How to Make Professional Friends

an alum is talking to a group of student at the buffalo career conversations. Graphic: Conversations Matter Here

80% of jobs or internships are found by making connections with professionals and alumni. The more professional friends you have in your network, the better your chances of finding the right opportunity.

Getting Connected Is Easier Than You Think

Often, hearing the words “connections” and “networking” can easily make your heart beat faster and your palms start to sweat.  

It’s Okay. Take a DEEP breath.

Think of “connections” or people in your “professional network” to be more like friends. Friends tend to help friends when they are in need. 

What Types of Professional Friends Are There?

The more professional friends you make, the wider your network becomes which can lead to more jobs, internships and opportunities.

  1. An Adviser - someone who has done what you want to do.
  2. An Advice Giver - someone that is in a different field than you.
  3. A Connector - someone who knows people who have done it before.
  4. An Expert - someone who you trust who will give you honest feedback.
  5. A Backup - someone who you might need in the future.
  6. An Alum - someone who was a former student at the University at Buffalo.
graphic: lines connecting people in a network icon
Tips for Meeting People

• Don't forget to introduce yourself and remember to thank them for their time.
• When wearing a name tag at a networking event, place it on your right side, so that when somebody shakes your hand, it's easier to read your name.

Ways to Make Professional Friends

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An informational interview sounds more complex and scarier than it really is. It's just a conversation with someone, like a professional or alum, about their career story as well as insider tips about a job/internship, industry or company. Everyone has a story to tell so just ask about it.

Hint: Just like you, when they started out, someone probably helped them along the way.

Conversation starters

Career story

  • What is your educational background? How did you decide to go into this field?
  • How did you get started in this field?
  • Does the career path require an advanced degree and if so, is a master’s or PhD a better choice?
  • What do you wish you would have known prior to entering this field?
  • What is a typical career path for individuals in your position?
  • Did you take any risks in your career? How did that make you stronger?
  • Have you ever failed at something in your career? What did you learn from it?

A day in the life

  • What are your major duties and responsibilities?
  • What do you do during a typical work day/week?
  • What do you find most rewarding about your job?
  • What were the positions that you had that led to this one?
  • What do you like most and least about your job?

Meet the employer

  • What is the size of your company/organization?
  • Are you a global company/organization?
  • Where do you have offices?
  • What are the challenges facing this industry today?
  • What sets your company/organization apart from similar ones in this industry?

Workplace culture

  • What are your biggest challenges or problems that you must deal with?
  • Do you work primarily alone or in collaboration with others? With whom?
  • Who evaluates your performance? How is this done?
  • What kind of on-the-job training is provided?
  • What is the on-boarding process like for a new employee?

Work life balance

  • Is there travel involved with your job?
  • How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, work hours, vacation, etc.?
  • What hours do individuals in this job usually work? Is there much flexibility in those?
  • How would you describe your work environment?
  • What obligation does your work place upon you, outside of the ordinary work week?

Tips & advice

  • What kinds of skills should a job seeker highlight in resumes and interviews?
  • What advice do you have for me as I break into this field?
  • How do you see technology changing/influencing this field?
  • What specific aspects of my background should I highlight or sell the most when applying for positions?
  • Do I have to develop some skills or gain some experiences to make myself more competitive?
  • What is a typical entry-level salary in this field? 

Next steps

  • Do you know other people in the field that I can talk to?
  • Can I use your name when I contact them?
  • If I have any questions can I stay in contact with you?
  • Are there any professional groups in this field you recommend I join?
  • Can I send you an invitation to "connect" on LinkedIn?
Tips for after your informational interview

• Send an email or hand written thank you note after the interview to thank them.
• Be sure to let them know how things worked out and how their advice made a difference.  

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