Category Archives: Networking

Networking Hack #2 – Return the Favor

In college, I dreaded networking the most, not because I didn’t have brilliant questions to ask, but because I felt I as a student could not provide anything in return while I usually asked for something – information, a job referral, a contact, etc. To me, the scale was out of balance. As a result, the notion of being indebted haunted me and impaired my confidence at the meetings.

Honest Networking

It was not until I was approached by students to set up networking meetings that I realized I was not as resourceless as I thought I was in college. When thinking “Oh, I wish student A would have done this when we spoke last week”, I also learned to see “I really could have helped Alumna B when I met with her for an informational interview a few years ago”. After many rounds of reflection, I discovered the networking meeting could be an equal information exchange rather than one-way street. I could wear both hats – to find out answers to my networking requests (“the taker”) and to understand the other person’s aspirations and offer to help (“the giver”). Had I been back in college again, I would not have let the limited experience of my college-self impact me negatively. There are many ways to return the favor and stay in touch in the long term, such as giving feedback, sending relevant information in their areas of interests, introducing contacts, etc.


I did not recognize how powerful giving feedback is until I started blogging and have been in dire need of suggestions to improve my blog. I want to know if I have articulated my ideas, what topics my target audience would be interested in, etc. Thus, I reached out to a mentee of mine and asked her for a list of topics she is curious about. Thanks to her recommended list, I have written “Networking Hack #1” on how to conduct information interviews and this article on how to leave a long-lasting impression and stay in touch. Similarly, anyone could do the same for his/her networking contact by offering constructive feedback. When attending a company-sponsored networking event, you could connect with the recruiters and provide thoughts on what you enjoy and what else to include to make it even better. Comments and suggestions are in high demand but hard to get since we often delete event survey emails without participating. If you offer what the recruiters care about without them even asking in the first place, you will definitely stand out. What’s more, you get to connect with them on a personal level rather than being just a name among the survey results. Another example is if your mentor works in an industry you are familiar with, such as Target or General Mills, you could offer personal insights on certain products experience. I am sure you will have a fun idea exchange!

Apart from contributing personal ideas, another way is to share resources in the field that your contact is interested in. Resources could range from book recommendations and news articles, to contacts to introduce them to and professional development event information. I found out recently that one of my contacts was moving to Chicago.As someone who have been through moving to a completely new city not knowing anyone, I offered to introduce him to friends I know in the area. Someone who I find very inspiring has opened two women’s wear boutique shops in Minnesota. Since I have been quite a shopper myself, I sent her articles on the retail/fashion industry. I also shared her store information on Facebook, hoping to drive more store traffic. I am a firm believer that as long as I am thoughtful, whether the information could be of help or not, my contacts will appreciate the effort I put in. More importantly, I feel happier when I could do something for others.

To stay in touch in the long term, you could follow up periodically and give a status update. When others invest in you by volunteering time to meet with you, introducing their contacts, and forwarding your resume, etc, they would love to know what happens to you in the end. I did not empathize that feeling until I start mentoring students. I would wonder “what happened to Student A’s interview?”, “Did Student B meet my coworker and find it helpful?”, etc. Sending a brief email update is always a nice way to reconnect and gives another opportunity to keep you on your contact’s mind.

No matter what you do, it takes genuine interest to understand what your contacts care about and a well-informed mind to be resourceful. From checking your contact’s Linkedin profile and asking questions at the meetings, you will notice things that matter to them, such as the industries they are in, professional goals, college affiliation, personal hobbies, etc. To discover the relevant resources, you could stay in the know by not only following the news, but also turning to the Linkedin Newsfeed. I was able to find a networking event through Linkedin that one of my contacts might be interested in attending. If you are at a loss of how to help, you could always try “what can I do to help you”. Someone asked me this question before and I was able to ask for a favor.

When you initiate to help your networking contacts, you will strike them as thoughtful and having their interests in mind, instead of being all about “What I want…” If you share similar feelings as I once had in college, why not try these suggestions of giving feedback, providing relevant information, and sending periodic update emails. I hope my tips will help you generate more ideas. When in doubt, always think in your networking contact’s shoe and ask yourself “if I was him/her, how would I like to be treated?”



I would love to hear from you! Your thoughts are always welcome! You could leave a comment or email me at

Networking Hack #1 – Make it Easy for Others to Help You

Have you sent lots of networking emails but gained little traction?

Have you set up networking meetings that ended with no job prospects?

Sometimes feeling like the resume guy in the cartoon?

Unfocused Networking

Chances are you are not doing it right. To have high request response rate and productive networking meetings, think of ways that are convenient for others to help you. First, you must know what you want to achieve from the meeting, then incorporate the purpose in the introduction email, and lastly follow up with easy to execute plans. All these ideas are drawn from my personal experience of being on both sides and lessons passed down from the wise.

Network with a clear purpose

Networking meeting should always start with a purpose, which will help you narrow down what information you are seeking and who to talk to. A networking meeting without a well-thought-out purpose is a waste of time for both parties. Moreover, it is quite likely that the connection won’t even accept the request in the first place since he/she might be wondering “why me?” Thus, you should never network just to check the box. Instead, take the opportunity to explore topics such as “Does the company has the roles that fit my background and career aspirations”, “Does the team has the right culture that aligns with my personality”, etc. Further, networking does not need to be limited to job searching. You could also learn from those with intriguing career paths and get mentored.

Once you determine what questions to ask, set up meetings with those that could give you the answers. Linkedin is usually a great resource to research and gauge if one is the right connection. Relevance of one’s background to your networking purpose always matters more than the title he/she holds. No matter what decision-making power he/she has, if you are a strong candidate for a job, eventually your resume will be passed onto the hiring manager. It happens a lot in my office that if there is an opening on the team, the hiring manager will ask everyone if they know any good candidate. What’s more, you could always start with the junior analysts to “knock out the basics” and then to move up to people at the senior level to understand the team culture and strategy.

Articulate the purpose in the introduction email

With the purpose in mind, you narrow down the list of connections. Now it is time to set up a meeting. However, in the initial email, sometimes networkers fail to explain clearly how the request relates to the connection. I have outlined two requests that I encountered and my initial reactions. I have abbreviated the emails and kept them anonymous.

Case A

Email: “…. I am an international student looking for advice…”

Reaction: What particular areas of advice are you looking for? Academic? Adapting to the US culture? Job search? Leadership? What’s more, even under each area, there are multiple subtopics. For example, under job search, stand-alone topics could include networking, getting interview invites and interviewing. When the topic is too general, I will be at a loss about where to start and uncertain about how much time commitment the meeting is going to be.

Case B

Email: “… I am looking to move to Houston to start my career in finance. I am wondering if you have any advice or know anyone I should reach out to as I begin my application process…”

 Reaction: This should be a direct request for an informational interview, where I could learn more about your background. You could tell me what finance jobs are of interest and what companies you have looked into in Houston. What’s more, I am more likely to introduce you to my connections once I get to know you beyond the email.

Knowing that I could have high expectations, I nevertheless responded to both emails. However, there is room for improvement to eliminate any potential questions from the connection.

Propose specific actions in the follow-up email 

After the networking meeting, if you are interested in potential employment, propose ways that the connection could easily take part in. I have outlined a couple of actions and their enhanced versions.

Scenarios Actions Further Improvement
Available job posting of interest Tell the connection you have applied Email the connection a job description with your resume so he/she could forward directly to hiring managers
No job posting of interest at the moment Thank you email to show appreciation Commit to check back with the connection later, specify what types of position you are interested in and include the resume, in case he/she could forward your resume to other companies that are hiring

Overall, you should bear in mind the goal of minimizing the amount of work your connection needs to do.

We could all agree that people are more likely to act upon something if the undertaking is easy with clear directions. Our connections have competing priorities in life that they could easily say no to the meetings, since they don’t have any obligation to volunteer their time. Invest time and efforts in making it easier for others to help, such as knowing what you want to gain from the meeting and writing clear introduction and follow-up emails. In that way, you are more likely to get what you want.

