Alumni Mentoring and Networking: What Works, What Doesn’t

Alumni Mentoring and Networking | CorporetteHave you found great mentors through alumni events? What is the best alumni event (or networking event in general) that you’ve ever attended? Have you done alumni mentoring, on either side? I attended a great Northwestern networking and mentoring event last week through an alumnae group I’m involved with, Council of 100, and in our small group sessions the topic got around to general networking events organized by the school — what NU was doing that was good, what it was doing that was bad, and so forth. To be honest, neither of my institutions — Northwestern and Georgetown — have really great alumni networking systems in place. Students reach out to alumni for informational interviews, but there is no established system (at least that I’m aware of) for students to discover alumni that may be off the beaten path (like, say, me). One of the great ideas I thought we came up with was to have an alumni database organized not just by company, but by favorite professor or class at the college — then you could look up people who were like you and see what paths their careers had taken.

Anyway, I’m curious, ladies — have you found mentors through alumni events? What is your school doing right (or wrong)? Are you involved in alumni events?

(Pictured: Board of Governors Dinner, May 2010-2, originally uploaded to Flickr by Alan C.)


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  1. It is funny. I NEVER had a mentor from law school, but NOW that I am a partner, so many peeople are calling me at the firm asking ME to be THEIR mentor! Also, alot of student’s from law school are calleing me up, I guess b/c of the firm’s listing in Martindell, askeing me to hire them as summer intern’s in Worker’s Compensation. I never even heard of worker’s compensation in law school, and now I am an expert a few year’s later!

    But to the point, I think to be a mentor you have to be abel to spend the time to MENT your student’s. If you cannot find the time to MENT them, you should not be a mentor. On the other hand, if you want to be mentore’d, you have to be abel to listen to the mentor, and follow her advise. YAY!

    The onley mentor I ever had (until I met the manageing partner) was Lou at the process serveing company. He taught me how to serve subpeenie’s and other process document’s, includeing how to geet past the front door with secretarie’s who did NOT want us to. He also told me how to get document’s affidaviized with a NOTARY, swearing we served paper’s even if we did NOT b/c the NOTARY does NOT care, he onley care’s if you are the person signing the document. FOOEY on that job b/c I think I was aksed to do thing’s that were NOT 100% kosher. DOUBEL FOOEY!

  2. Georgetown Law has a great searchable directory of alumni. Alums are not automatically enrolled – they register only if they’re interested in being contacted by students and other alums for networking. It’s a nice confidence builder when sending that cold email to know at least that the person on the other end indicated their willingness to help. The directory lists the alum’s contact info, employer, practice area, and their certificates or activities while at GULC.

    I used it when my husband was relocated across the country and I knew no one. It didn’t land me a job, but every contact is still a contact.

  3. Meg Murry :

    My college alumni association also has a database that alums can opt in to if they want to be contacted regarding their jobs/careers. I’ve searched it, but never found anyone in my industry in my area of the country. I have been contacted by alums when they move to my area regarding general networking and asking questions about which neighborhoods to live in, etc.
    Our local alumni group is run either by retirees or consultants with very flexible schedules, I guess. The meetings are at lunch, and more than 30 minutes from where I worked, so I only made it to 1 or 2 of the lunches ever – since it basically required me to take a half day off work. Ive heard they recently started having happy hour events as well, which I would have been more inclined to go to when I worked closer, but it doesn’t make sense for me now.
    I also volunteered to do phone practice interviews with students as part of an internship program run by a joint program with career services and alumni – that didn’t take up too much of my time, and was an easy commitment to a set event, as opposed to more vague “mentoring”, and a way to pay it back, since I participated in the internship program as an undergrad and had an alum give me a practice phone screening.

  4. ExecAssist :

    I went to a pretty big public university that has local alumni groups all over the world, but the one nearest me seems to be cliquey and more for socializing than networking. I have not found a mentor through the association, but then again, I wasn’t on a mission to find a mentor. On the other hand, while at said university I lived in scholarship housing and that has proven to be a better source of networking. As a matter of fact, they have now started a mentoring aspect to it, where former students like myself can sign up to be mentors, and then students get to pick who they want their mentor to be. It’s a work in progress.

  5. Seventh Sister :

    I wish my law school would have stuff at different times of the day (lunch, weekends, etc.). A lot of the events seem to be in the late afternoon / early evening, which is difficult for me. If an event is from 4-6pm,* I have to leave work super-early, get kid 2 from daycare, drop kid 2 at home with spouse and kid 1, then go to the law school event. I manage that about 1X a year, at best. I get that I’m not likely to be a big donor (govt. job) in the way that a biglaw attorney might be a donor, but I might be more inclined to donate more if I felt more of a connection to the place.

    Also, I wish my law school did more women-only or women-focused events. By “more,” I mean “any at all.”

    *The especially prestigious events (big name speakers, etc.) seem clustered at this time slot.

    • Your comment jumped at me because I was at a networking event a few months ago and one of the career counselors asked me if I had kids, when I reminded her that I didn’t she went ahead and invited me to another networking event and made the comment that she doesn’t ask moms since they have to take care of the kids. UGH. I was shocked. I mean she acted like she was doing them a favor, but didn’t seem to realize what she was actually saying. And, I mean, half the alums are dads anyway and no one would dare think to not invite them. I totally agree that the events should be different times to allow different participants.

      • Seventh Sister :

        Oh, that would make me very grumpy. One of the nicest things my law school ever did was invite me to speak at a lunchtime event to students. I got to eat nice food at the college club beforehand! I didn’t have to cut up anybody’s meat! I made time to go.

