How to Make the Most of an Alumni Network

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Alumni networks are becoming increasingly powerful. In the past, many companies maintained fairly generous interview protocols. Having a recommendation from anyone in the company automatically moved you to the interview stage, so the strength of your relationship with a professional contact mattered less than having that contact at all. Over the last several years, however, companies have begun tightening those policies. Maintaining strong connections with your contacts now matters more, and the bonds many people feel toward their alma maters make a solid foundation for developing connections. Try these tips to get the most out your alumni networking opportunities:

—Target alumni who share interests with you. Remember, your goal is to build a strong connection with somebody. Use social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter in combination with your alumni directory to find people with whom you can have substantive conversations. Then, ask them to meet up with you sometime.

—Network early. Asking a tenuous contact for help right away can break a networking bond before it ever has a chance to grow. Therefore, to build strong, reliable relationships, start cultivating alumni contacts when you don’t need anything at all. Nurture relationships first, and you may be surprised at how quickly people respond when you ask for help.

—Ask for information rather than a job. Knowing what things a company is currently focusing on can be a huge step up for you in your application process. Moreover, your contacts may be more willing to share that information than to put you directly in contact with a hiring manager.

—Use already-established alumni contacts to build new ones. Often the most valuable networking contacts, like hiring managers, are the most difficult people with whom to build relationships. So be patient. Once you have a strong relationship with one contact, see if he or she can think of anybody else you should get to know. Expand your network slowly and carefully, and trust that eventually you’ll start to meet the people you most want to know.

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