Build An Alumni Network by fjohn reinke
As an “old alumni”, I’ve learned the value of “networking”. College alumni have an easy natural way of building one. Unfortunately, few people realize the need for it.
Even fewer people can define what “networking” is, or the objectives of it. Everyone can tell you what the want out of it; instantly! Everyone wants to “network” when they are out of work. Everyone wants a new or better job from “networking”. Everyone wants. Nobody understands about “helping, before being helped”.
I personally believe that “networking” is NOT some open ended wishy washy ‘connect to everyone’ of Facebook or LinkedIn. Or even worse: Myspace or Plaxo. I’m an attendee at the “church” of networking is a “structured activity”. I particularly like Lucht’s definition of “networking” as a formal meeting. In counseling my “turkeys” (i.e., out of work executives), I structure it as: a five minute howdy, five minutes about listening to the target, five minutes for the “networker” to describe their search or need, ten minutes to listen to the target give their wisdom, and five minutes to extract two more names. Input one name; output two names. And, another “listen station” is enable to alert you to opportunities.
But how do you get to that point?
If the predecessor activity is “first help, then be helped”, how does one know who to help? You have to “seed the field”. There’s where Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, or anything else can be useful. It allows you to connect with people easily and casually. So the model is: “Seed the field”, “First help, then be helped”, and then “Use structured networking meetings to seek help”.
At no time in our lives are we able to “seed the field” than in our college days. Even after being out for a while, one can still recapture the “seeding”. I always thought “alumni” was a great way to setup a granfalloon — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granfalloon — strange idea. A very important concept in “job search”. You can use your “alumni” connection to create a granfalloon. That will allow you to know who needs help. Of course, know that you have to help. But that’s usually the easiest part. Then, after helping, you have a person ready to help you when you need it.
So, we have moved the problem back to “seed the field”. Does your school have a vibrant alumni society? Most schools have something. Unfortunately that “something” is organized around raising money for the school in the form of alumni donations. That doesn’t necessarily help the alumni. Services are all oriented to satisfy a different master. That’s really perfect for the person who wants to “seed the field”. A Yahoo or Google group, a free WordPress blog, or such can form the nucleus of an alumni news service. “Seeding this particular field” is a small effort in three areas: Identify the alumni in the news, collect alumni email addresses, and operate a small daily news cycle. Sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t today.
Google news has the ability to present links that satisfy the news requirement. Let say that an alumni of “Ye Olde University” want to “do” this. Dashing to the free, and unequaled wordpressdotcom site, this alum creates a blog called “TheGreatUnwashedAlumsOfYeOldeUniversity”. (Free!) Then, this alum goes to Google news and searches for “Ye Olde University”. This alum can then request email or an rss feed. Then, check the news about and for alumni. Copy news from the source to the blog and post. Zip over to Legacy, the obituary site, and do the same thing. You’re now a font of news and information for your fellow alums.
As time permits, you identify your fellow alumni. And, invite them to read your blog. Capture demographic info as you can in a spreadsheet or document. Name, Email, Class Year, DOB, Address, Phone, and other background data. Try to categorize their characteristics – doctor, lawyer, indian chief, teacher, finance, pharma, etc. etc. Geography. Organizations. Whatever you can. Finally be sure you ask them how you can help them? Setup a plan to “ping” them every so often, quarterly, but at least yearly. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, Cardscan, or anything you can think of to find and connect. Each connect can be reported in your blog as an “update”. Note: Do NOT post email addresses, phone numbers, or street addresses in the blog. Spammers and scammers abound. Become the “Paul Revere” connector that Malcom Gadswell describes in his books. While there is a good reason not to post this information, it does allow you to be the “clearing house”. Just report that you heard from “Jones, Joe (Class of XYZ)” and some further information if you have it.
So, you now have a field being “seeded” for your future use.
Use this as input to “First help; then seek help”. Try to “help” everyone you can. Match needs with resources. Collect information about your fellow alums. It will snowball quickly. When time comes for you to ask for help, you’ll have a field of “plants” ready for harvest.
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