Alumni Networking 102

Last Tuesday I made suggestions in this blog about how to use your alumni network to help you find a job. Today I’m going to follow that up with some advice about what not to do when asking for help from your school’s alumni. This advice comes from Phil Rosenberg’s  article “7 Alumni Networking Don’ts,” as published on The Ladder.

  1. Don’t spam the network. This is true of all the various circles in your network. Don’t just send an email blast to all the alumni (or all the alumni in your field) or to everyone in your address book. Find a way to create a personalized message that indicates what you hope to accomplish beyond name recognition.
  2. “Don’t network randomly.” Make sure that you have some legitimate connection to each person you write to—ideally, a referral from a professor or another one of the alumni, or at least some type of specific common interest and reason for the contact.
  3. Don’t behave unprofessionally at alumni events. Most alumni events are intended for social (or possibly fund-raising) purposes. Don’t bring your resume unless it’s specifically a job-search-related event. Don’t complain about your difficulties in finding a job. Don’t ask for generalized “help”—but do ask for something specific if there is something specific that a particular individual can provide (such as an introduction or information about career options).
  4. “Don’t act desperately.” While you may feel desperate, desperation will make the person you’re talking to uncomfortable. You don’t want pity, you want assistance.
  5. “Don’t ask for help before building trust.” You can build trust by demonstrating that you are willing to develop a relationship, not just ask for a favor. Use the common background (school) and/or discipline to have a conversation about what you know, what you hope to do, and what you offer to a future employer.
  6. “Don’t just ask for a job.” If the whole basis of your relationship is just that you went to the same college or university, you’re asking for a pretty big favor. And in most cases, it’s going to be a favor that any given individual can’t grant, even if they wanted to. Hiring is a process, and new hires typically need to be vetted by a number of individuals.
  7. “Don’t ask alumni for help they aren’t able to give.” Alumni are likely to be able to give you contact information, advice about career choices, suggestions for information interviews, and so forth.  But they are less likely to be able to give you a job, or even guarantee a job interview. So before you ask for anything, think carefully about what you want or need from each individual and be reasonable in your request.