When I was desperately figuring out how to get a job in 2016, my experience with one particular alumni representative could only be described as disappointing—and I immediately wrote off the importance of alumni associations before I gave them a proper chance.
I’m not the only one with that experience. A Gallup poll from 2019 found only 9% of graduates surveyed stated that their alumni groups were helpful in finding employment. In other words, 91% of American college graduates in this sample didn’t think the hype was worth it.
Don’t write them off yet, though. They might not help you land a job immediately, but—if you’re willing to get involved—your alumni association could become an important part of your network.
Make new connections
First and foremost, engaging with alumni associations provides you with a steady stream of new contacts to meet. Your network is your net worth, after all. Opportunities come from people more frequently than from job boards.
Truth be told, the connections you meet through alumni associations will probably be worth more to you than most people you’d meet at a general networking event elsewhere in your area. Alumni from your own school—and your own program—are more inclined to help you out for a few reasons:
- You’re part of the same psychological in-group.
- Alumni from your program know your background and may feel an affinity.
- The association itself facilitates relationship growth and familiarity with events.
Here’s the thing: most people at “regular” networking events want something—if not jobs, then sales. I’ve touched on how to become a high-value networker, but the fact is that most people network to land a sale or a job. Alumni associations and events will contain other recent graduates looking for jobs, sure, but they’ll also have a healthy amount of established professionals attending as well.
Those established (and even senior) professionals are willing to lend a helping hand more often than not. Some take the college camaraderie rather seriously, too, which can only help your chances. Strangers at regular ol’ networking events don’t carry that same affinity for you.
Find mentors with a familiar background
The importance of alumni associations extends beyond events and basic networking. Some of them even offer mentorship programs in various forms. For example, my own alma mater has a small but helpful program that doesn’t even wait for students to graduate! They put current students in touch with alumni mentors if the student shows a keen interest.
Those alumni really are out there if you know where to look.
What’s the big deal about mentors? Data from the Wharton School of Business shows that people with mentors experience tangible career rewards:
- 25% of employees who took part in the study had a salary change compared to 5% without mentors.
- Mentees were promoted 5 times more often than employees without a mentor.
- Mentees evidently felt more satisfied, as mentees had a 72% retention rate—while non-mentored employees only had a 49% retention rate.
Get the inside track on job openings
The jury’s out on whether or not there’s still a largely “hidden” job market, but some research suggests that 70-80% of successful job applications involved a connection of some kind inside the company among applicants in 2016.
As a natural extension of networking, you can lean on your shared alumni status to get insights about companies that interest you—and from people that have some kind of interest in helping out. You can get a foot in the door in these ways:
- Informational interviews.
- Invitations to in-group social gatherings.
- Introductions to relevant hiring managers.
- Advice on company culture and expectations.
Few, if any of those opportunities come to regular candidates. It’s an unfair advantage that you can cultivate with involvement in your alumni network.
Case in point: during my unemployment stretch, I almost landed a job with a well-known academic publisher. I placed a close second, and I only got the interview because another alumni from my school gave me an email introduction to the sales manager there.
I came so close with the help of just one alumnus. Sometimes I still wonder how my life would have changed if I’d realized the importance of alumni associations for job searching back then, when I really needed help.
Join skill development opportunities
Improving your skills and technical proficiency is a big part of advancing your career—and one of the best reasons to attend training courses you’ll ever find. Learning is earning, and alumni groups can direct you toward those places to learn.
- Professional associations.
- Educational and networking events in your city.
- New online resources and certification programs.
Formal skill development seminars might not be available through your alumni association, and that’s okay. If you’re active with the group then it’s very likely you’ll be able to tap other alumni on the shoulder for advice on skill development. They can usually point you toward the right resources or introduce you to connections who can.
The importance of alumni associations seems weaker than advertised, according to the research, but don’t let that stop you from making the most of them. The fact that so few people use them for career advancement is actually a silver lining: those helpful alumni out there can direct more of their energy toward helping eager young graduates like you instead of someone else.
Never be afraid to ask for a helping hand. Just pass on the favor when someone asks you.