Modern Rules of Alumni Networking

The internet has changed the way alumni networking operates. Years ago, former schoolmates might be surprised and delighted to hear from anyone who attended the same university. Today they’re more likely to feel overwhelmed by the number of emails they receive from strangers who found them on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Does that mean you have to forget about the potential connections you created during your college years? No, it just means you need to take a more targeted approach. Learn how to tap into your alumni network the 21st century way.

Identifying Contacts in Your Alumni Network

1. Start early. If you’re still in school, you can begin building your network as soon as you pick your major and meet your roommate. If you graduated years ago, start warming up old contacts today.

2. Explore university resources. In addition to the standard alumni directory, most schools now have online communities that make it easier to chat. Plus, the campus career center may have exclusive job postings and other goodies.

3. Know your industry. Different fields of study may have their own special offerings. For example, MentorNet is a social network where any STEM student in the U.S. can look for a mentor among professionals working in science, technology, engineering, or math.

4. Browse LinkedIn. The world’s largest professional network puts you in touch with fellow graduates. Your alma mater probably has at least one alumni group you can join. Reach out to the group manager, participate in discussions, and send connection requests to other group members. Use the LinkedIn Alumni tool to research what your peers are doing now.

5. Go back to school. Maybe you skipped college when you were younger or you’re thinking about returning for an advanced degree. Add your new classmates to your network.

Communicating with Contacts in Your Alumni Network

1. Introduce yourself. Let others know who you are and what kind of assistance you’re seeking. Mention the year you graduated and who referred you.

2. Ask for information and assistance. Even if you urgently need a job, slow down before handing out your resume. Most professionals can share advice and referrals, but will probably be unable to hire you directly, so avoid making them feel uncomfortable.

3. Think positive. Manage stress so you come across as confident and capable rather than desperate. Focus on your strengths and what you can contribute to any organization.

4. Schedule information interviews. Invite your contacts out for coffee dates and after-hour drinks. Be ready to pick up the tab.

5. Attend receptions. You can meet a roomful of alums at networking events. Rehearse your small talk and bring business cards.

6. Follow up. Cultivate the contacts you make by staying in touch. Show an interest in their careers, share interesting news articles, and provide updates when you have exciting news like landing a new job.

7. Express gratitude. Let others know how much you appreciate their kindness and generosity. Send handwritten thank-you notes and email holiday cards. Deliver a batch of chocolate chip cookies or post enthusiastic comments on their professional blog.

8. Return the favor. Networking is most effective when you’re willing to give as well as receive. Think of colleagues who you would like to introduce to each other. Ask a fellow jobseeker if they want to join you for a workshop when you have an extra ticket.

Your alumni network is still a powerful resource even if you use it a little differently today. Do your homework and focus on how you and your former schoolmates can support each other. Plugging into your alumni networks can help you access new positions, valuable information, and helpful mentors and advisers.