Have you given your alma mater much thought since graduation day? If you haven't, you might be missing out on an important career resource in your job search.
Recent research has proven the value of keeping in touch with fellow graduates. According to a survey by Alumnifire, a digital platform for alumni networking, nine out of 10 respondents said they'd prefer to hire a fellow graduate or student from their alma mater if given the opportunity. Another survey, by competitive intelligence company Corporate Insight, creator of higher education research tool Alumni Monitor, found that 40 percent of alumni who donated to their alma maters said their former schools were "very important" in landing their first jobs.
"Alumni networks ... are powerful and willing communities that can create jobs and internships and increase the marketplace value of their institutions' degrees," said Andrew Margie, co-founder and CEO of Alumnifire. [Diploma to Paycheck: Job Search Tips for New Grads]
Tapping into your alumni network
Although most of the alumni you could connect with aren't hiring directly, they're perfectly positioned to help you find opportunities by opening doors within their organizations.
"Informational interviews are a great way to ... explore different industries and companies without the administrative hurdles and pressures of a formal interview," Margie said. You may even leave with an internal champion or mentor as a result."
The first thing you should do is research and connect with other alumni. Many professionals list their educational backgrounds on LinkedIn profiles, so it's very easy to find fellow graduates of your school. Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, advised using LinkedIn's advanced search function to find people from your college who work in your field or have the job you want. You can also Google potential connections or sign up for Alumnifire to find these fellow graduates. Then, you can reach out to start a conversation.
"Ask for 10 minutes of a person's time, not an hour, and do it over the phone," Augustine said. "A 10-minute phone call is a lot easier for that person to say yes to than, 'Let's meet for coffee,' especially if you don't know [him or her]."
During this "informational interview" call, it's important not to come out of the gate asking for a favor. The purpose of this conversation is to ask this person about his or her career path or company to gain insights for yourself, especially if you want to explore new opportunities in that person's field.
"People like to share experiences and opinions," Augustine told Business News Daily. "You're not asking for a job or recommendation — you're just asking for information so you can make better decision in your job search. Ideally, it may lead to introductions and opportunities, but the No. 1 goal is to build a rapport."
Once you've built that rapport and have established a good professional relationship, then you can start asking for an introduction or recommendation. But make sure you're offering something in return to your contacts, too.
"Pay it forward — you want to make it mutually beneficial," Augustine said. "Find ways to provide value so it's not a one-sided relationship."
Michael Ellison, president of Corporate Insight, recommended helping your school help you (and your fellow alumni) by sharing your suggestions and experiences.
"It's important that alumni tell their alma maters their needs," Ellison said. "I trust that most schools would be responsive to requests by their alumni, particularly if there is a groundswell of interest."
What should schools be doing?
Although job seekers must be willing to put in the effort to network, colleges and universities also have a role to play in connecting their alumni. Margie noted that many schools are strapped for time and resources, and struggle to expand alumni engagement beyond fundraising and on-campus efforts, but networking platforms and technology can give these schools additional leverage.
Ellison agreed, and said schools need to use a variety of communication methods to reach alumni at all stages of their careers. Corporate Insight's survey found that email is a highly effective way to keep alumni in the loop; 65 percent of respondents reported that they prefer email above other forms of communication from their alma maters. However, 48 percent of alumni also said they visit their school's website, and 38 percent said they connect with their schools via social media.
Other services schools can and should be offering their alumni are frequent networking events, mentoring programs and fee-based career coaching from professional agencies. Augustine emphasized the importance of offering virtual options for these services.
"Not everyone lives close to a major city or to their alma mater," Augustine said. "Schools should offer Twitter chats, webinars [and other] resources to develop [alumni's] skills sets and help them become stronger candidates."
Finally, Ellison advised schools to develop strong relationships with alumni so the universities will know when their graduates are between or looking for jobs. This is the ideal time to market career services, and for colleges to show alumni they're serious about investing in and helping both current and former students.
"It is one thing to earn a degree, but it is a different kind of effort to develop a career," Ellison said. "Colleges and universities have an opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of their alumni if they assemble the right programs and communication efforts."