Recently I was invited back to an alumni open day at Southampton Solent University where I did my Masters in public relations. This event, in the exciting new Spark building, offered a tour of the state of the facilities and made a commitment to improving the alumni network.
Why does the alumni network matter?
It’s often said that ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’. Networking is a very successful way to make connections with people that may open up important opportunities for you.
There’s no reason why this cannot be the same for an alumni network. Alumni can connect students with opportunities that could otherwise be hard to find. Internships, experience and job vacancies are often put out to an alumni network first before being advertised.
The most important part of the alumni network is the people. This was also reflected at the Solent open day where a discussion was held about what former students wanted and valued from their alumni network. ‘People’ and ‘network’ came out as the top priority for the alumni that attended.
After looking at it more closely I think there are three different ways alumni predominiently use their network, which also indicate why it’s so important to stay connected:
- Starting out – a network to find out about job opportunities or new clients
- Mentors – helpful guides through the early years of your career
- Giving back – somewhere for you to post jobs and look for new employees. You could also become a mentor!
When conducting research about alumni networks I came across an infographic from The New York Times. Although it’s from 2007 and probably a bit dated now, it makes a really good point. The Facebook of Wall Street’s Future conveys the alumni connections between the biggest names of Wall Street and how the relationships can be leveraged to launch careers.
If that many people alone on Wall Street are connected through their academic experience, then I am sure there are similar alumni connections around the world in different industries.
The key here is for the university to provide their graduates with the means to connect with and fully utilise their network to be able to benefit from it. Solent identified that its’ alumni network wasn’t reaching its’ full potential and has made a commitment to improving it.
It sounds like a cliche, but it’s really tough to find a job, so any help or connection could give you that vital foot in the door!
Six ways to make the most of your alumni network
- Be brave – say hello and introduce yourself. Social media makes it easier than ever to connect in to alumni networks but, they are what you make them. The key is to be actively engaged and contributing to the group to reap the most benefits.
- Stay in touch. Once you’ve introduced yourself, follow up your new collections with updates and messages, especially those who have helped you.
- Nothing ventured nothing gained, if you don’t ask you don’t get. Start your job hunt with your alumni network. Let them know you are looking and see what comes from it.
- Alumni are everywhere. Use Linked In and company websites to seek out fellow alumni. Even if you don’t know them directly or they are from other year, you could always introduce yourself to see if they are open to helping. It may just help line up an interview or give you the right contact you need.
- University resources and services. Lots of universities have careers advice, library services, networking events and professional talks available to former students. Contact your alumni office to see what your university offers.
- Don’t forget to give back. When you’re few steps up on the ladder don’t forget that there will be people just like you starting out facing the same trials and tribulations. Perhaps you can help them guide them on their way?
Why is staying connected important?
It’s very easy to feel isolated on your journey. But actually there’s a lot more out there than you think, you really do just have to ask.
Asking for help isn’t easy, but by taking that step with your alumni network you could open up many exciting opportunities throughout your career.
There are also long-term benefits. One of the perks of the network is being invited back to university as a recognised practitioner in your field. It is a privilege to be asked to return and can do wonders for your CV when starting out in your career. I’ve now spoken as a guest lecturer several times, conducted live client briefs for active students and consulted students at the annual Meet the Professionals student networking event. Each have acted as little milestones marking how far I have come since graduating in 2014 but also allowed me to practice some important skills like public speaking (Eek!).
Most recently I returned for the alumni open day event, it was amazing to catch up with everyone and it’s also great to see the university flourishing. Touring The Spark was fascinating, the facilities are seriously impressive and the views from the light and spacious rooms make for a great learning environment.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Solent alumni network develops and maintaining my connections with it. I hope I’ve shed some light on why it’s important to stay connected with your alumni network.
Please pop any questions or thoughts in the comments section – it would be great to hear why you think staying connected is important and what you’d like to see from an alumni network?