Skills - Networking with Alumni
One of the many benefits of attending Columbia University is access to its alumni for career-related purposes. To best utilize this resource, it is important to understand how to identify and contact appropriate alumni and what to ask them.
The Advantage of Alumni
Since networking is about making contacts and building relationships, it is easiest to start networking with individuals that you know or with people with whom you have an existing connection. Alumni are not just going to hand you a job because of the Columbia connection, but most alumni feel a strong enough connection to their Alma Mater to be willing to speak with you. This will allow you to begin building relationships in your industry of choice, ask for new contacts, and gather information and tips about the industry. Remember, alumni have volunteered to serve as a resource. They are not there to “give” you a job. Use them appropriately by making the building of a relationship your priority.
Protocol for Contacting Alumni
Most alumni prefer that the initial contact be through email. Do background research to understand who they are and what they have accomplished in the workplace. Also set expectations for your informational interview or networking opportunity – outline what you want to learn or to gain from the email correspondence beforehand. Your initial email should be brief and contain the following information:
- How you found them (alumni network, referral from a counselor, etc.).
- Your school and (expected) year of graduation.
- Your current status (career exploration, industry research, job search).
- What you are asking them for (e.g., information about their organization, industry tips, and job search techniques).
- How you would like to gain that information (an in-person informational interview, a phone meeting – at their convenience).
- Indicate how you will follow-up.
- Schedule a time and place for an informational interview (at the alumni's convenience).
Do not attach your resume to your initial email – it will look as if you are asking for a job. Bring it with you when you meet with alumni, and ask for industry specific feedback on it.
The Informational Interview
Informational interviews generally take place at a mutually convenient location. Some locations include coffee shops, the alumni's office, or at another public and professional location. During the informational interview, it is your responsibility to control the discussion’s content. Develop a list of questions that are based on your background research and tailored to answer your questions about the career process. Refer to the Networking & Informational Interviewing tip sheet for a list of sample questions.
How to Make Contacts at a Networking Reception
The goal of a networking reception with alumni is to enable you to easily make contacts for future use. It provides a natural setting for professional conversation and exchange of information. It is not, however, a chance to collect as many business cards as possible or an opportunity to conduct a full informational interview.
When checking in at a reception, ask about the format and set-up of the evening. Some events provide color-coded name badges based on industry; some separate the room by specialty, and many allow you to roam freely and talk with everyone. Once you understand the set-up and format of the event begin networking.
Walk up to someone who might be standing alone, or feel free to join a group already engaged in conversation. Be ready to engage in small talk as well as provide a brief background about yourself and why you are there.
At the end of your conversation, if you would like to speak with this alumnus/a further, ask for a business card. You can comfortably do this by saying how much you have enjoyed the conversation and inquiring whether it is possible to continue the conversation in an informational interview at a convenient time for him/her. If the alumnus/a says yes, request a business card.
It is important to follow up with alumni after your contact with them. Send a thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting or conversation. Please refer to the Thank You Letters tip sheet for more information on what to include in a thank you letter.
Additional follow-up is appropriate after you have taken their advice on something and have an outcome to report. Examples of this include: contacting someone they recommended, joining a professional association, reading an article they suggested, etc. At this time, it is appropriate to contact and update them.
How to Find Alumni
Alumni and students have different pathways for connecting with other alumni.
Students connecting with Alumni:
- Columbia Career Connections (CCC): An online career networking community through which students make connections with alumni in a wide variety of professions, industries and locations.
- SEAS: Mentornet is an award-winning nonprofit e-mentoring network that positively affects the retention and success of those in engineering, science and mathematics.
Alumni connecting with Alumni:
- Alumni: Graduates of all of Columbia’s schools have access to the Columbia University Online Alumni Directory as well as Columbia Career Connections.
- Alumni Clubs: Columbia alumni clubs hold a number of networking events throughout the country.
- LinkedIn: The Columbia Referral Network and Ivy Referral Network are two networking groups that are available to Columbia alumni on LinkedIn.
- School of the Arts: The School of the Arts alumni website provides alumni with a searchable online alumni directory, news, upcoming events, and other general alumni information.