Why does your alumni network matter?
For undergraduates, college alumni can be a friendly introduction to the art of networking. In the end, networking comes down to building relationships, and you have something major in common: You both said “yes” to the same school.
But you don’t need to wait until you need a job to reach out to a grad in your field of interest. College alumni have had their first entry-level jobs, their first promotions, and for the most part, are established on a career path (or can offer pointers on changing your career.) This means that you have the opportunity to benefit from the advice from an alum you admire (or whose career trajectory you envy!) about the college experiences that prepared them for success.
Find the right mentor.
If your school offers an alumni mentorship program, take advantage! Ask your Career Services office, your college Alumni Association, or the chair of your major department about what mentoring options exist. Even if there is not a formal program in place, many colleges offer alumni directories or even searchable databases with profiles of alumni who welcome being contacted by current students. Through the database you can usually find out when they graduated, what they studied, what they’re doing now, and how to contact them. Hope to break into the publishing industry after graduation? Chances are there are more than a few writers, editors, and publishing mavens in your network. When asked to reflect, alumni can often pinpoint the campus experience that ignited their passion for a particular field or gave them a leg-up when it came to landing their first big job after graduation.
Connect on campus.
Your school wants to help you connect with alumni and will likely hold many alumni networking events over the semester. These are chances to mingle, chat informally, and pick up a few business cards if the conversation goes well. If you’re even a little interested in a field that will be represented on campus you should go. Likewise, panels and job fairs held on campus are usually brimming with alumni speakers and representatives. Grab a schedule from Career Services and start networking!
Connect over social media.
LinkedIn is a great resource for job leads or to see if graduates from your alma mater are currently working for a company with a job or internship opening you want to apply for. Plus, once you graduate, you’ll definitely want to join your school’s alumni group on Facebook.
Best practices for contacting alumni in your network.
- When you make contact—whether over e-mail, on LinkedIn, or as a follow-up to an on-campus meet and greet—be polite. Explain who you are, how you got their contact information, and why you’re interested in meeting.
- If the alum is local, ask if can take them for coffee or lunch to discuss their industry or college experience (aka an “informational interview”). Informational interviews with grads are great ways to get advice on potential career paths, key skills to develop, or even internship leads.
- Come prepared with a list of questions to ask. Unlike your college interview, YOU are in the driver’s seat. What kinds of activities were they involved with on campus? Did they intern with a local organization? Have an on-campus job? Assist a professor with a research project? How did their college major prepare (or not prepare) them for their career?
- Send a thank-you note or e-mail the next day to make a fantastic impression.
Nervous about reaching out? If you think of your interactions with alumni as conversations—not job requests—you’ll do just fine.