By Sarah Wright
Alumni networks can be a great resource for career information. For example, if you're interested in a specific industry and want a firsthand account of what it's like, you can probably find an alumnus specializing in that field. Alumni directories might even include professional information about graduates, noting those individuals who are open to talking with current students.
A directory is a good source of information about alumni, but it's usually not the only tool at your disposal. If you're a little shy about reaching out to someone, consider trying to meet alumni in a group setting. Some schools organize networking and career events with alumni who are eager to help current students learn more about life after college. If your school does offer these events, you should make it a priority to go. You're likely have some interesting conversations - and you may even end up making a few career contacts.
You can check in with the office of alumni relations for info on events where current students are welcome. To really gain insider status, though, you could work for the alumni relations office. Many of these offices hire students to staff alumni events, including reunions, fundraising dinners and holiday parties. Working at these events puts you in the midst of adults with careers who were once in your shoes. The laid-back, social atmosphere of these events can be the perfect setting in which to learn more about professional opportunities and make connections.
If you're still intimidated by the idea of meeting with alumni, remember that grads from your college may want to pick your brain as much as you want to pick theirs. Chances are that even people who graduated 30 years ago will be curious about how life at the school has changed. Chatting amongst these professionals with whom you have something in common can be an effective way to jump-start your networking skills.