Originally Posted by GreenFrog
Network, network, network. Career centers are useless.
I'm sure your school has an alumni database -- reach out to alums who are in the industry and ask them if you could meet with them after work for some drinks and just ask them anything and everything about their background. Your treat, of course. Lunch is too much for a first-time meeting.
The goal really isn't to 'learn' about the job or industry, as in my own humble opinion, you can do this with the power of the netwebs. Ideally, you should already know the basic ins and outs of the industry. I'd ask them more personal questions about THEIR background. Make it personal -- but not in the sense like "why did you choose consulting?" because everyone's going to give you the same canned response. Even questions like, "what has been your most interesting project?" are pretty lame. One question I've always asked in all my interviews that has always received a positive response (to the question itself, not the actual answer) is, "what is something you know now that you wish you knew when you were in my position?"
The goal is to make them like you and want to help you. Everyone knows what these informal meetings are for. They know you want them to forward your resume and vouch for you. If they're kind enough to even meet you for the off-chance that they might like you enough to help you, then research the shit out of their background and be prepared.
In today's day and age of social media, you should be able to track down their twitter, linkedin, facebook, etc. and find out if they have any hobbies or personal interests. Ever-so-subtly, try to bring the conversation towards their interests at the end of the meeting. I know it sounds creepy, but if you can pull this off, BAM. They'll like you, especially if you are interested in the same "thing" and can converse intelligently with them about it. Don't fake it, however, if they have some sort of esoteric interest.
As for the introductory email, I've gotten numerous emails from undergrads at my alma mater and they're always either 1) way too aggressive and want me to forward their resume without my having even met them in the first place, or 2) pretend to show an understanding of the company/industry when they're completely off-base and come off as an idiot as a result, or 3) both of the above. I don't even respond to these emails.
It really pays to keep the introductory email short and simple, as the longer you make it, the more likely you are to fuck up:
1) Introduce yourself
2) Tell them how you found their contact information
3) Express your interest in learning about the industry
4) Ask them if you can treat them to a beer/coffee to discuss their background
5) Provide platitudes when trying to schedule a meeting (esp. when it's a more senior person) like, "I know you're busy..." and you accommodate THEIR schedule. Egos run large with the more senior folk and since consulting is a client satisfaction-driven business, it shows that you understand that basic tenet by being accommodating to their time. If/when they give you a time when they're free, you make sure your schedule fits that time.