It’s drilled into us again and again: Networking is the most effective way to land a job.
This is not just a cliché, either: A 2016 survey revealed that a whopping 85% of jobs are filled via networking. If you want to get a job, particularly in a communications-heavy field like advertising, there’s practically no option but to network when you’re searching for a job.
When you’re trying to network, one of the most natural pools of professional resources to tap into is a college alumni network. With a common thread between you and fellow alumni, you have an opening line to start a conversation with them, and they have a reason to feel more inclined to respond to you.
Adweek spoke to Kelly Barnett, who oversees the Tina Press & David Rubin Career Development Center at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, for tips on how to leverage your college’s alumni network for professional success after graduation and how to create lasting, meaningful connections with fellow alumni. Here are her top five tips for doing so.
Be reasonable in your requests
If a working professional is helping you out, they’re taking the time out of a likely busy day to do so. Always approach them with respect for their time and an awareness that you don’t actually know this person and they have no real obligation to help you. “You can only ask professionals for what they can painlessly give because they don’t know you,” said Barnett.
She advises starting with a simple request for a phone call or asking to have a few questions answered over email, tasks that are a fairly light lift. “Just asking for advice or a few minutes of their time is a great place to start,” said Barnett. “If they offer you more, that’s fantastic, but it has to be their decision to open that door for you.”
Pose thoughtful questions
With a limited number of questions that you can ask a fellow alum, be smart about the ones you pose. Barnett recommends asking questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no response, as those will prompt people to be more detailed in their answers.
Additionally, Barnett said, people love to talk about themselves (a fairly universal trait). She recommends asking questions about a person’s career path or current job, as those “tend to get the conversation going pretty painlessly.”
Continue to keep in touch
“Every networking conversation reaches a natural plateau,” said Barnett, but that doesn’t mean the relationship has to die. Send emails a few times a year, updating your contacts on what you’re doing and showing interest in where they’re also at. Barnett said that it’s common for people to be wary of sending these updates for fear of coming across as annoying, but people truly want to hear how you’re doing.
“When, really, [other alumni] see the time and the effort they’ve put into [a recent grad] as an investment, and they want a return,” said Barnett. “Those updates and keeping in touch as a bare minimum are what gives them their ‘return.’”
Get involved in your local alumni club
Many schools will have an alumni club, complete with meet-up opportunities that are ripe for networking and located right in your city. Barnett recommends taking advantage of these because they’re “a natural extension of your alumni network” that come with relatively “low pressure.”
It’s a perfect solution “for people who might be nervous about networking or just putting themselves out there with people who they haven’t met yet,” she said. Activities range from sporting events to “a happy hour where it just casually brings people together and there’s not as much pressure.”
Don’t be dissuaded if your school doesn’t have a strong alumni presence in your city
For those who are moving to a city that isn’t a major stomping ground for your college’s alumni, never fear because there is still the potential to network.
Barnett suggests reaching out to people in other cities who work for companies with offices in your location. “It takes a little bit of research, but it’s well worth it because you can be honest with the person and say, ‘I’m really interested in your organization; I’d love to hear what your experience has been like there,’” she said. Once you initiate the conversation, you can bring up the office in your city and ask them to connect you with someone in that location.
“That’s a great jumping off point because even if that person they refer you to isn’t an alum, that referral is coming from someone they know and trust,” said Barnett. “That’s going to give you a leg up to starting that networking relationship.”