Have you tapped into the power and potential of your college’s alumni network?
Attending college comes with many benefits, yet there’s something extra special about membership in a global group of graduates who share the same alma mater.
Whether you’re searching for a new role, need a referral, or simply want to reconnect with long-lost classmates, below you’ll find inspiration to help you expand your networking strategy.
First, let’s address the word “networking.” For some, the idea of networking may incite sheer panic, conjuring images of awkward handshakes and shallow, self-centered conversations.
Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Without thinking, many people unknowingly approach networking with a me-mindset. Imagine what could happen, though, when the script shifts from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I serve somebody?”
Networking: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
Networking is all about relationships, and relationships are always richer when people honor and help each other.
The bottom line? Networking should be mutually beneficial. The true power of alumni networks is realized when all parties seek to serve and provide genuine value.
With this foundation in mind, here are seven ideas to help hone your skills and better position yourself for networking success.
Stay in contact.
This first suggestion is simple and painless. So simple, in fact, that you might even overlook it.
The vast majority of colleges and universities have an alumni association that keeps records of all graduates and plans periodic events.
On your alma mater’s website, visit the alumni page and look for a link to update your contact information. There should be a space where you can provide not only your mailing address and email but also report other personal and professional milestones.
Keeping your contact information current and sharing life updates will ensure you’ll receive event invitations and other important communications from your college. Some institutions also give graduates access to an alumni directory, where you can search for classmates and find employment information.
Join alumni groups on social media.
They’re called social networks for a reason. Odds are good your college hosts a group for alumni on LinkedIn, Facebook, or a combination of platforms. These affinity groups are an ideal way to connect with old friends, ask questions, and stay updated on alumni news and events.
To get the most out of alumni groups on your favorite social network, don’t forget to add value and engage consistently. This simple practice could look like answering questions, leaving encouraging comments, posting relevant content, or lending your expertise whenever you have an opportunity.
Attend an alumni event or organize your own.
Alumni events provide a prime opportunity to build relationships and reminisce. Many colleges host local, regional, or national alumni networking events. Some schools also offer alumni chapters in various cities across the country.
If there’s nothing on the calendar in your area, you could consider organizing a local event. Better yet, ask a friend or colleague to help you. Keep in mind, the event doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive to be effective. Reach out to your alumni association to see if there are any resources available to help.
When attending an alumni event, be sure to come prepared with business cards and questions to spark great conversations, such as:
- What’s your favorite memory from college?
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
- What are you reading right now?
- What industry are you in? How has it changed over the last 5-10 years?
Networking events are an ideal setting to practice the art of listening and asking good questions. It can be tempting to hang around people you know at networking events, but challenge yourself to meet at least two new people.
Virtual resources — including events, career fairs, free courses, and lunch-hour webinars — are also increasingly common. Check your school’s alumni event calendar to explore your options. These online events often feature guest speakers or panel presentations and focus on professional development topics.
Head back to campus for Homecoming.
Homecoming is an annual tradition that celebrates and welcomes graduates coming back “home” to campus. Typically hosted in the fall, this is the anchor event for alumni to return to their old stomping grounds, take in a football game, and enjoy various festivities throughout the campus and community.
Whether you live near or far from campus, Homecoming is a fun and cheerful way to reconnect with classmates and make new contacts. While you’re on campus, don’t forget to purchase a new T-shirt or other apparel to show off your school spirit!
Whether you live near or far from campus, Homecoming is a fun and cheerful way to reconnect with classmates and make new contacts.
LinkedIn is a professional social network with more than 750 million members around the world. This power-packed platform is an asset for anyone searching for jobs, recruiting, reading industry news, networking, and more.
Your LinkedIn page functions as a digital resume, featuring work experience, education, projects, and skills. It also allows you to ask for referrals or endorsements. This network is a goldmine for affinity groups (over 2.4 million) that connect professionals who share similar interests and industries.
Additionally, users are able to follow companies and schools to get updates and explore alumni data, including where graduates live and work. You can also search for alumni by name, title, keyword, or company.
Although LinkedIn is free, there’s also a premium option that unlocks additional features to help you get hired, grow your business, discover new talent, and find sales leads.
As you explore LinkedIn, keep these networking etiquette tips top of mind:
- Upload a current photo of yourself
- Populate your page thoroughly and keep it up-to-date
- Add an About section to your page, preferably written in first person
- Include a personal note when sending a connection request
- Post helpful articles from quality publications or share your own content
- Publish your own articles to establish your influence and help others
- Leave comments and engage with others’ posts
- Introduce people and look for other ways to add value for your connections
- Ask for endorsements and remember to return the favor
Become a mentor.
No matter your age or experience level, there’s always someone one or two steps behind you who’s searching for wisdom and advice. Take the first step. Invite someone to lunch or coffee, ask genuine questions, and see how you can provide insight or encouragement. It doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement.
If you’re longing for a mentor, you might be surprised what can happen when you start to become the very person you’re looking for. Is there someone in your life you look up to? There’s also nothing to lose when you initiate a conversation with that person and ask if they are open to meeting for lunch or even a 30-minute video call once a month.
Some people may shy away from the title “mentor” because it sounds intimidating or time-intensive. However, mentoring relationships don’t need to be complicated. When matched correctly, mentoring (one-on-one or in a small group) can be a blessing for everyone involved.
You reap what you sow. It’s a biblical principle, and it applies to more than finances. The best part is there’s often an abundant return on investment.
Did you love your time in college? Do you care about the mission of a certain program? Donating to your alma mater — or another institution close to your heart — is one way to show your appreciation and pay it forward for future generations.
Your act of generosity can unlock benefits in your own life as well. Donations in the form of time, skills, or financial resources are appreciated more than you know. Your motives are what count, not the dollar amount.
Most colleges have foundations, alumni associations, and partner programs that provide countless opportunities to get involved and give back — whether it’s through donating to scholarships, giving toward a special project, or volunteering as a guest speaker in the classroom.
Networking doesn’t need to be daunting. It’s 100 percent doable, and can even be enjoyable!
Whether you choose to attend an alumni networking event or connect with a new contact on LinkedIn, as long as you seek to serve and add value, you’ll find success.