Best Business Schools Blog

A Connected Alumni Network

How to Best Engage B-School Alumni in Your Job Search

Posted April 17, 2018 by Barbara Coward - Founder - Enrollment Strategies

Whenever you embark on a job search, you want to surround yourself with people who truly care about your best interests, and that’s especially true when graduating from business school. With so many career possibilities, you want to be sure to get it right.

As a result, it’s not surprising that schools recommend engaging with their alumni networks. Having a beloved school affiliation in common with alumni can be an invaluable connection. Alumni often embrace the concept of paying it forward. They understand how important this job search is to you because they remember how important it was to them.

This genuine sincerity from alumni is complemented by the size of the school’s alumni network. The sheer number of conversations you can have with different graduates is only limited by your schedule (and cellular data plan). Some networks can reach into the tens of thousands. (Harvard Business School, for instance, boasts more than 46,000 MBA alumni.)

By not engaging alumni in your job search, you’re missing out on one of the best resources available to you. Alumni are a part of the business school experience, so why not reach out to them?

At the same time, it takes a more thoughtful approach than typing a ton of rapid-fire text messages or emails.

Leslie Kromer, director of the career opportunities center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, urges students to be professional at every step in the process. “You are speaking with alums because of their generosity,” she says. “Be courteous and respectful. You are asking for their time.”

It also helps to be strategic.

Janet Huang, director of MBA career management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, suggests going through the school’s alumni database or its LinkedIn page to identify alumni working in functions or industries that sound interesting to you. In addition, make a “top 10” list of alumni to contact initially, to make the process less overwhelming. A bite-sized approach is ideal, she adds, for introverts who can start slower by contacting one alum per month, for example.

If you feel that you’ve established a nice connection, Huang says you should ask that alum if they can connect you with someone else in their network. It creates an organic momentum of contacts.

Kromer reminds her students that certain industries, such as consulting and banking, are more networking-centric. So in those areas it’s even more critical to network with alumni.

Matt Suettinger, an alumnus of the MBA program at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary and product marketing analyst at Volkswagen Credit, advises against sending a cold outreach on LinkedIn just because you happen to both be affiliated with the same business school. He cautions students to put a lot more thought and effort into the process.

You also want to consider the alum’s level of seniority in their organization. Huang advises to start with someone who isn’t a VP or SVP because “you don’t want to be rusty on the first try.” Kromer suggests starting out with recent alumni. “They’re closest to the recruiting process,” she notes. “Look at someone at or slightly above the level at which you want to enter the firm and then work your way up.”

And it’s not only whom you speak with but what you say. “Think about what you can learn from the person, not how they can hire you,” says Suettinger. Suettinger waited nine years to apply for his position at Volkswagen Credit. “You get one shot at a company. If it’s a company that you really want to work for, but don’t necessarily have a lot of experience overlap, now may not be the best time to cash in on that referral. Keep that card in the back of your pocket for when the right opportunity arises.”

Huang acknowledges that students can be transactional and says that this process is ultimately about building relationships.

She agrees with Suettinger that it’s important to have a learning mindset and says that finding common ground is essential. “Do your homework and don’t go in cold. Maybe you are both foodies or share a passion for a hobby. Start with an informal conversation and make a personal connection.”

As the conversation shifts from pleasantries to business, make sure that you’ve done your research and be prepared. “An alum will expect you to be knowledgeable about the firm or company,” says Suettinger.

Kromer advises that you need to demonstrate how you will contribute to the organization. “Don’t simply focus on what you would gain or achieve learn,” she cautions.

“When you can articulate what you bring to the table, then you have a meaningful conversation,” explains Huang. “The best opportunities are ones that come from building a good relationship.”

Bhavishya Kanjhan, a first-year MBA student at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, illustrates this point. He’s certain that he would not have received an internship at a management consulting firm in Dubai without the support of the school’s alumni network.

As soon as he was admitted to the program, Bhavishya reached out to alumni at his target firms to get their input on how the program had prepared them to switch their careers. In the following months, Bhavishya developed such strong relationships with these alumni that they invested a great deal of time in him. In one instance, Bhavishya had over five calls with one alumnus who helped him understand not only the firm he worked for but also the industries it catered to. Others helped by reviewing his resume and cover letters, providing a thorough understanding of their firm and operations, and even helping with mock interview cases.

“Ultimately, each student will develop a cadence that works best for them,” concludes Huang. “As long as you are humble and sincere, you will open doors to a great conversation.”

Barbara CowardBarbara Coward is a business school industry analyst and the founder of Enrollment Strategies, providing expertise in graduate management admissions and marketing.