How to build an alumni network

by Barrie Hopson on November 27, 2014 · 0 comments

in Networking

If this mCIPDakes you grimace then maybe you should think again. I get increasingly bombarded from the 2 universities from which I gained degrees for attending events, giving money, meet ups, etc. Except that as portfolio workers most of us have to network in ways that we probably did not think necessary when we had a single job. (We always argue that this is also missing the point and that even in a single job that it is useful to network as ‘you never know’!)

A recent posting from the CIPD makes the point that with the growing preponderance of ‘portfolio’ careers, in which people spend shorter stints at a larger number of companies, recruitment is more frenetic and maintaining relationships with alumni just makes sense. At Deloitte, 10,000 former employees are signed up. “It’s something our business is taking very seriously, and we’re increasing investment in what we do with our network,” says Mike Meehan, sponsoring partner for the Deloitte alumni network. “The people we hire today as graduates have a hugely different outlook for what their careers are going to look like over the course of 30 or 40 years. People will now often spend a shorter time with us. Sometimes they will leave, get another role – perhaps at one of our clients or in another sector – and come back again.”

Building an alumni network that makes the grade involves more than throwing information into a spreadsheet and hoping for the best. Universities run the most complex and effective alumni networks, and Christine Fairchild, director of alumni relations at the University of Oxford, says the process begins with collecting the right sort of data. “You must start with a strong database that’s resilient, robust and has a lot of good fields, so you get to build a real picture of your alumni body,” she says. “Poll and survey your alumni to find out what they want and what would be meaningful. There’s nothing worse than assuming you know everybody’s interests.”

“It’s a terrible idea to just assume you know what your alumni are interested in,” adds Meehan. “It may not be in the DNA of a corporate to let go like that, but asking what they want drives great rewards.”

The internet has made such networks considerably easier to manage. Fairchild  abandoned most of Oxford’s traditional print communications – “It’s just the way the world works” – in favour of the web.

Deloitte sends regular email bulletins and owns a LinkedIn group, which is largely operated by members. “We can post messages on LinkedIn and instigate discussion, and the alumni can do that as well.” says Meehan. “It creates an energised and interactive community. That interaction, frankly, is a huge attraction for people who are network members.”

“Most people recognise the value of the personal relationships they build as they go through their career,” says Meehan. “That’s always been true, but the ability to harness that has vastly increased in the past few years.” If you’re not in touch with your former employees, it seems, they’re probably talking to each other anyway. And they might just be talking about you.”

In other words your previous employers or places of learning can provide  effective links. Just one more kind of networking.

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