Time and again you must have heard how networking is very important and it is one of the key ingredients in finding success in your career, but no one tells you how to network? Here is an article that gives you tips on alumni networking. For all you management professionals and MBA aspirants, pay attention as this is a critical element in sourcing for a new project. You get the double advantage of having an understanding audience, as well as the fact that the bond of being from the same institute always gets you the emotional edge.
By Mayur Milan
It must be pointed out that networking needs to be approached in a very professional manner. However comfortable you might be with the person you’re talking to, you must understand that a professional approach is very important, because you are representing an organisation.
Most alumni prefer to be contacted the first time via an email. A brief about your organisation should be attached and a small note on how the concerned alumni can assist your cause should be added. You will also be doing yourself a great favour if you do some preliminary background research on the concerned alumni and her or his business.
Build relationships, not business
Another critical element one must understand is that networking is a relationship building exercise, and not a business development exercise. We never go looking for business, because we believe that when it comes to alumni networking, the return on relationships is far higher than the return on business. In our experience, a lot of our alumni meetings have led to business growth not in short term planning but over a longer stretch. This makes it very critical that we approach any alumni networking with an open mind. We may not walk out with a direct business opportunity every time, but over the long run, the meeting will most certainly get you some opportunity.
There is a time honoured code of conduct about networking. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you expect your calls to be answered, your mails be replied to and that you be given a chance, do not fail to do so yourself. Always answer the calls of your alumni, and if you can’t, make sure that you leave them a message saying you’ll get revert at the earliest, and don’t forget to do so!
To successfully network, you must be willing to take up any suggestion that the alumni may give you. You might not implement it, but you should at least give it a valid thought. Another important thing that you need to keep in mind is that if an alumnus has suggested a lead, you must follow up on that. If you fail to do so, over a period of time, the word will spread that you didn’t follow up, and the alumnus will be pushed into a difficult spot.
Be prepared, do your homework
Now, time for a little anecdote and its moral. When we were starting our agency, Ourbit Marketing and Communications, we chose one of our city chapters in Mumbai as our launch platform. We made sure to speak to the organising committee and took prior permission about speaking about the agency at the alumni meet. We also made it a point to go to the meet prepared with a proper study of every alumnus who was attending the meeting. It helped us engage in communicating with each alumnus on a personal level. Naturally, this goes a long way in establishing you as someone who is taking effort, and is motivated and genuine. That is a key element of any communication, internal, external or in the alumni network. You need to show up as a genuine organisation, especially when it is to your alumni. These are your professional colleagues and they know you better than anyone else in the industry. Hence, it is important that we be true to them.
Another important thing to do in networking is to connect digitally, and Linkedin is currently the best and biggest avenue. While you may meet and talk for few days in a year, Linkedin has enabled regular connections with people anywhere in the world at any point. We used it too: Once connected, we kept feeding them regular updates about the growth of our agency, and sharing important alumni-led business channels that opened up. This made the entire network aware of our efforts and that we were thankful to those who had assisted us. Such small steps are important, not because they help grow your business, but much more because they cement relationships.
You must understand that when you take your alumni’s time, you must be ready to provide them with some value addition. No one is sitting around just to attend to you. All of them have important engagements and thus when you appear in their inbox, you’d better have something important to offer them.
Another key benefit of networking through alumni is that you get to know of talent that can work with you. Also, it gives you the opportunity to source people who can help you with your business by providing you their service. Both talent acquisition and partner development programme are critical to the growth of an organisation, and who better to work with than those whom you already know?
Alumni network: internal audience
As any marketing book will tell you, internal audience is the most critical audience you have to communicate with. Treat your alumni network as your internal audience. They are the ones who can get you to places which another start-up might struggle to be in. You’ll be able to pitch ideas to people who would otherwise never ever know about you at all! And the more you can pitch an idea successfully, the more the confidence the alumni gain in you. In fact, treat an alumni-referred pitch as your Mount Everest. Not only would your own reputation be on the line, but so would that of the alumni and the institute.