The Best Way to Network with Alumni on LinkedIn

September 20, 2012

If you’ve been feeling the urge lately to buy fresh pencils and open the first page of a crisp new notebook, you’re not alone. Whether you graduated two years ago or 20, September always feels like the beginning of a new school year.

For job seekers, this sense of a new beginning can inspire you to inject new energy into your hunt. In particular, the fall season is a nice time of year to reconnect with members of your college or university alumni community, who may be feeling nostalgic for their school days as well (particularly if you have a good football team!).

Here are some tips for connecting and reconnecting with fellow graduates of your alma mater:

1. Join your alumni community. The first essential step is to become a member of your university’s alumni group on LinkedIn. Virtually every college and university in the world has one or more, as do many high schools as well. Go to the Groups Directory and search for the name of any educational institutions you attended. You’ll find that some schools have multiple groups, so join as many as appeal to you.

Once you’re a member, scan the group’s Discussions, Members and Jobs for networking opportunities. For instance, join a discussion of fellow alums talking about your industry, comment on an article someone has posted or introduce yourself to the Group Manager, who is often a representative of the Alumni Association (often a very connected and helpful person).

You can also start your own discussion, perhaps posting an article with a few personal comments or posing a question to group members. Or, you can introduce yourself and your goals: “Hi fellow Tigers: I’m new to the group and excited to connect with fellow alums. I’m currently looking for a job as a graphic designer and eager to connect with any other job seekers or design folks. Happy to help anyone I can. Thanks!”

Remember also that LinkedIn permits you to send a message or connection request to anyone with whom you share a group on LinkedIn (as long as that person has opted to accept such messages), which will help you build one-on-one relationships with individual group members.

2. Tap the LinkedIn Alumni tool. Your next stop should be LinkedIn Alumni, a tool that provides you with information about where your fellow alums work, what they do and where they live. The tool pre-fills the years you attended a school listed on your LinkedIn profile and shows you the classmates who attended at the same time. For a broader search, you can enter additional graduation years.

You can look at the big picture of where people work and live, then you can narrow the results according to your goals. Let’s say you are looking for a job in public relations at a university or nonprofit organization in the Chicago area. The tool helps you narrow your vast alumni network to those who live in Chicago and work in public relations. Then, you can scan the list of “Where they work” and find the universities and nonprofits where your fellow alums are employed. LinkedIn Alumni will then show you the exact profiles of the alums who fit all of your criteria.

Considering a move to Milwaukee? Just start a new search and click on that region under “Where they live” and all of the data will change to show you fellow alumni in that geographic region instead. If you attended more than one university, you can use the "change school" feature at the top of the page to explore other colleges and universities.

3. Reach Out (the Right Way). Once you’ve identified some alums in your desired field and location, it’s time to make contact. While there are no guarantees, fellow alums are more likely to reply to a networking request than random strangers because you share a common experience. Here is how I would approach an outreach message:

Hi Sonya,
I’m a fellow ABC University alum and came across your profile. I graduated in 2003, also with a degree in History, and have been working in the PR industry for the past few years. I’m currently job hunting and hoping to make the transition from the agency side into a role at a nonprofit or university. I really admire your career and was wondering if you might be willing to offer some advice or perhaps chat by phone? I would really appreciate your time and would be happy to do anything I can to help you.
Thank you and Go Tigers!

Note that the message immediately mentions the alumni connection, is polite and professional and shows that you’ve done your research on the other person (signifying that you’re not just sending out generic blast messages). You never want to sound desperate and you never want to ask directly for a job or to send a resume. The goal here, as with any good networking message, is to establish rapport and ask for general information and advice.

Networking with alumni is an effective and often very enjoyable form of networking for job seekers. Have you had success networking with alumni on LinkedIn? Please share with us on LinkedIn or Twitter!