How to Make the Most of Your Alumni Network in a Job Search, with Tiffany Waddell Tate

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 272:

How to Make the Most of Your Alumni Network in a Job Search, with Tiffany Waddell Tate

Airdate: December 2, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by Top Resume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

When you graduate from college, you get a diploma. You also become part of an alumni network.

Our guest today says you can leverage these connections to understand your employer’s needs, get introductions to hiring managers, and attract the attention of recruiters.

Tiffany Waddell Tate joins me to talk about these and other ways to make the most of your alumni network in a job search.

She’s the CEO and founder of Career Maven Consulting. It’s a coaching and talent development firm that helps people find good jobs and companies retain top talent.

Tiffany joins us today from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Well, let’s get right into it, Tiffany. What difference can an alumni network make in a job search?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

An alumni network can make a really big difference in a job search because you already have access to a myriad of professionals across industries, across geographies, that you have a warm connection to, even if you don’t know them because you share an alma mater and you share an educational and cultural experience such as college. So, it can really help catapult your networking strategy and it can really help you tap into organizations or industries that you might not have deep experience in.

Mac Prichard:

Do these networks matter only at prestigious universities?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

No, I think that whether you went to a two, four-year college, or a top-tier institution, you have an alumni network because you have a shared educational or certification experience. So, I often encourage people to think about short courses that you’ve attended, post-grad experiences that you’ve had in the educational space; it’s certainly not something that’s only available or accessible to people who went to colleges or universities that have higher rankings on the US News and World Report. Anyone who you have a shared educational experience with has been through something that you’ve been through and they’re more likely to say yes to your outreach or your call, and so it’s a great opportunity to connect with people in fields of interest.

Mac Prichard:

It’s not just four-year universities and the top-ranked ones, but also community colleges or even high schools, Tiffany?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Absolutely, there are some high schools that have a really robust digital presence. You can find affinity groups that you might share with people from high school or community college attendance on places like LinkedIn, on Facebook even. There are lots of digital pockets where you can find people that went to schools or programs that you did, as well.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad that you mentioned, a moment ago, short-term educational experiences; often people sign up for executive, educational courses that might take place over a number of weeks. It might be a small group and you get a certificate at the end but even those experiences can provide valuable networks, too, can’t they?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Absolutely. I’ve participated in short intensives around different topics, like strengths certifications, for example, and you’ve gone through an experience that is intense, it’s short in terms of time, but the connections that you build there, because the cohort is so small, tends to be pretty deep, because you spent 40 or more hours with those people upscaling around a particular area, and they’re more likely to remember you when you send a note online or through email and reference where you connected.

Mac Prichard:

For the institutions that have career services offices, how do you recommend a listener work with those organizations when they are interested in tapping an alumni network?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, I think first, I often recommend that people create a LinkedIn profile so that they have some kind of digital footprint or open door to the affinity alumni groups that their institution has. And then, reach out to the college career center and see what resources they have available, as a coach, or what affinity groups they may be managing or administering on the college side. Because they can also help point you in the right direction of affinity groups that might be helpful for you to join or have access to, or they may even, depending on how they manage the group, require that you take a step or two in their systems or meet with one of their coaches or counselors before you can have access.

I think it’s great, again, to create your own LinkedIn profile or give it a quick update, and then reach out to the career center at the college of interest and see what their protocols are in terms of accessing the groups that you want to join.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to tap into these networks, and you mentioned creating a LinkedIn profile, is that the first step, Tiffany?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

I absolutely think that that’s the first step. I think that first, having a profile online that people can quickly search if they receive an email or a personal message from you, just to verify that you’re the person that you say you are, that on your profile you have indicators, like the schools, programs, or short courses that you’ve taken, that you might have in common, is a great first step.

Mac Prichard:

Do you recommend searching for all of the graduates of a university you attended once you’re on LinkedIn? What’s the best way to approach that research?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

I think a great first step is to look for alumni from your institution and then filter by the city that you live in or the city that you want to live in, just to narrow your search, because if you search for every alum of a program that you participated in or an educational institution, it might be a little overwhelming. So, starting with a few parameters, like geography, and then filtering that down by industry or job function can help you really narrow the people that you are reaching out to or trying to make connections with.

