For those of you still in college, the incentive to attend your school's reunion is clear: free-flowing booze. As you get older, however, other motivations come under consideration. The prospect of reminiscing with old friends, for instance, pushes many over the edge. Maybe you can't wait to see your dorm room again or get one more slice from that pizza joint that made your junior year so delicious. But if neither of those gets to you, consider this: a college reunion is a wonderful networking opportunity.
Reunions are essentially a gathering of (potentially) hundreds of people who, despite the fact that they took various different professional paths, automatically have a great deal in common and genuinely want to see one another succeed. So if you're looking for a job, a career change, industry advice or even if you're just hoping to network within your field, attending your college reunion could be just the ticket. The question is not whether you should go, but how you can make the best of the time you have.
Five ways to use your college reunion in your job search
Attend organized events.
In particular, look into parties organized by student clubs in which you participated, gatherings organized by the department in which you majored, and panels and other informational events hosted by the school. Be sure to attend any events that relate to your field (or field you wish you were in) and always attend the reception before and/or after. This is the time to connect with others who share your professional interests and solicit career advice. And though you don't want to be a total square, these events are also the best time to show off the "professional" you. Dress nicely (think business casual: a suit would be too much; flip-flops too little) and maintain decorum. Now is not the time to take advantage of the open bar.
Always be prepared to put your game face--also known as the "professional" you--on.
You can make a fool of yourself in front of your old friends (they still remember your freshman year, however much you might wish otherwise), but don't start anything in the main quad. True story: Vault's senior education editor Carolyn C. Wise and I both attended Princeton. Flash-forward to reunions when my friends and I were partying and watching the P-rade in the middle of campus. Seeing Carolyn, I (stealthily at the time, less so now that I'm posting it in a public space) hissed to them that they needed to keep it Kosher for five minutes while I said hi. The moral of the story is: you don't have to be on for the entire duration of a weekend, but you do have to be able to switch it on at will.
Networking with your peers is totally different from networking with senior executives.
Think of it as asking a friend for advice--more like help or a favor. Not as hard, right? If a classmate needed your help, I'm sure you'd be more than happy to step up. Be yourself and be honest about your situation, but only up to a point. Stories about how your heinous boss, while undoubtedly funny, are not necessarily the way to go. Most of all, relax and have a good time.
Remember, it's not all about you.
While you definitely have to be able to offer something to the conversation, alumni networking (and networking in general) isn't just about selling yourself. You should also try to learn about the other person. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions and be a good listener. You can learn a lot from hearing other people's stories. Plus, listening well makes it clear that you're not just trying to use the person for their potential connections--you're also genuinely interested in them. This will make them more likely to help you out, whether it's now or later down the line.
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
I know, I know. It's some of the easiest advice to give and the most difficult to follow. But if you're looking for a job, think of it this way: you really would be hard-pressed to find anyone over the age of 30 who's never had a hard time finding employment. Everyone's been exactly where you are, and most of them have had help, maybe even from fellow alumni. Moreover, you could be just as valuable to them as they could be for you. So don't be afraid to go up to someone and introduce yourself.
Finally, and I know this sounds crazy, but networking with alumni can be a total blast. You're just meeting people, learning about them and talking about yourself. Sometimes, those people are remarkably thoughtful and interesting. Sometimes, they're a total hoot. And since everyone came to reunions first and foremost to have a good time, they'll be at their most fun and energetic. So enjoy yourself! A good attitude is infectious.
--Posted by Madison Priest
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