One piece of advice that just about every career resource out there gives: Tap into your alumni network.
Have you ever noticed … no one gives you tips on exactly how to do so? So this networking advice — without additional guidance about how to access your alumni network properly (what to ask, and what to avoid) — leads most people to gain little help from an alumni network.
A large part of the problem stems from changes in the job market and hiring practices. Prior to 2007, there were candidate shortages, so random networking was more effective. When there were candidate shortages, you could make lots of mistakes, you could use terribly ineffective techniques … and still find a job. A job search during candidate shortages was so easy, basically anyone could find a job.
In addition, many random networking techniques worked then because employers had formal and informal policies to interview every candidate who was referred by an internal employee — qualified candidates were hard to come by and at least someone within the company was saying nice things. Many of these policies were eliminated due to changes in government regulations. Rather than choosing interviewees based on who the candidate knew, employers realized they could avoid disastrous government penalties by running all resumes through an applicant tracking system (ATS), selecting applicants based on more objective criteria.
The reason that there are so many networking missteps is simply because you've never been told they were mistakes — they used to work, mistake or not. Fortunately, there's a better way, which I'll show you. First, let's start by identifying common mistakes job seekers make when reaching out to alumni networks:
- Spamming alumni networks: Sending your resume to everyone on an alumni list used to work well, when employers automatically gave interviews to anyone recommended by an inside employee. Today, it gets you into the same ATS as if you applied through a job board. Worse, you're spamming your network, because most alumni on your list don't know you personally.
- Don't network with alumni randomly: Years ago, people would welcome calls from fellow alumni because it was a way to connect to their past. Today, these lists are so overused and over-marketed that calls from fellow alumni are met with mistrust. Attempting to network where there isn't a clear connection beyond the university where you and hundreds of thousands of others studied won't establish much initial trust … or help in a job search.
- Don't behave this way at alumni networking events: Don't bring resumes to alumni events. Don't ask for help. Don't share your job search frustrations or war stories. Don't network randomly.
- Don't act desperately: When you share your job search issues, challenges or even goals with a fellow alum who doesn't know you personally, you start to sound a little desperate. This can make the person on the other end of the conversation uncomfortable, especially if they don't have an immediate solution to your problem. Put yourself in the other person's shoes: If you're busy and the conversation makes you uncomfortable, would you want to stay on the phone?
- Don't ask for help before building trust: Don't ask for help before you've provided something of value, which builds trust. When you start out asking someone you don't know for help, even if you share the same alma mater, you erode trust rather than build it. You've heard the phrase "Give before you get," right?
- Don't just ask for a job: Asking an alum for a job nearly always fails. You don't know if that individual is a hiring manager, nor do you know if they have any openings. Even if that alum is a hiring manager with openings that for which you're qualified, you're asking for a job based primarily on your shared school — bad move. Most employers have policies directing employees and hiring managers to send candidates to HR. The question itself is a waste of their time. Why waste their time and ruin a potentially valuable connection from the start? There is much more value that a fellow alum can provide than just directing you to a website — why not concentrate on that?
- Don't ask alumni for help they aren't able to give: People don't like to admit that they can't help — it makes them feel powerless and uncomfortable. Even if you manage to stumble upon an alum who is a hiring manager with a current opening that you're qualified to fill, the hiring manager is supposed to direct you to the company website's career section or to HR. More likely, your alumni contact isn't the right hiring manager and may not be able to direct you to the correct hiring manager. Remember, they don't know you and you're asking them to break policy and risk their own career.
This list of don'ts should open your eyes to just how much effective job search networking techniques have changed in the past few years.
When there was a shortage of candidates, job search networking was relatively easy. All you had to do was ask enough people for a job and pass around enough resumes … you'd generate enough interviews to land your next job. Job shortages, mass job competition and federal hiring laws have made the easy networking of the pre-2007 job market ineffective.
However, there are a number of networking methods that few candidates use that can be very effective in today's job market, despite all the changes.
Next time I'll describe a number of effective alumni networking techniques that you can use now to gain interviews and job offers in today's hyper-competitive job market.