Reaching out to Penn alumni has made me reconsider my post-graduation path. While I was originally planning to apply directly to law school, I became convinced by Penn alumni to take time to explore my career interests first. I would like to share lessons I’ve learned about reaching out to alumni to help you start your search.
The most valuable alumni connection resource I have used is MyPenn, Penn’s alumni database system (formerly QuakerNet). Think LinkedIn, but exclusively for the Penn community.
MyPenn is nice because many alumni list their preferred email address. Another unique benefit of MyPenn is you can see whether alumni are available for mentorship, meaning they have indicated that they welcome messages from members of the Penn community. It is helpful to cross-check a person’s MyPenn account on LinkedIn because some MyPenn profiles have not been updated in awhile.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from Career Services was that building up one’s career prospects is 75% networking, 25% applying for opportunities. While it is difficult to live up to this advice, it is a helpful motivator to reach out to alumni. With that advice in mind, I started my search on MyPenn.
It may at first be overwhelming to see the thousands of alumni you can reach out to on the platform. The filtering checkboxes on the left hand side of the Directory page can be very helpful in sorting through all of the available mentors. By filtering for the person’s school within Penn, their job industry, current city, and more, you can make your search easier by narrowing down your prospective connections. You can even search to see if you studied the same major or were in the same club, which I’ve found to be a helpful icebreaker!
A person new to MyPenn may also be worried about cold-emailing someone that they do not know. It is normal to feel nervous about asking someone for their time to have a conversation — also known as an informational interview. Personally, I recommend checking out Career Services’ Quick Guide to Informational Interviews to learn more about how to craft the introductory email and prepare for the chat.
It’s easy to excuse ourselves and say that we don’t have the time to reach out to alumni. I admit it is difficult to do this when classes are in full swing, so I recommend sending messages and setting up calls on breaks or weekends. For instance, in early January 2022, I emailed four alumni — who I used a lot of filtering to find — and I was fortunate enough to have conversations with all four of them!
It’s understandable to feel dejected reading this and predict that the prospect of receiving a response is unlikely. I have fallen victim to this thinking myself. Here’s a word of encouragement: Sending a message is the only way you can know if you will receive a response. The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t respond. Then, you can decide to either follow up with that person or reach out to someone else. It is not uncommon for emails to be lost in people’s inboxes.
My own journey connecting with our Penn alumni network has been a very positive one and has forced me to reconsider my path in many ways. Many Penn alumni advised me to take at least a year to do something else before applying to law school since I was not sure I was ready yet.
Without the advice of experienced alumni, I would be on a different path than I am currently on: As of now, I’m planning to take a gap year to explore my interests in American government, politics, and journalism before applying to law school so I can grow as a person.
While we may not be able to interview our future selves, reaching out to Penn alumni is the next best option. Over spring break and beyond, I encourage you to check out MyPenn and try emailing a few alumni who you admire. You may be surprised at the responses you receive and the connections you make.
JADEN CLOOBECK is a College fourth-year from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is email@example.com.