You can even go farther, if you’re looking at your alma mater, for example, and narrow it down from city, to industry, to organization or club, that you may have shared in common and niche down even further. It’s a great way to get started.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about the scenario of someone who’s doing a search, they’ve come up with a list of 5 or 10 targeted companies, they want to find fellow graduates who work at those places; is the next step then to do that search, actually look for graduates inside those organization, or what do you recommend?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Sure, if you’re on LinkedIn, I would actually start with the company profile of one of the companies on the shortlist. If you go to many of the company pages on LinkedIn as your first step, then it’s not uncommon that off to the right-hand side, I believe, you’ll see what you have in connection with the people at the organization. So, for example, if I were to look at a company right now, on the right-hand side of that company page, LinkedIn has a lot of really smart data that says, you are connected to 45 people who are connected to this organization in some way.

Whether they work there currently or they’ve worked there previously, I can see that we have a shared collegiate experience, and then I’ll click on that. So, LinkedIn has done a little bit of the heavy lifting to mine some of that data, and if I click on that list, I can see who are those 45 or 47 people? And then I can go from there and select a person based on them being a first, second, or third-degree connection.

I usually start with that first or second degree because it means that you have either the college in common, or you might have the college and a shared networking connection in common, and you’re likely to be able to reach out to your shared connection and say, “Hey Person X, I noticed that you know Person Y, would you be willing to make an e-introduction?” And if you don’t have that connector, then you can go straight to the person of interest and say, “Hi, I see that we both attended X college. I would love to connect with you and learn more about your experience at company Y.”

Mac Prichard:

Once you send out those invitations and you get a response, what is the next step? Is the goal here to build a relationship? Is it to get information about a particular employer? What do you suggest?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, Mac, it really depends. So, usually, I say that networking by definition is really about gathering information. So, if you’re trying to learn more about an industry or a particular company, I think it’s great just to ask good questions about what that person’s pathway was to break into that industry or what their experience has been like, working in that particular company or sector. If you are in the middle of an active job search or you have gone through a round of interviews, for example, you might ask more targeted questions about that company’s culture, just to figure out what you don’t know.

That might make you a little bit sharper at the interview process but depending on who the person is and what their footing is in an organization, they might also be a key decision-maker or closer to a key decision-maker. I usually encourage people to think about networking as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about companies and industries, and not really a pathway to ask for a job, so to speak.

Mac Prichard:

Why do graduates accept these invitations to connect and then agree to meetings? Often they’re busy people. In your experience, Tiffany, why do they say yes?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, I think people say yes because they love the opportunity to help other people, and if you share an affinity like a college, for example, or a similar school experience, you’re more likely to want to help a person that you share something in common with. And education can sometimes be a little bit of an equalizer, so you might make a connection with someone that you didn’t know while you were in school or you might not have crossed paths with, but you both know what it’s like to have gone to that institution. You might see that you have a few people who are second or third-degree connections, and so you feel a little bit more close to that person, even if you don’t know them. And so, it feels good, I think, to make those connections. An alumni connection is also a little bit of a goodwill, or philanthropy, so to speak.

It’s a way that you’re sharing your time with someone else and you’re really supporting the organization that you both attended, and then finally, I think people like to talk about themselves. So, people are more willing to answer a request that they get online from someone that they have something in common with because it’s a low-effort way to really make an impact on someone else and I think that makes everybody feel good at the end of the day.

Mac Prichard:

I love your point about people’s interest in talking about themselves. I certainly find that, in my own networking, and it’s a good thing to be able to allow that.

Well, Tiffany, we’re going to take a quick break.

When we come back, Tiffany Waddell Tate will continue to share her advice on how to make the most of your alumni network in a job search.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Tiffany Waddell Tate.

She’s the CEO and founder of Career Maven Consulting. It’s a career coaching and talent development firm.

Now, Tiffany, before the break, we were talking about how to make the most of your alumni network in a job search, and you were talking about the power of affinity that exists when you have that connection to someone who has attended a similar or same educational institute as you, and how that can help you tap into networks inside employers that interest you or where you might even be applying for a job.

Outside of networking, as you laid out, are there other ways that people can use their alumni network professionally, in a career?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, I think there are a couple of ways that folks can use their alumni network professionally in a career. I think that if you are a recruiter, for example, the alumni network is a great opportunity to tap into talent that has shown or proven particular ability in an industry, sector, or company. And so, I know, in my experience as a former collegiate career coach, it was not uncommon for us to look to university recruiters or college recruiters who might not have a formal relationship with our alma mater but it was a great way to create an informal and then formalize an opportunity to pipeline student talent and early alumni talent to that company or industry that might have a stronger connection to other institutions based on majors.

