We all know that our fellow alumni can be great networking resources. After all, you’ve already got a built-in connection with these folks, no matter what year they graduated. Whether you’re looking for a new job, contemplating a career change, or just hoping to sit down with someone for an informational interview, this group of people can be a networking goldmine.
But how do you make the first move and approach these total strangers? Keep the following ideas in mind, and your alumni networking will be a little less awkward and much more productive.
How to Find Them
Go Back to School
Remember your school’s career services office? Yes, it still exists, and it’s not just there to serve current students, but to help alumni as well. The career counselors there should already have a list of alumni from all walks of life who are ready and willing to speak to undergrads and young job-seekers, as well as seasoned work veterans. Your school also likely keeps a database of alumni and their current contact info, browsable by industry, location, and company. Make your tuition money work for you long after you graduate, and use these services to help hook you up.
And remember to contact your old professors while you’re at it; many of them consult on the side, and they are sure to have plenty of contacts.
Scour Social Media
Lucky for us, social media has made it pretty easy to track down fellow alumni—LinkedIn and Facebook are full of alumni groups at national, regional, and metro levels, and typing in a simple search term will show you plenty of names. Best of all, you can find those who work for your targeted companies or hold positions in your industry.
That said, you might want to first get engaged before sending a random email to someone you’ve never met. Join in on some online discussions, check out job boards, and even learn about upcoming alumni events. On that note:
Go to Events
Most schools have local alumni chapters in major cities nearby, which offer happy hours, fundraising events, conferences, you name it. Joining the chapter, signing up for events, or even volunteering to take on a leadership position can be a great way to naturally meet and connect with alumni. If there's not a chapter in your area, reach out to your alumni department to see about starting one up.
How to Reach Out
Know Your Elevator Speech
So now you’ve zeroed in on some people you want to contact or meet, and you’re ready to do some actual networking. Maybe you’ve even made plans to attend a local community alumni event. What do you do now?
Well, first you need a purpose. Why do you want to talk to these people? Are you looking for job leads? Exploring a career change? Trying to make some new friends? Whatever the case, it’s important to know how to casually introduce both yourself and your purpose without sounding like a walking resume.
A good start: Get people talking about themselves, and eventually they will start to ask you questions about your career plans and background as well. Whether you’re emailing someone you’ve found on LinkedIn or connecting with someone at an in-person event, try something along the lines of, “Hey I noticed that you work in healthcare administration. I recently got my MBA but I wasn’t sure how to break into the healthcare side of things. How did you get your start?”
For more, check out Elliott Bell’s approach for effectively reaching out to someone for an informational interview and Molly Ford’s tips for making the most of an alumni networking event.
Name Drop and Story Tell
The best part about talking to fellow alumni is that they already want to meet you. If they showed up to the alumni golf outing or monthly happy hour—or even added their information to the alumni directory—that means that they’re interested in talking with like-minded alums. Most people like to reminisce about college, and it’s even better when you find out that you know the same people, belonged to the same sorority, or knew that same guy who showed up to only two classes the entire semester.
In other words, when you’re interacting with alumni in person or over email, don’t be afraid to share your interests, tell stories about your college days, or name drop the people you knew back then. You never know what or who you will have in common, and this might help you gain even more useful career contacts—or at least some new friends.