The Jury Is In! Your Alumni Want Help Networking!

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Over the past year, we (at TalentMarks) have been busy introducing our CareerWebinars for Alumni series to alumni associations as a way to provide a “value added” services that help alumni build successful career strategies.  Thousands of alumni have registered for the series that features the nation’s top career authors and experts.

Designed on our successful CareerWebinars for Students series in which 1,000 career centers and 200,000 students participated, the CareerWebinars for Alumni series is built around a branded portal that includes the college logo, contact information and unique content.

Alumni directors love it because it’s turnkey.  We do everything.  We book the guest speakers, send out reminders, host the webinars, maintain and update the portal, and provide our clients analytics concerning participation.   Even better, the speaker lineup is top notch!

Our fall line-up of speakers includes well known authors like Peter Weddle author of Work Strong, Your Career Fitness Program, Ben Cashnocha who with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, wrote The StartUp of You, and even Richard Bolles, author of the best selling book of all times, What Color Is Your Parachute?

After each webinar this year, we surveyed alumni to get their ratings of the event, whether they would recommend it to others, and what they felt the most important messages were.  We also found out in which additional areas they wanted the alumni association to provide help and guidance.

The five primary areas in which alumni requested help included:

  1. Networking
  2. Career coaching
  3. Resumes
  4. Career courses
  5. Placement

The number one requested activity in all of our surveys was networking.  This probably does not come as a surprise to anyone in alumni affairs as local surveys have more than likely shown a similar high interest in networking.

…but it got me thinking…

  • How scalable is your ability to help alumni network?
  • What percent of your alumni participate in networking events and activities?
  • Are we getting mileage out of our online communities and LinkedIn pages?
  • Do you have a way to measure how effective your events are for helping alumni network?
  • Could we be doing a better job helping more alumni build their professional networks?

At live events, your alumni will be LUCKY if they make 2-3 contacts.  Some of that is affected by the agenda and focus on the event, the rest by the fact that 60 percent of your alumni (according to the Stanford Shyness Clinic) consider themselves shy.   Shy people tend to lock on to one person at an event and there is a huge probability that person will not be in the same industry –so they will not be a prospective customer, nor will they be able to help advance the person in question’s career.

A strong alumni association is a CONNECTED alumni association!

There is a side benefit to your alumni association having more connected alumni.  According to Valdis Krebs, founder of Orgnet, organizations with members that are more connected are more engaged and involved in the mission of the group and the needs of its members.  Valdis’s firm provides social network analysis software & services for organizations, communities, and their consultants.

As alumni association’s adoption of online communities were heating up a decade ago, Valdis shared with my clients the need to include a “gracious host” in their overall online community strategy.  His research showed the value of having a more networked alumni base and he encouraged alumni directors to ACTIVELY connect alumni.  His graphs and research helped us understand that alumni who are connected to each other strengthen and expand the network.  A stronger network has the potential to help more students get internships, helps alumni do business with each other, helps alumni get jobs, and of course helps meet the needs of the college.

Unfortunately, since then, alumni online communities have become virtual ghost towns and are no longer viable strategies to network alumni.  The good news is that they have been replaced by FREE solutions!

LinkedIn now has 250,000,000 users!

LinkedIn is a POWERFUL networking tool that few alumni associations are taking advantage of.  Alumni participation is off the charts!

My alma mater has 196,000 alumni, and of those nearly 62,000 alumni have created a profile on LinkedIn. — That’s an astounding 31%!  If every student created one LinkedIn profile, I predict that number would reach 45%.

LinkedIn offers a rich set of data that someone in the alumni office could use to match alumni.   Wouldn’t you like it if your alumni association periodically reached out to you and connected you with fellow alumni, or introduced you to an aspiring graduate who needed help in relocating to your area, or finding a job within your industry?

In the past year, LinkedIn has also introduced their www.linkedin/alumni tool.  This is a powerful, easy to use search tool that provides pre-selected data points to help users find people.  With a click of the mouse, I can target people by:

  • where they live
  • what they do
  • what they studied
  • what they are skilled
  • how I am connected to them

Your alumni association should teach every student and grad how to use this tool.

Consider focusing on recent grads:  A survey by Addeco found that 29% of grads wished they had spent more time networking prior to graduation. Imagine how surprised and excited your recent grads will be when you reach out and help them build their professional networks!

Instead of investing staff time and attention on the abandoned and infrequently used alumni online community, consider redirecting your energies to data mining the vibrant and data rich online community of LinkedIn.

Facebook– with a BILLION users– has introduced their new Graph Search!

Another way you can take an active role in networking alumni is with Facebook.  Facebook is slowly rolling out their new Graph Search to their billion users.   This new search tool is pretty amazing!   It enables users to do granular searches using simple phrases and sentences.   We recently held a webinar that showed how job seekers could use it to network.   For example, here are some searches I could do:

  • Who of my friends’ friends live in Chicago and work at IBM?
  • Who graduated from Kent State University and works in advertising, in Los Angeles?
  • Who graduated from Kent State University with a BS degree and works at Monsanto?
  • Who graduated between X and Y years and majored in Journalism?

You could use this tool to strengthen your alumni network and help more alumni connect with one another.  Someone in your office can search for graduates from a specific period, who received a bachelor’s degree, who majored in (fill in the blank), who live in Los Angeles and work for Disney!

I could see a position dedicated to being a “gracious host” who spends his or her day, connecting alumni and building a stronger network of people who have a greater interest in helping each other.

Both Facebook and LinkedIn offer free online strategies to create a network that not only scales but gives you the opportunity to track the results and outcomes of your introductions.

If you’d like more details on how you can accomplish some of the ideas we’ve presented, reach out and let us know what you’d like to do!



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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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