Alumni can be some of your most valuable job search networking contacts, but only if you utilize them effectively. When you learn how to leverage them in the right way, alumni networking contacts can represent tremendous inroads into potential employers.
Find the right alumni: Use alumni networks to gain information or access to hiring managers in departments of your target companies. Too often, job seekers use their alumni networks to try to directly reach hiring managers and HR managers. Contacting HR managers is not the best use of networking efforts, since their job is to keep candidates away from the hiring manager — they’re gatekeepers who may not have good information about the hiring manager’s real problems. By combining your alumni directory and Linkedin into your networking research, you can find exponentially more alumni who can lead you to the right person.
Ask for information: Reach alumni who can provide company/department/hiring manager inside information. Why would you ask these valuable contacts about what jobs are open when you can find that on the company’s website? Instead of asking for something your fellow alumnus probably cannot provide like a job, ask for something they can provide that is far more valuable to you — information. Most candidates don’t have a clear idea what they really need in order to be ready to meet a hiring manager. To make your best first impression, you need to be ready by already knowing what is on the hiring manager’s mind, and what the biggest problems, most difficult obstacles, greatest opportunities and priorities are.
Build bridges: The right alumni to reach are often ones who aren’t easy to contact because they’re busy people. Find alumni (often outside your target company) who know and can lead you to someone else within the company that can provide inside information. Of course this information isn’t listed in your alumni directory — this will take some digging and groundwork using Linkedin and your phone.
Get an introduction to hiring managers: While most job seekers make this the most immediate alumni networking goal, it should be one of the last. You only get one chance to make a first impression ... why would you want to put yourself in that situation before you have the necessary information to wow the hiring manager. Only after you understand the hiring manager’s most pressing issues are you ready for an introduction.