April 27, 2013

BUSINESS: Is Networking With Alumni Worth It?

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The Sun’s business news, which launched Monday, features stories about entrepreneurship, finance and job outlooks.  The feature’s editor, Manu Rathore, may be reached at mrathore@cornellsun.com.

Getting a job lined up before graduation or landing a summer internship is often more stressful than the prelim season for Cornell students. Yet in a world where LinkedIn is to job search what Facebook is to social life, Cornell students have ignored one of the most useful assets available to them: alumni, according to Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.

Networking is especially important for students looking to go into business or finance careers, according to Sparrow.

“It’s just a numbers thing. It is not unusual for one of the popular banks to receive 380 resumes for one of its job postings. And you can imagine that, of those 380 students, probably nearly all of them meet their credentials on paper,” she said. “You could have a dartboard and throw darts to pick your 13 candidates for that [desired] schedule.”

Recruiters usually pre-screen the job applications they receive from undergraduate students. According to Sparrow, a common process is for recruiters to “sit down at a round table, and the first thing they’ll say is: ‘Okay. Who do we know?’”

Arnav Sahu ’15, who will work as an economic analyst for a think tank over the summer, said alumni connections are essential because most finance companies’ first-round campus interviews are conducted by Cornell alumni who can recommend candidates to the company’s human resources department.

“Human resources places your resume on the top, as an alumni working at the company suggested your name,” he said. “They actually review your candidacy, instead of spending just 15 seconds on your resume.”

However, alumni may not always be eager to help prospective applicants, according to Sparrow.

“Many [alumni] will be [eager], some might not be and the worst off you are is when that person doesn’t answer your email,” she said.

But there is always a possibility that connecting to alumni will be fruitful, according to Sparrow.

“It can be quite flattering to the people whom you’re asking information from to hear that you think there’s something about them that’s interesting and that they may be able to help you,” she said.

Ratnika Prasad ’14, who will be working with an investment bank over the summer, said that connecting with alumni is similar to aiming for high SAT scores to get into one’s dream college.

“It is one of the many factors considered and might ultimately determine the result, but it is not the only thing,” she said. “It does not mean that one won’t get an internship or a job because one has not connected with alumni.”

It is certainly possible to get a job without a connection, according to Ji Won Ok ’13, who worked at a consulting firm in South Korea last summer.

“I didn’t go through any alumni connections. I applied for the job by sending my resume and got an interview,” she said.

However, alumni are more inclined to help Cornell students, as they share a common alma mater, according to Sparrow.

“When you call [alumni], it is not quite a cold call, as you already share something,” she said. “When you call someone else out of the blue after finding their contact information, for example, from an article in The Wall Street Journal, that personal commitment isn’t there.”

But applicants should not treat networking as a requirement. Rather, they should treat it as a way to gather information, according to Prasad.

“A lot of people see networking as a check mark on a list,” she said. “That completely misses the point because the reason that one should be talking to recruiters from these institutions in order to understand what is different about each of them and because the institutions can tell when a person is trying to be fake.”

There are many ways a student can be an applicant the recruiter knows, according to Sparrow. One method is searching the database of mentors on the CCnet website, she said.

“You can go in there and search in the database of mentors. There are a lot of ways in which you can search by their major, company [and] location,” she said. “After you identify a person you’re interested in, you send them an email essentially saying, ‘I’d like to pick your brain.’”

However, landing a job is ultimately dependent on one’s qualifications, according to Sahu.

“[Networking] is a good way to get your foot in the door,” he said. “The rest is dependent on your candidacy and qualifications.”

Original Author: Joseph Sarkis

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