If you are struggling with career decision-making or looking for a new direction in your job search, advice may be closer than you think. Last month I highlighted career questions you should ask your online instructors, but there are many other resources available to you. Have you connected with your school's alumni network?
From job search tips and professional networking to mentorships, alumni can provide information not only about the world of work, but also about how their time as students at your institution prepared them for their careers. TheLadders.com advises that "most professionals do consider alumni association a primary connector to job opportunity" and that "alumni associations are a great jumping off point to networking, but it's just the start."
Those who have graduated from your program have walked where you've walked, studied what you've studied, and met the challenges you are facing now. You have this background in common as a way to make an introduction and begin a conversation about work and careers. Take a few tips from the informational interview format and concentrate on gathering information to guide your decisions.
Before you reach out through alumni directories and local networking events, prepare for the conversations to come. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How did your experience at [your institution] help you find your first position after graduation? Was it the coursework, or perhaps an internship, that made the difference? This question helps you get at the potential employment value of your academic program from a working professional.
- What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new graduates from [your institution]? This question is another way to ask about the strengths of your academic program and your school, as well as gain insight into the current needs of employers hiring in your field of interest.
- How should I prepare to answer questions about online learning? Especially relevant to students in programs that are delivered completely online, past graduates may be able to provide some insight about how their employers, and the industry in general, perceive the value of online learning. Views are changing as more academic programs integrate technology and web-based resources, but you may still encounter questions about your online learning experience.
- If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently? This question is included in Penn State's list of informational interview questions, and it seems particularly useful when talking with alumni. Are there opportunities or services available through your school that they wish they had taken advantage of, but didn't?
- What else do I need to learn? No single curriculum provides everything that you'll need to be successful in your next job. What do alumni from your program recommend to you based on their experiences? Where were the gaps? Ask follow-up questions related to recommended professional development and continuing education activities.
- Who else should I talk to? Alumni may be able to refer you to other alumni and additional connections within the industry. They may also be able to recommend leaders in the field and organizations that you should follow via social media. Ask about active alumni groups on LinkedIn – another great source for career information and networking.
- May I keep in touch with you and let you know my progress? While some alumni will be interested in adding you to their network, don't make the assumption that this is the case. This question from MIT's Alumni Association may seem simple, but it allows you to clearly address the issue and set the stage for future contact and questions.
Remember that all forms of relationship building, including professional networking, take time and not all alumni will be open to talking with you. Look for ways alumni from your school have already volunteered to provide information about themselves, through updated directory profiles and as guest speakers in your courses, and assistance, through formal mentoring programs and local club events. Also be sure to check with your school's Career Center and Alumni Office for guidance on identifying and communicating with past graduates, they may even be able to recommend specific people to contact based on your interests and location.
As more alumni of online programs enter the workforce, and succeed in large numbers, the power of this kind of networking can only grow. Add alumni to your overall job search and career development strategies, and consider how you will share your experience and advice with students who may contact you after you graduate. As Kaplan University's alumni team reminds us, "after all, graduation is just the beginning â¦"
Image credit: SalFalko, Flickr, CC:BY-NC