Whether you’re a current college student or you graduated years ago, you have access to a wide network of alumni who attended the same school as you. By tapping into alumni networks, you could make valuable connections, learn from experts and even get your foot in the door at a prospective employer.
So how can alumni help students jumpstart their careers? And what steps can you take to make the most of alumni networks? Here are five ways to connect with fellow graduates of your alma mater (even as you figure out what career is right for you):
- Set up a meeting with your career or alumni services office
- Join online alumni groups
- Introduce yourself over email
- Attend local alumni meet-ups and events
- Set up informational interviews or shadow days
Colleges offer a wealth of free resources to students and alumni, including career and alumni services. If you’re still in school, make sure to visit career services to inquire about how graduates can help students like yourself.
The career services office can help you track down alumni in your target field, as well as advise you on the best way to connect with them. It might also have information on mentorship opportunities.
“College students and recent graduates are always encouraged to connect with a mentor in their career field of choice who can help guide them as they take their first steps beyond campus,” said Hing Potter, a coordinator at the Center for Student Involvement & Leadership at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “These mentorship connections should be made early in a student’s college experience, where a real bond can develop.”
That said, some colleges only offer career services to current students or recent graduates. If you’ve been out of school for a while, you might have better luck with the alumni services office. Either way, these offices can explain the best way to tap into your school’s alumni network as you build your career.
While career or alumni services can point you in the right direction, you can also likely track down alumni networks online. Many colleges have an online group for students and alumni to message one another.
LinkedIn also hosts a lot of alumni groups, allowing you to browse profiles and send messages to other users. Simply search “groups” for your college and request to join.
Whatever method you use to reach out to alumni, make sure to craft a thoughtful message. Asking for a job right off the bat, for instance, probably wouldn’t go over so well.
Instead, keep your message short, friendly and to the point. Introduce yourself as a student or graduate of the college, and explain where you got their contact information.
And don’t worry that you’re asking for too much, as alumni networking is common among students and recent graduates.
“College students are always seeking out professionals in various fields to learn about the steps they took to get there,” said Potter. “One of the best ways for students to make the transition from college to career pathways is by hearing from those who took the same or similar steps.”
When you reach out, let the recipient know that you’re interested in their field and find out if they’d be open to a phone chat or an informational interview.
And don’t forget to consider ways that you could be helpful in return. Networking is a two-way street, so focus on building mutually beneficial relationships that will be fruitful for both of you.
Even if you’ve already graduated and moved away, you might be able to find local alumni meetups in your area. From cocktail hours to panel discussions to trips abroad, some associations set up events for alumni to spend time with one another.
“My college alumni network has helped me immensely, and I try very hard to give back as well,” said Ted Chan, a Swarthmore graduate and the founder and CEO of CareDash.com. “I recommend getting involved in the local alumni connection early on as an organizer — it’s typically fun and a great way to expand your local network.”
Find out what’s happening in your area, and make sure to bring business cards when you attend. Not only will these events grow your professional network, but they can also be a great way to make friends in a new city.
Once you’ve tracked down some alumni in a field you’re interested in, find out if you can set up an informational interview, or even shadow them at work.
As its name suggests, an informational interview is a chance for you to learn about someone’s career trajectory. You might ask how they chose their career or what a typical day-to-day is like in the role. You could also seek advice on how to break into the field or what skills you need to be a competitive candidate.
Some alumni might also invite you to shadow them at work for a day. By setting up a shadow day, you can get firsthand insight into the job and company, and potentially make additional connections with the alum’s coworkers.
These conversations and experiences can help you clarify your goals and plan your next steps. Plus, all this networking could pay off when you start applying to jobs.
Networking is one of the most effective ways to land a job and grow your career. According to the Adler Group, 85% of jobs are filled via networking.
If you have a referral or personal connection when you apply for a job, your chances of getting an interview could be significantly higher. And thanks to your college, you should have access to a huge alumni network with professionals from all different fields.
Not only can alumni help you explore careers, but they might also offer invaluable mentorship as you discover your interests and passions. And after you’ve spent some time in the workforce, you might turn around and mentor current students in return.
Once you see why alumni associations are so important, you might be eager to pay it forward to future generations of students.