After Graduation - Networking Alumni Associations and Everyone Else

First. Congratulations on getting that degree. Now you’re probably eager to make it pay off. I recently heard from a new graduate (Ask Ellis) wondering whether his alumni association would really be a good resource. My answer was that alumni associations are among what I think of as the gold standards of networking. It's your club. There's automatic affinity to fellow alums, particularly in schools that have a relatively close-knit community. Accessing alums from your school will yield much better networking results than with strangers (but don't write that latter option off entirely, either).  
But I’d hate to see you rely on those alumni affiliations alone.  Let me put them in a broader context so you can see where they fit in as you start your networking.

Since, by most accounts and research, getting job offers through networking technique constitutes the vast majority of your total job possibilities, you’re going to have to build a substantial contact list. Does this mean you have to be a back-slapping, “Yo, let’s do lunch” type? Do you have to know the movers and shakers right away? Must you be highly social? Yes, of course it might help if you pursued that private equity career and Henry Kravis’s nephew was your best friend in elementary school. Or it would be great if you were the type of person who went out every night and found it easy to meet people everywhere you went. Or, perhaps your father is CEO of Time Warner.

But most of us are not like these people. We might know a couple of people who know a couple of people, and maybe we worked with someone who has all those relationships. Yet, we’re still going to have to start somewhere. I suggest an “ABC” contact list.

·       The “A List”

This list includes: all of the people you know of who are a level or two above where you think you would be in the organization and function where you want to be; peer level, who could be valuable sources of information and possible access to those above you; and people familiar enough to you so that you can comfortably call them.

·         The “B List”

This list includes all of the people in the “A List” except that you’re not necessarily comfortable calling any one of them right away. Maybe there’s someone you haven’t spoken with in years and feel a bit awkward calling. Maybe there’s someone you don’t know that well and should write to first. Or perhaps there’s someone you don’t know at all, but you’d like to meet because you think you could learn significant information and perhaps build new networks. Or maybe there’s someone you don’t really like but you’d like to contact anyway.

·       The “C List”

The “C List” consists of everyone else you know of who might provide connections to those who would be on an “A List” or “B List.” How about the person who cuts your hair, your extended family, or your dentist? All of those people know others who may work in your targeted area. One of my favorite resources is college and graduate school—sometimes even high school—alumni associations. Alumni associations are particularly powerful networks for attorneys and MBAs. Those who were lucky enough to attend small private colleges will have access to a sort of private club—the college’s alumni database. Membership in that club is a major motivation for gaining entry into many colleges, universities, and graduate schools. Even if you didn’t attend an elite school, many other colleges and universities have well-established alumni organizations and alumni databases.

Professional associations are another favorite “C List” source. Join one (or more) in your target areas. Get on a committee. Two of the best committees are the membership and program committees. Why? In the first, you have access to the membership lists, and in the second, you can source and possibly meet key professionals in your field.

What about political or religious organizations? In this last category, I’ve found very few groups can match Mormons or Orthodox Jews for quick affiliation and building strong networks. I had two clients a few years ago who were Mormons, one living in New York City and one in New Jersey. They were able to build significant networks immediately through their church and extended family and friend affiliations. (One of them landed a terrific job in, of all places, Las Vegas.) I also had an American Orthodox Jewish client who lived in Jerusalem, and he relocated to Cleveland (don’t ask) where he had never been and had no acquaintances. He built fast networking relationships through a synagogue there, despite not being especially assertive or outgoing.

Here’s the good news. All you need is a minimum of five people after you’ve thought through your ABCs. Most job seekers will have more than that, but some—maybe introverted or recent arrivals to an area—will have a smaller number. Even if you only connect with two out of five, you will be able to build the beginning of a successful search based on referrals and information from those two. That’s just the beginning.

From In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work, available inpaperback and ebook.