It’s not a secret, I’m a liberal arts grad and I believe in the power of liberal arts, but I think that a lot of times, people will leverage an alumni network as a great prime ground to find new talent if they are in the recruiting function or looking for new talent. I also think folks are leveraging the alumni network to just build community. I mean, after college, sometimes when you are moving to a new city or find yourself on a completely different coast than where you grew up, it’s not uncommon to leverage an alumni network to build social and friend relationships in a new place.

Alumni networking is useful, absolutely, for the job search. It’s also really useful to build community in a new place if you’ve landed there for a new job and get plugged into a built-in network, so to speak.

Mac Prichard:

What are some of the opportunities that might be available if you’re interested in building community through an alumni network?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, I think, depending on the institution or the organization, sometimes organizations will create social opportunities just for, I call it low-effort, easy, casual networking where you can meet people who went to your institution. You may or may not have been there during the same years or overlap but you share that affinity, and so the institution may create pockets of opportunity around the country for people to come together and connect, either in person or virtually. I think there are also other opportunities through an alumni network to identify ways that you can give back. So, whether that’s community engagement and service or supporting students who are currently in the program that you attended with information, advice, coaching.

There are often lots of opportunities like that that allow you to plug back into the institution that you attended, meet other alumni, or help students who are currently moving through the ranks.

Mac Prichard:

I want to go back to networking, and often I hear from job seekers that they’ve reached out to an alum asking for an informational interview and they haven’t heard back. What do you think is happening there, Tiffany?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, that person might either be overwhelmed with the number of requests that they’re getting or they might not be great at keeping up with their personal social media. You know, I consider LinkedIn on the list of professional but it’s still a channel where you’re getting information all the time and you do need to schedule time to check in on it. Or they might feel like they don’t have much to offer the person, so I usually encourage people to give folks a little bit of time to get back, maybe follow up in a couple of weeks’ time and also be really clear in the messaging that you send.

There is a small possibility that people don’t respond because they aren’t quite sure what it is that you’re looking for. And so, I think it’s important to be concise, direct in your ask, you know, ask specifically for fifteen or twenty minutes of their time, ask specifically for information so that you can better understand their career path or better understand that industry or company culture so that they know before they follow up what exactly they’re responding to.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have recommendations for a timeline and the number of attempts to make when following up?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Sure, so I think it’s great once you send your first message to give someone a week, maybe a week and a half to circle back to you, and then if they haven’t, follow up at that point. I usually consider a two and done approach as most appropriate because, after that, too many follow-ups can seem a little bit pesky or put a lot of pressure on someone and in terms of number of people to reach out to, I think starting with three to five folks is a great first start because you are going to wait for those people to respond to you and you can schedule out the meetings over the course of a month or month and a half, so that you’re not overwhelmed with the number of networking conversations that you’re having, but you’re also really engaging with a good number of people to learn as much as you can in a short period of time.

Mac Prichard:

Many universities and colleges and even high schools maintain online alumni databases or sometimes old-fashioned print directories. You talked a lot about LinkedIn during the first half of the show but how do you recommend a listener use those resources when networking with graduates, fellow alums?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Sure, so I think if you’re going to use databases that are proprietary to your alma mater or another organization that you’re part of outside of LinkedIn, it’s really important to make sure, first, that they don’t have any internal protocols or things that you have to do before you get access. Second, I think it’s really important to make sure that your information and your profile inside of that database is up to date. There’s nothing worse than reaching out to someone and they search your profile internally and the information is so outdated that they’re not exactly sure why you’re coming to them to have a conversation. And then, third, I think, seeing if you might also find that person on LinkedIn. I think sometimes people use internal databases to their institution or a paper directory.

I think it’s great to just cross-reference at times and make sure that the person that you’re reaching out to is still in the industry or company that you’re thinking about, even if you do send that message through the portal or dashboard that the institution houses. Just do a quick cross-reference, or Google search is great, just to make sure that the information is as up to date as possible.

