At Wake Forest, we are fortunate to have a very strong, supportive and connected alumni network. While the OPCD staff sometimes provides direct connections to alumni, we always teach our students how to make these connections on their own. With every student, we strive to fulfill the proverb, “If you feed a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
I asked one of our career counselors, Patrick Sullivan, to share his tips on how to tap into the Wake Forest network using LinkedIn, the network we have cultivated to include over 2,000 current Wake Forest students and over 18,000 alumni.
Clarify and broaden the “target contact” market. When a recent graduate asked how to contact Wake Forest “alumni with architecture degrees”, Patrick asked the following questions to better understand what she was looking for and to broaden the potential market of target contacts who could be helpful to her.
Would she speak to Wake Forest alumni who are working architects (with or without a degree)?
Would she speak to Wake Forest alumni who are employed in architectural firms, regardless of role?
Who else might be helpful in providing her with useful information or connections to others in the architecture field?
As you can see, identifying contacts requires one to think like a detective. Work with your student to clarify the information she is seeking and brainstorm the largest possible ‘target contact’ market to pursue. This will play an important role in the way she searches for contacts and result in many more potential, and valuable, connections.
Create a great LinkedIn profile. We have found LinkedIn to be the most useful way to connect with, and ask questions of, Wake Forest alumni – there are over 4,000 in the Wake Forest Career Connectors group – a group we created specifically to provide guidance and connections for current students. If your student does not already have a LinkedIn profile, direct them to the OPCD website for specific suggestions on how to create a positive, professional LinkedIn profile.
Use LinkedIn Advanced Search. Here are three key tips to find Wake Forest alumni. We’ll continue using the search for Architecture contacts in this example, but your student can apply the same approach to their area of interest. Each of the searches will require your student to use Advanced Search mechanism at the top of the LinkedIn home page.
Tip #1 – Search using the School and Industry fields.
Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and select “Architecture & Planning” from the Industries field. This search returned more than 80 alumni working in the Architecture and Planning industry.
Tip #2 – Search using School and Title fields.
Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and search for the term “Architect” in the Title field. This search brought back a large number of results, including architects, but is made even more effective by adding the suggestions in Tactic #3.
Tactic #3 – Search using School and Keyword fields.
Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and use the Keyword field to search for terms that are unique to that industry or profession. In the case of Architecture, using the terms LEED or AIA would bring back relevant results.
Ask for advice, feedback, and suggestions. Once your student has identified alumni of interest, encourage them to connect via LinkedIn, with the goal of conducting an “informational interview.” Why should your student start by asking for an informational interview rather than for a job or internship? Our experience indicates that alumni are often happy to provide information about their field, so taking the informational interview approach is likely to “open the door”. Asking for a job or internship runs the risk of having the door close as the alumnus your student is targeting may not be in a position to hire, and the may reply with a simple “Sorry I can’t help you” or give no answer at all. Remind your student to highlight the Wake Forest affiliation and make it clear to the contact that their goal is to gather information and ask questions. Here are more specific suggestions on how to best approach and conduct informational interviews.
Plug into multiple networks. Finally, while we strongly encourage our students to utilize the Wake Forest alumni network, it’s important to recognize that most students have access to other networks – friends and family, high school classmates and teachers, athletic teams and coaches, and many other affinity groups. Brainstorm with your student to think about all of the networks they could plug into (including your own) and help them identify specific targets to connect with.
Whether your student is conducting informational interviews, seeking contacts in a specific organization, or wanting to learn about career paths that may be of interest to them, encourage your student to think broadly and to fully leverage LinkedIn.