Bonus – if you could read Chinese, below is a great article that inspires me to write this post. Although some points are overlapping, I try to make my examples as relevant as possible to college recruiting. I believe it is through concrete examples that one really learn to practice the ideas.

P.S. I will try to get back to my publishing consistency of every other Sunday evening. If you don’t want to miss a post in case I am behind schedule, be sure to sign up for notification via email. In “Hack #2” post, I will share my ideas of “giving” in the networking dynamic. Stay tuned!

Out-of-State Job Search & My Two Personal Stories

Preface: I am writing this article because my schedule doesn’t allow me to speak as a panelist at the workshop hosted by my alma mater. I am writing down my personal observations and stories, hoping it could make up for my absence. I will resume my “Ace the Recruiting Season – Part B” in the next two weeks.

If you are an international student struggling to find local employers to hire you due to work visa constraints, I strongly encourage you to look for opportunities out of state, especially in major metropolitan cities (i.e. NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, etc.). After moving to Houston due to an internal transfer, I was amazed at the sheer volume of international graduates working in Big Four accounting firms in Houston. Thinking about my accounting friends in Minnesota with equally impressive resume, I concluded they have a tough time because they only looked at local opportunities. In this article, I will quickly highlight “why major metros?”, share two personal stories on how I end up in Houston, and conclude with two tips on out-of-state job search.

The biggest advantage major metropolitan cities have is the mass scale of opportunities. Take Big Four accounting firms as an example, the new hire class in the Houston office could have 100 people each year, while the smaller regional office might only have 30-40. The numbers are made up, yet the contrast in sizes exists. What’s more, many firms in internationally-known cities have global operations. As a result, the ability to work in multicultural environment is more sought after and could be easier to demonstrate by candidates with international background. Overall, employers in these cities usually have a great record of hiring international graduates, are more familiar with the work visa application process, and show a deeper appreciation of hires with international experience.

At this point, you should be convinced that metro cities have more opportunities, but could be questioning what advantages you have as an out-of-state candidate. The general answer is that you may not have any. However, if you would like to stay in the US after graduation and if you are out of luck with local companies, relocating and committing to the job search is the only solution. Moreover, once you have established great connections with alumni in those cities that they would like to refer you, you are on the same level playing field.

I did not heavily search for jobs outside Minnesota in college. However, I am working in Houston thanks to the connections I have made in college and the office. They first led me to an internship with my current employer, then to a job in Houston.

When I was interviewing for internship with my current company, I reached out to someone I knew on the recruiting team. He and I used to serve on the executive board of a student organization together, so he knew my strong work ethics and leadership. He offered time to answer my questions about the company, shared insider tips, and even informed me the interview styles of my interviewers. At the company’s on-campus info session, I met my Houston manager who was also on the recruiting team. I stayed in touch with him during my internship and invited him to the intern project presentation. Two years later as I was applying for the internal transfer in Houston, he turned out to be my interviewer! I am sure the quality of my work and the relationship we have formed since the on-campus info session give him confidence that I will be successful on the job. Both personal stories have illustrated the importance of building a good brand to convince others to either recommend you or hire you.

The two anecdotes described the relationships I have developed in a period of time. How could you, as out-of-state candidates, establish trust with alumni that you might have never met before? I consider email communications and preparedness for the informational interviews as critical evaluation points. If I were to break down the networking process into several stages, the points listed are things to consider:

  • Stage 1: Initial Email 

In a couple of paragraphs, could you explain who you are, why you are interested in the company and the geographic location, and ask to schedule a time to talk? Brief emails save alumni reading time and the “why”s reveals how serious your interests are.

  • Stage 2: Follow up

If the alumni ask you to check back a couple of weeks later, are you able to follow up? I see it happening quite often that not many students actually follow up.

  • Stage 3: Phone Conversation

Have you done enough research on the company and what the alumni do? Have you browsed through the company’s website and even checked out his/her Linkedin page? I have also written about asking good questions in this post.