Mac Prichard:

We touched briefly in the first half of the show about the role of career services offices. How specifically can a career service office help a graduate? What kinds of services or expectations should alums have of these organizations, and what are some of the most popular services?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Sure, well, Mac, I think that definitely varies by institution but many colleges and universities are moving to creating a lifetime or a limited lifetime access to career service resources. So, I think job seekers can definitely, at minimum, expect access to some type of digital resource or search engine that is connected to the alumni network, where alums are sharing jobs and other opportunities within their companies. And you have to be an alum or student to have access to those and build connections with those recruiters that are first looking at the institution.

I think other institutions are also looking at offering resources like career coaching time, so you may have access to a career coach in a one on one or group capacity for low or no cost, depending on the institution’s resources. That is a great opportunity to take advantage of, especially if you’re a job seeker. And then third, I think a lot of institutions are also moving to creating or facilitating industry previews. So, when I say industry previews, I mean they are intimate gatherings, either in person or online, where they ask people who work in certain industries to come and sit on a panel or talk about their industry.

That’s a great opportunity for alumni of a particular institution to either sit on a panel and share your knowledge or sign up and learn a little bit more about that industry if you’re thinking about making a pivot. It’s a really great accelerator to growing your knowledge and acumen in a particular industry.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about how alumni connections can help you in a job search and help you become part of a community; what about long term professional relationships, Tiffany? What are some of the benefits you see to someone’s profession over the course of a career because of alumni relationships? And what’s the best way, more importantly, to maintain those connections?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Sure, well, I think it definitely depends on industry, but I’ve seen, for myself and for many of my clients, the alumni network can be a really powerful tool to sourcing opportunities, seeking out career advice and mentorship. And frankly, once you land your first, second, sometimes third job, most of the positions you land after that come through networking. I think I read a report recently where 70-80% of jobs are found, not through online resources straightaway, but through networking. The alumni network is a really great opportunity for people to tap into career pivots and transitions. And I think a great way to get started, of course, are all the things that we talked about so far, but you can also be really intentional about how you share your time.

If you’re an alumni volunteer or your alma mater has a particular need, that’s a great way, like, if you join boards, or you raise your hand and say, “I’d really like to sit on this council or participate in this other way,” that is specifically designed for alumni. That’s a really great opportunity to give back to your institution but also build really strong connections and have people see you in a little bit of a professional context that they might not have otherwise.

It’s not uncommon to get tapped for opportunities, projects, or full-time opportunities when people are seeing you as a leader, or they’re seeing you put your skills to work outside of a traditional 9 to 5. So, I think the alumni network is a really great ground, again, just for learning, upscaling, sourcing opportunities, but it’s also a really great space for you to call on people who are looking to make hires and they will often start with alumni groups or affinity groups.

Mac Prichard:

I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, Tiffany. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

Well, you know, I’ve been working a lot, Mac, on creating resources online. “The Resume Cure” is my newest digital product. It’s a quick master class and downloadable resume template to help people DIY their own resume and get out of their way, get started on a job search today.

Mac Prichard:

I know people can learn more about you, and that new product, and your company’s services by visiting your website careermavenconsulting.com.

Tiffany, given all the great advice that you shared today, what’s the one thing that you want a listener to remember about how to make the most of an alumni network in a job search.

Tiffany Waddell Tate:

The one thing I want listeners to remember about how to make the most of an alumni job search is that you have a network simply because you participated in an educational opportunity or experience, so get started, network, and give back.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Shereen Rodrigues. She’s the talent acquisition manager at Otak. It’s an architecture and engineering design firm in the Pacific Northwest.

Ten months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one-third of the U.S. labor force now works remotely.

For many of us, working from our homes is here to stay. And so is virtual hiring.

Shereen and I will talk about how to virtually impress a hiring manager and what you need to do differently.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

You’ve updated your resume, figured out what lights you up, and held informational interviews. But you might still be missing an important piece in your job search: taking advantage of your alumni network. Find Your Dream Job guest Tiffany Waddell Tate offers a reminder that you have access to people across all sectors and locations simply because of where you were educated. Tiffany suggests using LinkedIn or the Career Services Office at your alma mater to connect with others from your school, and always remember to give back as much, or more, than you ask for. 

About Our Guest: 

Tiffany Waddell Tate is the CEO and founder of Career Maven Consulting. It’s a career coaching and talent development firm.

Resources in This Episode: