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The Value of Networking with Alumni

Experienced job hunters know, and now you will too, that the single most important technique for finding a new job is networking. By networking, you communicate with people that you know, such as friends, relatives, business acquaintances and alumni of your school. You have two primary goals: let them know that you are looking for a new job and ask them to help you in that search by letting you know if they hear of any opportunities or can refer to others who might be of help. The more people with which you network, the more leads you're likely to generate.

Networking, unfortunately, is often overlooked by college students and graduates. These job seekers often believe that networking is something reserved to executives or those with years of experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. While many formal networking groups are reserved to such high level job seekers, the vast majority of networking groups, both formal and informal, are open to job hunters at any level.

Informal Networking

Students and graduates who want to network can do so formally or informally. Formally often involves joining or organizing a networking group, which can take a lot of time but often pay handsome dividends. Informal networking can be done more quickly, especially if your school's career service office is willing and able to help.

Students and graduates with good career service offices are often able to contact those offices and explain to them that they are looking for a new job in a certain occupational field and city and ask them for the names and phone numbers of alumni who are employed in that field and city. If you're able to obtain such a list, pick up the phone and call the alumni. Briefly explain who you are and that you were referred to them by your career service office. Tell them that you're not asking them for a job but that you would like to take them for coffee or lunch so you can find out from them if they have any leads for you. Offer to send a copy of your resume to them in advance.

Treat the meeting as an interview, but do not try to land a job. Your goal, remember, is not to get hired, but to find out who may be interested in hiring you. Pay for the coffee or lunch and promise to keep them updated on your job search. One reason to do so is simply that it is polite. They have helped you and it is only proper that you acknowledge their help by thanking them and by showing them that you valued their assistance enough to actually act on it.

Formal Networking

Formal networking is often done through networking meetings. At the beginning of the meeting, each person introduces themselves and talks about what they are looking for. If someone in the group thinks they can be of help with a contact, they volunteer a name or two. After everyone has had a turn, there is usually time for informal communication, perhaps over coffee.

Churches, community centers, trade associations and schools are good sources if you're looking for a networking group. The key, however, isn't finding one. It is making one work for you.

The first step in making a networking group work for you is to come prepared with a one or two minute summation that answers the question, "Tell us a little about yourself." Where did you go to school? What type of job are you looking for? What is your work experience? What are your skills? In which companies and industries do you have an interest?

Equally important is to come to the meeting prepared to join in and help others. Think about people who you know, including your parents and relatives. Which companies do they work for? Where did they go to school? The more you help others, the more they'll want to help you.

Make it easy for people at the meeting to contact you afterwards. Have business cards and resumes available. Have personal business cards printed up with your name and phone number. You can get them at office supply stores for as little as little as $10 for 500 cards. Hand them out along with your resume to connections you make at these meetings.

Don't be shy about mixing with the participants. Introduce yourself to the group leader and stay around after the meeting to have coffee and talk to other participants. Group leaders are often experts in the job hunting profession and are generally quite willing to offer suggestions.

Dress in a casual but professional manner. Remember, these people are recommending you to someone they may know, so look as though you merit their trust. Networking groups are informal sessions but you should still put your best foot forward.

It is estimated that over eighty percent of jobs are found through personal networking rather than help wanted ads. Your use of networking groups will not only broaden your contacts, but will also enable you to strengthen your verbal communication skills for those all important job interviews.

-Steven Rothberg