The Digital World is Flat: Alumni Networking is Easier and More Important than Ever

Members of UO Alumni Association

“I’m a Duck; are you a Duck?” 

This is what the stranger who eagerly tapped my shoulder said to me while I was traveling in Switzerland, wearing a University of Oregon T-shirt. 

“Yes, I am a Duck,” I answered, and then we burst into connections about the campus, faculty, Eugene, Oregon, and more. This is the power of being a Duck: Wherever we’ve flown, we grew on the same grounds and leaped from the same nest!

What is alumni networking? 

Alumni networking is taking advantage of the shared experience and connection of being a Duck. It’s reaching out to learn, share, and build relationships based on our common experience and to help each other out.

It’s remembering we are part of a flock. As a student and soon-to-be graduate, you are part of a family of individuals, like me, who have shared formative, rite of passage experiences and self-discovery on the same campus. We all know the Fish Bowl, Bean Hall, and Autzen or Hayward. We all know Columbia Hall and PLC lectures, Rennie’s Landing, Glenwood for breakfast, and Frog’s joke books! We’ve grown up together. Regardless of the time or generation, we have shared experiences and connections. We have a common bond. 

Why do it, why now? 

As you walk through your college years of self-exploration and discovery, it’s of course also the time to consider how you will contribute to society and support yourself in the future. You may be studying specific coursework or a major, like music or finance, that has a clear career path. Or you might be studying philosophy, psychology, English literature, or another major that can lead to many different opportunities. Either way, in today’s world you are likely to have multiple career changes as new work opportunities are constantly emerging. Whether you a sophomore or a graduate, connecting with your alumni network gives you a pulse on careers, industry, and opportunities. Alumni connections open doors of understanding and future positions. Alumni networking teaches you, inspires you, and advances you and your future. It’s a benefit of being affiliated with the University of Oregon, and being a Duck! 

As I write this, we are in the tenth week of shelter-in-place orders. We are facing the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It’s uncertain how long it will take to rebound.  Many companies, sectors, and industries are laying off employees and/or freezing hiring. It’s a tough time to be a graduate or job seeker, no matter your age or amount of work experience. However, YOU ARE A DUCK! So now is the time to reach out and listen, learn, connect, and explore. And now, more than ever, the world of networking is WIDE OPEN and FLAT. 

What do I mean by “flat”? Due to this current global health crisis, professionals and alumni are all more adept and open to a FaceTime or Zoom visit, or quick email connection. People have more time. There are also increased opportunities to attend virtual alumni events or campus-wide career center events which enable you to grow your network without even leaving your house. These virtual events are also much FLATTER in concept and opportunity! No need to get all dressed up, travel to a location or event, and navigate a room full of people. We all now have equal access to connect with Zoom or chats. Take advantage of this! Speak up and ask smart questions, share your story, and send thoughtful chat comments/questions. Then, follow up right after the event with gratitude and ask for more time. In the flat networking world of the Zoom grid, you will not be judged by your shoes (or pants for that matter!), your pet in your lap, or your morning breath—but rather by the content of your participation, interaction, and follow up! We are all home now, we are all in this shared experience. Ducks want to help you and they love seeing your face and hearing from you. 

How do you do it? 

Alumni networking is research, contact, and follow up. This can be done one to one, or at events. And it can be done in person, or virtually. 

First and foremost, LinkedIn is your new playground. Get out there, get busy! This professional networking site is full of opportunity and information to support and facilitate your learning and relationship building. Our University of Oregon Alumni Association created an awesome LinkedIn training to help you out. Here are key tips and takeaways from Duck Career Network Director James Chang and your University Career Center team: 

Tip 1: Create a solid LinkedIn profile, then work on it some more! Add details to describe your role, your accomplishments, and the challenges you overcame; provide more details about the skills and experience relevant to your target area of work.

Tip 2: Use LinkedIn to proactively look up alumni: Learn how they describe their work, and examine their career/job progression. Then, for those alumni about whom you want to learn more, reach out to connect and ask for an informational interview. When you connect, send a LinkedIn message that is lively, enthusiastic, and familiar with their profile (especially small details). Ask about a specific area, position, or employer you want to know more about, and offer time and way to connect. Reference something they might recall on campus, or someone you may know in common. Contact them at least three times, don’t give up too soon!

Tip 3: Don’t expect employers/recruiters to come looking for you on LinkedIn. You need to research prospective employers and connect with alumni and recruiters who share your interest. When you connect with them, demonstrate your interest, passion, and initiative.

In addition to using LinkedIn, you may also find opportunities to attend networking events online or in person. If you do, here are some other tips to keep in mind:

Tip 4: Prepare for networking events. If you can, get list of attendees and learn about their organizations and their history. Develop a list of key questions, with a focus on how they arrived where they are, and how they made the decisions that led them there. You can inquire and learn from their process by encouraging them to share pitfalls, and how they overcame them. This helps you learn, but it also deepens your connection with them and reveals you as curious and thoughtful to grow.  

Tip 5: Follow up, follow up, follow up, and follow through. Send a follow up email or handwritten note (novel, right!?! The old is new again!) to thank the them for their time. In your note, mention a specific bit of advice you appreciated, and assure them you hope to stay in touch. When closing, let them know that you are eager to be of support to them and that you’re interested in any future project, internship, or opportunity that may arise in their organization. “Please keep me on file.” 

Tip 6: Join the University of Oregon Alumni Association and take advantage of formal and informal events! You can get started while you’re a student! Join early, stay active.     

Remember, now is the time to invest in your learning, growing, and connecting. This time and experience networking is not just about a potential job or internship; it’s about learning from your flock how to navigate and soar. 

I’m a Duck; are you a Duck?