can be a great way to identify home country contacts living in the U.S.

How to Find Contacts Living in Your Home Country

The Northwestern Alumni Association (NAA) offers two web-based resources that can be helpful to find Northwestern alumni who live in your home country.

  • Our Northwestern is a networking community of current students and alumni, with the purpose of professional and career development. Current students can access the alumni “directory” and use the “advanced search” to search alumni profiles by location (examples: India, Germany, Korea), company, or NU degree.
  • Mentorship Program is a networking resource where current students can develop meaningful relationships with an alum who can guide and support them in their job search.

Students can also use professional societies or associations to identify individuals from your home country. For example, the Society of Women Engineers has a number of international members which you could contact for networking purposes. You could contact either the Northwestern chapter or the U.S. national society to inquire about contacts. Ask NCA about how to contact individuals within professional societies/associations.

How to Contact Alumni for Networking

Now that you’ve identified home country contacts to network with, your next step is to schedule a time to speak to them. This conversation is called an “informational interview”. The informational interview is an inverse interview where you are interviewing the contact for career or professional information. You can first connect with your contact using email or telephone. Here is what should be included in your first communication with that new contact:

  • Introduce yourself, mentioning that you are currently studying at Northwestern.
  • Tell them how you found their contact information (LinkedIn, Our Northwestern, department contact, etc).
  • Ask for a 20 minute informational interview. 20 minutes is a reasonable amount of time for this type of request.
  • Be transparent and tell the contact what you would like to discuss with them. Do your research and ask informed questions. You do not want to ask questions you can easily find on a website.
  • Mention your willingness to meet them in-person (if working in Chicago), speak over the telephone, or Skype.
  • Avoid asking them for a job or internship referral in your first meeting. Get to know each other first.
  • Find a sample email in the networking section of NCA’s Career Guide.