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Virtual Connections: Useful Resources

Some useful information for IDS Alumni Network Virtual Connections

11 Jun 2021
Written by Michelle Cruickshank

These meetings are intended to offer the opportunity to chat with others who (at a minimum) share the experience of postgraduate study at IDS.

All alumni connections have specifically volunteered to be part of the initiative, and you could think of them as a test run for informational interviews. Informational interviews are meetings you request to gather information and expand your network of contacts. What kind of information? The information you need to choose or refine a career path, learn how to break in and find out if you have what it takes to succeed. It's the process of spending time (usually about 20-30 minutes, but sometimes much longer) with someone at a more advanced level in their career in a highly focused conversation that provides you with key information you need to launch or boost your career

At the time of writing we are in the middle of a global pandemic which has meant the cancellation of events and closing of physical spaces where we would normally make connections with people outside of our usual circles. These ‘weak ties’ (see origins of this theory in this 1973 paper) are fundamental to our career and holistic development, and this virtual connections initiative may help you expand your weak link network and bring new energy to your future career thoughts.

Alumni connections could simply be a sympathetic ear, or they could provide useful advice based on their own experiences. Both are valuable.

Preparing for the meeting

  • Possible to do by phone but use video where possible. As its impossible to zone out or multitask when someone is watching you, and video will make the conversation more meaningful. Close any distracting tabs, especially social media, and messaging apps, and put your phone on silent.
  • Video meetings can be intimidating. They can be one of the most intense and intimate forms of communication. But this means that they are much more substantive conversations.
  • Have a clear start and end time – be respectful of you and your guests time. 30 minutes is enough.
  • Have an actual coffee or water to nurse during your meeting. It relaxes the environment and opens for more meaningful connections. Just holding a hot beverage can make use feel happier and come off as nicer (See Yale University research)
  • Before you start try and do some research on the person you’ll be meeting, look at the alumni website, and/or social media channels to try and learn a bit about what they do to try and find common ground. This will help when developing talking points.
  • Update your online profile (your alumni network website profile and/or LinkedIn)
  • Prepare for awkwardness. Let’s be honest there will be some technical glitches and hiccups, and that’s okay. Instead of panicking go in knowing there will be some awkward moments and know its OK to laugh it off
  • Be prepared to talk about yourself a little. Rehearse your introduction, practice it out loud and in front of the screen. Get a friend in an online chat and practice with them.
  • Dress appropriately, just because you can spend all day in your pjs doesn’t mean you should. It helps get you in a professional mindset even if the other person can’t see you
  • Be on time

Video call tips

  1. Angle the camera so it captures your face and upper body and have blurring background if that is an option.
  2. Mimic eye contact and move the other person’s video as close to your camera as possible.
  3. Don’t sit too close to your camera as it can be intimidating for the other person. Prepare your positioning ahead of time.
  4. Find a quiet place, you don’t want to be in a position where background noise becomes a distraction.
  5. Do a test run, make sure your microphone is at the right level and you’re not sitting too close to the screen
  6. During the call you can make it clear you are engaged and listening by nodding, leaning forward and generally showing some movement in your facial expression. Unlike in real life a vacant expression can quickly and embarrassingly be mistaken for a frozen screen

During the call

  • Start with a casual conversation, a vital step towards breaking through anxieties many of us are feeling.
  • Go in with a few prepared questions to avoid awkward silences. 2 or 3 should be enough, you want the other person to have the opportunity to speak.
  • Use icebreakers – quick questions to help get the conversation started and learn something about each other, i.e.
    • What was a favourite moment of studying at IDS
    • What was your first job?
  • Don’t be afraid to take control of the conversation. Don’t make the conversation about you, put the spotlight on them. Listen to what they say and ask follow-up questions
  • Finish by asking if you can help them and be prepared to be asked the same

After the call

  • Make sure you deliver on any promises.
  • Always send an email thanking the person for their time and reiterating a few things you learned. Tell them how they can connect with you and encourage them to stay in touch. Acknowledges that you respect their time and are appreciative of them sharing their knowledge. Keep it simple but thoughtful and genuine.
  • Check in from time-to-time. As you would with anyone in your network, check-in and see how they are doing and about developments in your own life

Additional Resources

Some of these resources are oriented towards career driven informational interviewing. You can think of this virtual connection with alumni as a test run for career specific informational interviews

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