Pay attention to your alumni connections when job hunting

Pay attention to your alumni connections when job hunting

Pundits say the principal benefit of a Harvard M.B.A. isn’t the learning acquired in the program but rather the blue-chip roster of fellow alums with which you can later associate. As the mythology goes, you can call on a fellow alum to help you out 20 years after graduation and your shared collegiate experience will be of value once again.
Though I can’t say this is true for sure (I haven’t attended Harvard yet), I can attest to the power of alumni connections.
While I’m not referring to college alums, the schoolmates I keep in touch with are as friendly and helpful today (a dozen years after we left graduate school) as they were on graduation day. I’m actually referring to a different breed of fellow alums: the people you worked with at previous jobs.
Keeping in touch with corporate alumni has become big business. Multiple Web sites offer to develop and manage company alumni sites and networks (formal ones, ones sanctioned by the employers or an informal grassroots group created by some networking-happy person who once worked at the firm).
An easy and cheap (in fact free) solution is to set up a list serv on Topica or Yahoo! Groups to keep in touch with your old workplace cronies.
For instance, the U.S. Robotics alumni list serv I set up in 2001 now has more than 700 of my old work buddies present (we’re talking about the original, pre-3Com organization). We’re constantly tapping one another for job leads and contacts. We also use the e-group to comment on (and, I’ll admit it, chuckle over) the stumbles of the company that acquired us and broke up our friendly crew.
If you’re not ambitious enough to set up a discussion group on your own, look around as there may be one already existing somewhere.
If you can collect your group and put up a simple Web site, you may be able to set up a group on LinkedIn, which would make it that much easier for your gang to keep in touch. If you do that, you and your fellow alums can contact one another directly through the LinkedIn interface. You won’t need to use intermediate connections so long as you’ve all opted into the same alumni group.
Why is it worth the trouble to stay connected to these people? I can give you five reasons just for starters:

  1. To reach out to your fellow alums as they change employers over time when you’re job hunting or prospecting for sales;
  2. To locate another alum with whom you’ve lost touch by way of the larger alumni community (the more of you that you can gather, the more likely that someone will be in touch with the person you’re trying to reach);
  3. To get expert advice from people you already know and trust;
  4. To find out through the expanded group of contacts and eyes and ears your alumni group will represent what’s going on at a particular company; and
  5. To gain visibility when you change jobs or launch a company among people who already know and (let’s hope) like you.

So what can you do if you like the idea of gathering the clan back together but don’t know where to start?
First off, check out the groups on LinkedIn. There are 450 of them there, and if you’re lucky enough to find your alumni group on the roster, you won’t have to start from scratch. If that doesn’t work, Google your old company’s name and alumni (Company X + alumni) to see whether there’s a site or an e-group around that you hadn’t heard about.
If that fails, check your address book. If you can gather at least 50 of your old workmates, it’s worth starting a group on your own because that “seed crop” of 50 can quickly get much bigger.
Though I prefer Topica (slightly) to Yahoo! Groups, you get what you pay for and both of these sites are free. Though it’s an OK solution, it’s nothing fancy. You’ll have to wade through a lot of ads to read correspondence from your real friends. If you can tolerate that, the reward is that you’ll have created a terrific network of people who already know and trust one another. That’s huge.
Put a notice in The May Report about the alumni group you’ve started and scan Ryze to find any of your old work buddies who may have posted profiles there. It’s very rewarding (and fun) to hear from people you’ve entirely lost touch with as they hear about the network of former company mates.
What if you’ve bounced around enough that you don’t have lots of contacts at any one employer? In that case, a corporate alumni network might be less useful for you. Your own network of contacts and associates will be more important than any one alumni group.
In this case, it’s even more important for you to keep track of the people you know as they move through the employment or consulting world. Use Plaxo to get their contact information up to date (or if you don’t have e-mail addresses, use LinkedIn to track down your former colleagues).
Your alumni group won’t be tied to a specific company. It’ll be more like “the network for people who have worked with Paul”. You can provide a valuable service as a company spanner and you can introduce these folks to one another.
Everyone says and everyone knows that networking is how good things happen, but for me, there are two completely different kinds of people connections to pay attention to.
The big pond of contacts that you meet at tech-networking events (which grows as your friends introduce you around) is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t dis it. That network is silver. The network of people who’ve actually worked with you, spent long nights in the lab, sweated over a sales plan or ridden on countless red-eye flights together is gold. It pays to take very good care of it.

Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.