Influence networks rule the day. Networking is a key component to success for professionals of any age. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you have 20 years of experience. It doesn’t matter if you graduated from a state school or an Ivy League. If you form lasting connections with the right people, you will have a successful career. As always, what you know matters far less than who.
Who You Know Makes a Difference
For people who network well, connections can pave the way to informational interviews, assistance in making a career change, promotions, and more. In the world of entrepreneurs, your professional network is your first stop for early stage investing capital. There isn’t a single professional who doesn’t stand to benefit from networking.
Still, networking can be intimidating for people. Where do you start? Who counts as “part of your network?” The easiest place to start is influence networks. Both colleges and corporations invest in strong alumni networks, each with their own goals in mind.
For institutions of higher education, alumni are people who graduated from their college. These alumni are what most people think of when they hear the word. For the college, maintaining alumni relations is critical to fundraising efforts. The biggest, most established universities, bring in billions every year to fund research, scholarships, and other initiatives. In exchange, the alumni receive a sense of community, access to mentors, and even discounts on sports games. The great thing about college alumni is that they span a wide variety of experience levels and industries. A recent graduate can connect with people from their graduating class, but they can also network with individuals who graduated 30 years prior.
On the corporate side, alumni programs are slightly less well known. Despite that, 98% of Fortune 500 companies have some form of an alumni program. Corporations don’t rely on alumni for fundraising per se, but they do utilize them for a variety of other goals. For corporations, alumni networks drive referrals, boost business development, and connect mentors with mentees. Investing in lifelong relationships leads to measurable benefits like a 6-fold increase in employer attractiveness. When you leave a company with good feelings about it, you’re more likely to recommend working there to your peers.
Recruiting advantages aren’t the only thing corporate alumni offer to businesses. Businesses that actively engage alumni see up to a 44% increase in net new business. Again a likely result of positive word of mouth. Engaged alumni boosts brand sentiment by 10%. When former employees speak positively of a company, that is 5 times as valuable as a good word from an average consumer.
On the alumni’s end, the benefits of corporate alumni programs are similar to those offered by college alumni programs. This time, however, professionals in the alumni network may be more concentrated in a single field or industry due to their past work history. In both cases, the best way to break the ice in networking is through having a common experience.
Doing it as an Entrepreneur
Important as alumni networks are for job seekers, they’re arguably more important for entrepreneurs. A study of venture capital investments over 19 years looked at the relationship between investors and founders of startups. In 1 of 3 cases, the founder and investor attended the same college or university. Investors are more likely to invest in startups created by people from their alma mater. In early stages, connections through shared education networks are more important than school quality or shared geography. In this arena, exclusivity or reputation of the school take a backseat to alumni network size. Those with large, active alumni networks raise more capital than those without.
What can you do to leverage an alumni network? Don’t wait until you need something. People like to give to those with whom they have a steady relationship. So volunteer for a committee role with your local alumni group. Connect with classmates old and new.
Give what you want to get from your professional alumni network. Share your own professional experience during alumni events like webinars, be they with current students/employees or other alumni. Online, use email or LinkedIn. Set up a casual meeting over coffee or lunch when possible. Send a personalized thank you note the next day. Learn more about influence networks in the infographic below:
Infographic provided by: AcademicInfluence.com