As a volunteer for my alma mater’s alumni association, I have witnessed some savvy networking from students, recent, and not-so recent alumni. I’ve been impressed with the level of professionalism they’ve demonstrated and their focus on gaining employment.
At one event held in Boston, alumni and current students (as young as sophomores) showed up dressed to impress, took advantage of a free photo shoot, and lined up for the duration of the event for resume and LinkedIn profile critiques I was giving.
My alma mater’s alumni association has held other events in the past that were geared toward helping our alums in their job search. They were well coordinated and of great benefit to the attendees.
Not all alumni services are equal, but generally they offer the services explained below. To take advantage of there services, you must adhere to best practices which are also explained below.
Established alumni from your college can provide you with a plethora of career advice, most of which is valuable because your alums have been in their industry, in some cases, for many years. Some have read tons of resumes, cover letters, and interviewed candidates.
Call on alumni for practical advice. Look for people at your level or, better yet, managed employees who work in your occupation and industry. Ask them what they expect from resumes and job candidates in interviews. Pick their brains for this important information.
At my alma mater, there is a list of alumni who can help grads with their resumes, networking and interview techniques, LinkedIn profile, job-search etiquette, and other job-search topics. I have been contacted by recent and not-so-recent grads seeking my services.
A vast network
If you’re fortunate, you have access to vast database of people in the space you want to enter. This database provides you with email addresses, telephone numbers, and LinkedIn profile URLs. If you don’t have access to this information, use LinkedIn’s Find Alumni feature.
Your potent network can span the world, but you might want to focus on your local area. If I want to access my local network, I’ll contact the president of the alumni association. However, if I am interested in seeking employment in North Carolina, I’ll contact the president of that charter.
Once you have located alumni who can help you in your job search, you’ll approach them as you would any potential connection. You can call them, send email, or send Inmail through LinkedIn.
One of the best ways to pick your alumni’s brains is asking for an informational interview, which I prefer to call a networking meeting, because that’s what you’re doing; you’re networking. But more to the point, you’re gathering important information and advice.
You’re the one who’s asking the questions, so they need to be intelligent ones. Little do you know, but there may be a position developing at your alum’s company. If you impress your alum with the dialog you generate, you may be referred to the hiring authority.
But that’s when the stars are aligned. Along with gaining valuable information, you need to leave the networking meeting with additional contacts with whom you can speak. You are building your network. You’re always building your network.
Alumni and other events
The event I mentioned above was organized to perfection. It was held in Boston at my alma mater’s club, a stunning building with a great view of the city. The event was designed to introduce people to those who could help them in their job search.
At the event, I critiqued resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Other pundits spoke about networking, job-search etiquette, and other job-search topics. And the students and recent grads came to soak up information.
Job fairs are also a great event that are held, for the most part, by career services. However, some alumni associations also conduct job fairs or smaller networking opportunities, such as sports gatherings, social events, etc.
If your alumni association puts on job fairs, check out the companies that are attending and go to the job fairs to make connections. Again, you’re in control of your destiny. Impress some of the reps, and you might create opportunities.
Alumni associations encourage alumni to reach out to professionals in their industry who can mentor them in the job search. The mentors are not career counselors, but they can provide great insight into their industry.
Mentors give valuable time out of their day to gain an understanding of what you’re looking for in employment, how you should approach your search with the correct attitude, suggest people with whom you can speak, and give you the motivation you need.
Mentors will guide you from the start of your job search to the end. They are dedicated to the success of their mentees. They are a special group.
To utilize the services explained above requires appropriate behavior, especially since the alumni volunteers are acting out of the goodness of their heart. Here are some best practices:
Be polite is rule number one. Do what you were taught as a child and carried throughout your life. The words, “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Represent your alma mater the proper way.
Be assertive but in a respectful way. Not all volunteers will follow through in a timely manner. Some may simply forget to return your calls. In this case, leave a polite message reminding them of your meeting.
Be accommodating to your alumni volunteer. One of my alumni clients said he’d feel more comfortable meeting face-to-face, but because we live 50 miles apart and I have a busy personal life, he agreed to communicate via phone. Alumni volunteers will also accommodate their alumni clients when possible.
Be knowledgeable when you attend a networking meeting. Don’t arrive without intelligent questions. Contribute to the conversation with appropriate comments. Show yourself as someone who could work at that company if a position exists.
Be focused on your job search. Nothing is more frustrating than talking with someone who is vague about their career goals. However, if you are unsure about what you want to do, you should be able to describe your transferable skills and experience required for a career change.
Be on LinkedIn is a no-brainer these days. Nothing impresses me more these days than a student or someone fresh out of school who has a strong profile and engages with their connections on a regular basis. You should be one of the 450 million LinkedIn users.
Following up is essential to your relationship with your alumni volunteer. After you’ve spoken with them or met them in person, send a thank you via email or card. Ping them every once in awhile so they know how your search is going. Stay top of mind.
It’s been a pleasure volunteering for my alma mater’s alumni association. I’ve had the opportunity to educate alumni of various ages on LinkedIn and resumes and the job search. Be assured that there are alumni volunteers who would like to help you.
If you appreciate your alumni association, I’d love to hear why.
Photo: UMass Alumni Association