Hoping to transition into the fashion industry and luxury sector, I knew Stern would set me up with the right connections to pivot successfully. Beyond the skills and industry-specific knowledge taught in classes, Stern offered a chance to regularly speak and build relationships with industry experts. In fact, Stern reminds students to set up coffee chats every chance they get!
Ahead of detailing how Stern makes these connections happen, a brief confession: before coming to Stern, “coffee chat” personally conjured an image of an often awkward conversation and was perhaps, I thought, the most “I’m Getting My MBA & Need A Job” phrase one could possibly utter. A coffee chat, or informational interview, was not something I was looking forward to doing as often as Stern recommended.
Now, however, I love a good coffee chat, and I even aim to have two or three on my calendar each week. I can thank Stern for the change in attitude. Each person I’ve reached out to – from professors to fellow students, from alumni to industry leaders – replies with enthusiasm, eager to share their experiences and offer a word of advice.
Here’s how Stern’s network showed me the importance – and the joy! – of informational interviews:
Classes, Classmates, & Professors
Many of the aforementioned connections in the Fashion & Luxury MBA are built into our classroom experiences, providing a natural channel to reaching out for a one-to-one conversation. From speakers in our Solutions course to my own classmates, I’ve been able to hear and discuss different job functions, brands, and ideas with a breadth of people. A few examples:
- Early in the semester, I sent a LinkedIn request to a Stern alum, now working for Ralph Lauren, after she spoke to our Solutions class. Not only did she quickly accept my connection, but she offered time out of her calendar to speak – unprompted!
- Stern professors are well-connected and take joy in connecting their students with their acquaintances. After reaching out to a professor with a question on a project, I was promptly connected by him to his friend, an expert in the area I was researching.
A few weeks into school, we were introduced to the Stern Network, Stern’s internal LinkedIn/Facebook for alumni. Within the platform, users can browse and connect with current students and alumni, narrowing searches by job function, company, industry, location, and more. Once set up on the Stern Network, users work through a tutorial on best practices for requesting and conducting an informational interview. As part of the tutorial, users are required to search for alumni and connect with them.
This requirement led me to an alum at Estee Lauder. Less than ten minutes after sending an introductory message within Stern Network’s platform, they had already replied, offered their time, and we secured a meeting the following week to chat for thirty minutes. This one conversation led to two more coffee chats with folks at Estee Lauder, each recommending I talk to one of their colleagues to learn more.
Thanks to the Stern Network, I got an in-depth look at one of my target companies through multiple different people and conversations.
Stern actively connects its students with experts outside of the classroom, too, teeing up these connections as mentorships. So far, I’ve been matched with three different mentors:
- As part of our MBA program, we are matched with an industry expert on the Fashion & Luxury Council. Here, we’re able to express interest in leaders from fashion, beauty, luxury, and more and get matched with one of these leaders to meet over the course of the program.
- Upon starting at Stern, we were each paired with a Focused MBA Program Partner. Affectionately called our “buddy,” this mentor is a graduate of the Fashion & Luxury MBA and offers invaluable advice on classes, job searching, and more. I can best describe this mentorship as, “when you need me, I’m here.” I found my Program Partner super helpful in selecting electives and getting an overview on our professors.
- After joining the Graduate Marketing Association, I enrolled in their mentorship program too. After filling out a brief survey focused on my goals, I was matched with a GMA alum, who also happened to be a FLUX grad! SWIB also offers a mentorship program.
Every day, there’s a different event to go to at Stern. Naturally, these events are a means of networking and seeking out my next coffee chat.
Recently, I attended an OCD event called “Cross-Class Connections.” Here, MBA 1s, MBA 2s, Focused MBAs and Langone students met in breakout rooms facilitated by OCD career coaches. Conveniently, when we were sharing our interests and goals, one of the students in my breakout room was taking a class focused on supply chain – a topic I had expressed interest in exploring. After the event, he connected me to his classmate who had experience in supply chain at a fashion brand. From there, I received recommendations on how to learn more about supply chain over the course of my time at Stern, both through classes and activities, like the Center for Sustainability and the Center for Business and Human Rights.
I also had the opportunity to listen in on a roundtable discussion at The Retail Hive’s Digital Luxury Week through Stern. The discussion was made up of eight fashion, beauty, and luxury experts, all of which I was connected with after the event. Within twenty-four hours after logging off Zoom, half of them had already replied offering their time to take the conversation further via an informational interview.
So, take it from me, as someone initially wary of the “how” aspect of networking at business school. Not only does Stern make it easy to connect with people, but they also foster an environment of openness and excitement to chat over a cup of virtual coffee.
Tips & Tricks
Like all things, practice makes perfect. After conducting many informational interviews over the past few months, I’ve not only grown more comfortable with coffee chats, but I’ve also found a few secrets to success:
- Show up with genuine curiosity. Do your research and prepare questions ahead of time. While the conversation can go in any direction, you’ll be thankful you have a set of thoughts prepared to lead the discussion and get insights out of it.
- Make it research for your next assignment. During coffee chats, I often ask, “what’s one challenge your team is working through right now?” This way, I hear real-world problems companies face today. With this information in my back pocket, I can focus upcoming class projects on relevant issues to build out my portfolio for my eventual job search.
- Be direct and specific. While it may seem polite to request a generic chat, I’ve had more success asking, “can I hear your thoughts on XYZ,” over “I’d love to set up some time to talk.” Suggest a specific time and place to keep the email ping-ponging to a minimum, saving the other person time.
- Be human. Many of these chats are happening on Zoom, so don’t be afraid of moments of levity. Be yourself!