Alumni networks are one of the least talked about but most helpful career development tools. Countless benefits can arise from networking and connections within an alumni network, such as leads on internships, work-study programs, and even job openings.
Most universities offer mentor programs. These programs typically start during school, but alumni networks can enable them to continue after graduation. It’s important to look for a mentor who matches your desired goals and position. In college there will likely be countless mentors available for you to connect with. However, it’s important to seek out a mentor who has experience in the specific field of work you plan to pursue, because they will give more specific advice, down to the exact people and programs you should reach out to in order to further your career goals. While a mentor’s role isn’t to offer you a job, they can deliver a wealth of knowledge about their experience in their profession and industry.
Alumni networks also exist in the corporate space. These networks keep organizations and former employees connected and tend to focus on boosting the company’s culture and brand, but they can also foster and develop potential employees. For example, engaged and respected alumni increase brand sentiment by 10 percent. When joining a company, be sure to check for an alumni network to see how passionate they are and what information they can offer about the company.
Corporate and college alumni networks have some noticeable differences that derive from differing goals. Corporate alumni networks ultimately seek to benefit their parent company. One way they do this is by creating access to a unique labor pool. Another way is through retaining previous employees as potential clients, mentors, and ambassadors for the brand. In an era when employee turnover is high and many positions are vacant, active alumni are a positive marker to prospective employees. Corporations are competing for new talent, and a company with happy and supportive alumni has a massive edge.
College alumni networks, on the other hand, primarily seek to fundraise. On average, alumni funds account for 23 percent of university donations. Commonly used for special programs and research initiatives, alumni endowments are a marker of health for universities. It’s the primary reason that universities focus on alumni, and this puts college alumni in a position of power that corporate alumni may not possess. Any students presented with the opportunity to connect with this network should do so. And any alumni who haven’t already connected with their own network should do so, too. Connecting with alumni can not only powerfully boost your career, it’s often free.
When searching for specific alumni programs, make sure to check school and business webpages. Colleges with prominent alumni networks often have entire websites dedicated to their alumni, like these from Harvard, Penn State, and New York University. Established networks tend to provide the exact steps for joining and participating, although most colleges will at least mention their alumni programs online. This will provide enough information to get started, or at the very least, find someone to reach out to.
LinkedIn is also a great resource for connecting with alumni. The site has a built-in alumni tab for every college that exclusively shows alumni and presents demographic, industry, and other useful information about the people in the network. Using your own LinkedIn profile, reaching out is then as simple as sending a message.
The networking aspect of alumni groups is largely what you make of it. Examine what alumni farther along in your career path did early in their careers and analyze their LinkedIn profiles. Finally, put in the work to make connections. This may mean reaching out to professors who can put you in contact with harder-to-reach alumni. It may mean turning a casual conversation into an internship by delivering a strong pitch. It may mean asking alumni if they can put you in contact with hiring managers. In the game of networking, each individual is responsible for taking advantage of what their network offers. Many alumni want others to succeed like they did—you just have to take the reins and make yourself known.
Bottom line: Seeking advice from someone who has traveled the same career path you’re hoping to follow can tremendously benefit your career. It can advance a career in progress, provide a greater understanding of your current role, and assist in making a career change. A community of true and meaningful relationships with professionals seeking to communicate and collaborate in their industries can provide all of this.