With a tough job market ahead of them, most college grads have had the importance of networking drilled into their heads by recruiters, professors, experts, and even their own parents. Yet creating a great network is often much easier said than done, especially for students who have a hard time knowing where to start.
The situation isn’t hopeless, however, even for the most socially-challenged students. Sites like LinkedIn can be a big help for networking, and new innovations, like their Classmates tool, are making it easier than ever to get and keep in touch with valuable business connections.
Whether you’re still in school or graduated a decade ago, building a strong network of alumni can be an invaluable asset and an essential part of any networking strategy. Alumni can not only help you find job openings, but also give you insights into the working world and keep you in the loop about the latest developments. Using the new Classmates tool on LinkedIn, it’s easy to find old classmates or get in touch with more experienced alums in a given professional field. If you haven’t checked out this new feature yet or aren’t sure how to use it, here are some tips to help you maximize the benefits of building a strong alumni network through your existing LinkedIn profile.
- Don’t just stick to people you know.
There are likely a lot of alumni who currently work in your field that you never got to know while at school. Use the Classmates tool as a chance to connect and build your professional business network. You may find some valuable leads, or just a few new friends who share your interests.
- Check out the companies where many grads got jobs.
Jobs are hard to come by in many industries these days, and knowing someone who can recommend you or give you inside info can be a big help. Check up on alumni that work for companies you have interest in to help get your foot in the door.
- Find out more about how degrees are being used.
While you’re looking at the most popular companies for alumni, take a look at what majors are popular with these businesses, as well. If yours is near the top, it may be a good place to start a job search.
- Use alumni information to find companies that like your school by location.
Say you went to NYU but now live in Chicago. You can easily find out what businesses in your area hire a lot of grads from your college. Simply select your major from the list, then your geographical area.
- Find smart places to relocate, with relationship to your degree.
Simply choose one of the companies that employs a lot of people from your school and to see where their employees work. You may find a city that you wouldn’t mind relocating to, and ultimately foster greater prospects for your career.
- Join your alumni group.
LinkedIn’s Classmates tool makes it simple to find your alumni group, with a link right at the bottom of the main Classmates page. Joining your alumni group can give you a chance to build a network, talk to old friends, and get help finding a new job.
- Look for specialty alumni groups.
While the main alumni group on LinkedIn, easily accessed through the Classmates tool, is often your best bet for a large number of members, a smaller, more focused group can also be a great option. Click on the link at the bottom asking you to join your alumni group. You will be directed to a list of all the groups related to your school.
- Don’t be afraid to send a message.
Even if you don’t know someone in your alumni network, don’t be afraid to send them a message if you feel you have a lot in common or could forge a professional relationship. It might be intimidating, but it’s a pretty low risk for what could be a great payoff.
- Look for common interests.
When you click on a person among your classmates, you’ll be able to see what current interests and connections you have in common. Those who have more in common with you, even if you don’t know them personally, may be better assets to your network (and you likewise to theirs).
- Make sure to check out all your schools.
If you went to more than one college, make sure you hit up the drop down menu to explore connections from all your alma maters.
- Don’t just look at the data.
Say you’ve narrowed down the results to leave you with just information about what grads live in your area in your field. Don’t just look at the numbers! Scroll down and take a look at those individual alumni. It’s a great place to start networking, especially with so much in common.
- Some alumni don’t list their graduation year, but don’t leave them out.
Change your search options to include alumni with no graduation year listed. You’ll amp up your results and get a lot more options for connecting with and learning about your classmates.
- Make sure your own profile is fully filled out.
Not only will you be searching for classmates, but they’ll be searching for you. You’ll want to ensure that you look like someone worth connecting with, so take time to fill out descriptions about your work, career, interests, and education on your profile.
- Play with the dates.
Looking for people you went to school with can be fun, but if you’re on the hunt for mentors or older alumni, you’ll need to adjust the graduation dates accordingly.
- Filter by industry.
If you’re using LinkedIn for serious business networking, then one of the best ways to take advantage of this new tool is by filtering according to industry. You’ll get a lot more out of connecting to other alumni in your field of expertise.
- Look at rankings.
LinkedIn gives you a leg up in finding alumni that you might be most interested in connecting with by ranking the results. Those labeled "1st" are likely people you know, people you share connections with, or those with very similar backgrounds. Subsequent rankings will indicate your degree of connection, so look for higher rankings for better networking.
- Look at shared connections.
Those who have a lot of connections in common with you may be good sources for future connections. Go to their profiles and see if they have professors or professional contacts listed that may be able to help you out in building your own network.
- Don’t forget your high school.
High school may have been a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean connections made during those formative years can’t still be valuable today. After all, you not only share a school, but a hometown and a history. You may find that there are people who graduated from your high school currently in your line of work that you had no idea were even interested in your field.
- Get advice on career changes and planning.
There are few people better to ask about a particular line of work than those who are already in it. Whether you’re a college student contemplating a new major or a seasoned professional looking for a change, leverage your alumni network to get in touch with others who can offer advice, support, and guidance throughout the process.
- Actively engage with your alumni network.
Even if you’re not in the market for a new job, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be building your network now. Don’t just add new alumni to your network, take the initiative and actively talk with and get to know those from your college or university. It could pay off big in the long run.