Career counselors often suggest networking with alumni from your college or university as a way to find job leads. Many alumni have fond memories of their days at school that can work to a job applicant’s advantage, and they may be more likely to offer advice and mentorship to someone from their alma mater than to a cold-calling stranger. Like other forms of networking, reaching out to alumni has limits and unwritten rules of conduct, and following them is an important step toward making the most of your alumni connections.
For starters, take advantage of alumni associations and established mentoring and networking events. It may be tempting to directly contact someone working for a company with which you hope to get a job, but if you can arrange to meet them when they expect to be approached by other alums, you may have more luck in getting their attention. Many schools will partner current students with alumni, and many alumni associations regularly host events with the express purpose of facilitating alumni networking.
If you do decide to reach out directly to an alum, try asking for an informational interview rather than approaching them about help finding a job. You may want to write them and describe your background and plans, then ask if you can meet with them to learn more about their field, their job, or their company. Requests for informational interviews also make good follow-ups to introductions at networking events. Go to any meetings you do schedule well prepared with questions, and carry resumes and business cards any time you expect to be networking face-to-face.
Alumni networking also has its pitfalls. If you lean too hard on a tenuous alumni connection, it may hurt your chances of landing a job or make you appear less qualified in the eyes of your co-workers when you do get a job. Avoid approaching high-ranking executives at companies directly and asking for help landing a job. Additionally, avoid putting too much faith in the strength of an alumni connection with a stranger, as not everyone will respond to a common educational background.