Several studies in the recent past strongly point towards the criticality of networking in a job search. Some experts opine as close to 80% of jobs today even after your MBA, are obtained through referrals of some kind. With such trends, students would do well to leverage all the job search resources at their disposal. One such extremely valuable resource is the alumni community of your college. They are treasure troves of industry knowledge and career advice which in turn finds credence from their vast and practical work experience.
However, before you start the process of identifying and reaching out to your college alumni, it is important to understand what your goals are for connecting with your alumni. Alumni usually have limited time and they can very quickly see through genuine connect vs. a candidate who is just trying to get shortlisted for the company they work for. You may have a few reasons to reach out:
- Learn more about the industry/functional area that the alumni works in
- Get more insights into the culture of the organization
- Obtain advice about interview preparation after you have been shortlisted
- Ask for time to conduct a mock interview
Once you have a clear view of what specifically you hope to gain from alumni, think through whether you need to reach out to specific alumni or if any alumni in your chosen industry/function would do. You may want to reach out to specific alumni because they have a similar background to yours or perhaps because they fulfil other requirements for mentorship. However, whenever you reach out, it should be in the spirit of professional networking, and not merely reaching out to your alumni.
Remember that alumni like to mentor and help but it needs to be a match for them at some level too, so recent alumni are usually more responsive since they can identify much more with you than, let`s say, senior alumni who would be better suited for pitching a business idea to.
Once you have identified “WHY”, you need to focus on “HOW”, i.e. how to network with these alumni members. There are multiple network tools that you can choose to establish a connect with alumni. These are the top 5 places to connect:
- College Career Center
One of the easiest places to ask all your career questions to the alumni is the career service center of your college. Most college career centers are responsible for maintaining an online alumni directory. Check the webpage dedicated to the list of alums with their respective contact information. Once you have identified alums you want to reach out to, it may not be a bad idea to connect with a coach who may be able to tell you how engaged the alumni is with current standards and how best to approach them. In fact, sometimes they have a strong relationship themselves with alumni and can help establish the connect.
- Dedicated Alumni Connect Clubs at Your College
Also, many colleges have a separate, private alumni network or club; you can enquire on how you can join it and sign up. This is usually a pretty effective channel as alums here have chosen to mentor current students so they are usually more receptive to a connect. The club will usually have established protocols on how to reach out to alumni and, in fact, sometimes they organize networking events where you can make the connect in person-nothing like it!
Social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, are important avenues to identify resourceful alums with engaging insights and updates on the industry and company of your interest. With its Alumni tool, LinkedIN allows you to trace connections through various filters-school name, major, employer, geographical location, etc. Join relevant groups with strong alumni presence and be proactive enough to take part in active discussions utilizing the opportunity to clarify any concerns you might have.
However, this is one channel where it is critical to message your request to connect well as cold connect requests without stating a specific reason are not usually received well by alumni. Remember alums must be getting many requests, so it’s important to be judicious in reaching out on social media channels.
- Connections of Connections
This is arguably the best method for reaching out. Do you know someone who knows someone? If a friend/ex-colleague/senior in college knows alumni you want to reach out to, then ask them to make an intro for you. You would be able to establish a relationship from the get-go, and be more honest in your communication with them by seeking guidance upfront. However, remember this is a connection of a connection, so it’s important for you to be extremely professional in your communication and be respectful of alumni time when you do connect with them.
- Career Events/Networking Night with Companies/Other Events
Career events also afford great platforms to network with alums on a much larger scale. Keep in touch with your career service center for updates on ‘Alumni Only’ career fairs, industry panel discussions, conferences with alumni speakers wherein they share their valuable advice. In several colleges, alumni participate with the students in various student club events that often entail informal breakfasts/lunches with the alums acting as hosts. Other activities include alumni conducting contests (such as, business plan), workshops (such as recruitment related, interview preparation) or international business seminars where you could glean insights from their experience of international internships.
Find out about the local chapter of your alumni club and prepare to attend the upcoming events planned for the same. Some colleges` alumni associations partner with the national alumni association as well, thus providing a wider horizon for career networking.
To learn more about how to maximize the college networking night, read our blog titled – Making the most of Networking Nights. Also, remember that as much as figuring out what is the best channel for reaching out, it is also critical to ensure that during your reach out you communicate really well and maximize the time spent with alumni.
In a follow up post-“Communicating with Alumni”, we discuss how to communicate with alumni and maximize your time with them, what subjects you can talk about once you are able to forge a connection. Stay connected!
So, stretch your network to include your school`s alumni. Because you share much more than just a college.