  • Stage 4: Thank You, Ask and Stay in Touch

In the conversation or thank you email, have you asked about potential opportunities in the firm? I didn’t do a good job myself when I was a student, but I learned from the students who reached out to me. They usually followed up with their resumes, a short summary of the phone conversation, and something along the lines of “should your company has an opening, I would love to be considered”. Personally I am not turned off by the ask, because I know exactly their level of interests in employment.

Apart from the tip of maintaining relationships through email and phone communications, the other tip is to visit the alumni in his/her city if possible. Nothing strengthens the bond more than a face-to-face meeting. Before you travel to the city, it will be much more convenient if you know how to drive, because some of the major cities are not public transport friendly, i.e. Los Angeles and Houston. Can you imagine telling the alumni that you can’t meet in a certain location because it is not on the bus route? I’ve written similar point in this post.

Although out-of-state job search is more challenging, it may be your best and only option. When there is a will, there is a way. If you are fully committed, build relationships with others by consistently showing outstanding performance and keeping good communications, eventually people will not hesitate to recommend you to their employers.

Best of luck!

Ace the Recruiting Season – Part A

The recruiting season for internships and full-time jobs will be starting very soon on campus. In a series of posts, I hope to highlight things applicants should pay attention to, based on my experience in college and serving on the recruiting team of my employer. This series is by no means an exhaustive list of what to do (workshops hosted by the career center will do a much better job). Instead, I will try to focus on specific actions that sometimes get overlooked but executing them well will increase your chance of landing the desirable positions. In this post, I am going to talk about three things – look the part, ask well-researched questions, and follow up.

Look the Part

Stick to the dress code in the recruiting events. The expectation is to wear business casual for information session (It doesn’t hurt to overdress.) and business professional for career fair. Recruiters meet a lot of candidates and they might spend only 3-4 minutes talking with each one, so they could be making some quick decisions on whether you are a strong candidate or not. Based on the way you dress, you would want him/her to immediately picture you working in the professional setting.

What’s more, look confident. Non-verbal languages, such as handshake and eye contact, affect more how we are perceived than verbal ones. If you are not confident, your behavioral cues will be picked up quickly by the recruiters. In college, initially, my identity as an international student created an internal hurdle – I didn’t have much work experience and now I needed to convince the recruiters in a language that is not my mother tongue to hire me over my American counterparts? “Fake it till make it” was the motto I follow. Plus, I assured myself that studying abroad already demonstrated my adaptability and willingness to lean into discomfort. I highly recommend watching Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes who You are” to get more confidence boosters.

Ask Well-Researched Questions

Once you pass the introduction stage, it is time to ask some specific questions on the company. I assume that you have already done the research, so you know what positions they are hiring and would not ask for any information that is readily available on the company website. I summarized my suggestion to be “statement + follow-up question”. The statement has two purposes – one, to introduce the follow-up question; two, more importantly, to demonstrate that you have done good research. I have listed out some good and bad examples of the questions.

Bad – How many different business units does your company have?

Good – Your company has multiple business units, such as X and Y. Which business unit are you involved in and what is your experience like?

Bad – How would you describe the culture of your company?

Good – Your company stresses community involvement and teamwork. Could you share some of your involvements?

Follow up

If you are still interested after the conversation, ask if the company will be on campus for future events – when deciding who to invite to interviews, my company also considers candidates’ attendance at events to gauge their interests. What’s more, get his/her contact information in case you have questions in the future or you would like to grab coffee later. When speaking at recruiting events or career skill workshops, I have met a lot of students who asked to stay in touch, but not many followed through. If you do what you have committed to, you will stand out immediately among the candidate pool. Furthermore, in your email, it’s always appreciated to remind your contact when and where you met and highlights of the conversation.

Make a good initial impression by looking the part, show your interests in the company by asking well-researched questions, and further demonstrate the interests by following up in the future. By following these three steps, I am confident that you will be one step closer to getting the invites to interviews.