        It’s also an unfair assumption that people without kids have no obligations.

  6. I’ve opted into my school’s database, and I’ve recently considered opting out. Recently, a man (relevant for creepiness) started with, “You don’t know me, but I definitely know about you. I am writing for your help getting me an internship with [your employer].” Someone else recently contacted me as though we’re old friends, talking about how GREAT! our alumni association is and was my address up to date, and asking how my day was going when I wrote back. He was an insurance salesman, but perhaps didn’t want to just say that’s why he was contacting me? But we live 100 miles apart, are 15 years apart in age, and as far as I know have nothing in common besides our college. You can’t make small talk over email with a stranger (at least, I can’t). I didn’t appreciate this abuse of the network.

    So, here’s my advice if you’re reaching out via database:

    1) Introduce yourself and give a socially acceptable reason why you’re contacting me. Wanting to learn more about my field, get specific advice, or make a contact in a new location/field is fine. Asking me to give you, a stranger, a specific job is not.

    2) Email. (Feel free to email asking for a time to call, or just start a conversation through email. Do not cold call.) Proof that email. Feel free to use a basic script, but personalize it a little so I know it’s meant for me. We are strangers. If you haven’t taken the time to draft a grammatically correct email seeking my specific assistance, I won’t put much effort into my response.

    3) Respond to me in kind. If I respond the day I get your email (and I most likely will), get back to me within a few days. More than once, friends who now teach have specifically referred their students to me, and I’ve responded to their emails agreeing to meet or providing a number for them to call. Then I’ve never heard back. Maybe you got another job and are too busy with finals to get that coffee. That’s fine! But let me know; if you fall off the map, you’ve lost out on a future contact. The kid who demanded an internship? I wrote back that my job’s internships were full, and most would be since it was April. I also suggested that he express his interest in my friend to a more senior alum who might be able to create a space for him if they clicked. He didn’t bother to acknowledge that I’d responded. He not only lost out on a contact, but if I ran into him at an alumni event I’d actively avoid him.

    • +1 to #3 here. Don’t drop the ball like this. I’ve had several fellow alums contact me for information about clerkships / general informational interviewing, and then blow me off completely after I offered to chat – no response, ever. It’s just plain rude, and I have zero interest in any future connection with those who have done this to me.

    • Playing DressUP :

      I have, in an email, reprimanded current students or recent alumnae from my college who were not appropriate, i.e. didn’t tell me where they were located, didn’t tell me what they wanted, didn’t tell me what they had to offer, or had lots of grammatical mistakes and/or typos in their introduction email to me. I actually started one such email with, “It’s ok if English is not your first language but…”. When I asked my friends, who are also alumnae, if I was being too harsh, I heard back resounding “NO! THANK YOU!”. We CAN’T have people out there representing us like that.

  7. RN turning CPA :

    Oooh – timely post. First: I have completed two associate degree programs at teeny tiny little colleges in the midwest, and I’m not sure that anyone there even knows what networking is. It sucks.

    Now, for a question. I am completing my Bachelor of Science degree at an evening-and-weekend degree completion program at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. For those of you whose colleges had evening/weekend programs or professional studies / extension schools (e.g. Berkeley Extension, George Washington University College of Professional Studies, Yale University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, etc), would you (i.e. traditional day-student) be / are you willing to network with graduates of the professional studies / extension schools? Why or why not? Thanks!

    • For my two cents, I’m a Harvard grad and would absolutely be excited to network with grads of the extension school. The college is full of kids who were born on third base and thought they hit a triple; I suspect extension school grads actually had to work to get where they are and would have interesting stories and a lot of drive. I don’t think it’s set up this way, though, but if I got a cold email saying, “hey, I’m interested in what you do and I see you went to Harvard, I went to the extension school” it would be a valid point of contact for me.

      • Wildkitten :

        It’d be a valid point of contact for me too.

        • RN turning CPA :

          Kate and Wildkitten —

          Thanks for the reply! I feel a lot better. :) I do agree that a lot of us career changers and nontraditional students have very interesting stories / paths — and on the whole, we have a lot to offer! :)

    • Always happy to help other alumni if asked. regardless of school and current degree – lots of detours in the life paths.

  8. Just wanted to add a slightly off-topic bit of networking advice, since it’s been on my mind lately. The best thing you can do with an older colleague/contact/potential mentor is ask for their advice, and listen to it actively. We’re old, we’ve been through a lot, we love feelings like our battles benefit someone:).

  9. Totes Anon :

    I found an mentor through an on campus event. She was speaking on a panel and when I mentioned what I wanted to do she came up to be afterwards and traded info, and ended up being a great resource through my last year of college and first few years as a professional. But she totally took me under her wing, this was pre-Lean In and I had no idea we were supposed to be looking for mentors.

  10. I completely agree with the poster who commented about the common 4-6 timeslot that can be so frustrating for parents. My law school recently did a women’s breakfast networking event that seemed to work much better for those of us trying to juggle family schedules.

    Not an alumni group, but we’re looking to start a chapter of MAMA (Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association) in the SF/Bay Area and I know scheduling is one of the biggest things that MAMA tries to accommodate. I think groups like this that try to develop alternative networking and mentoring opportunities are the wave of the future, so to speak. Alumni and other groups have to find ways to work with schedules that are increasingly stretched to the limit.

  11. HoyaBruin :

    Georgetown undergrad has a great database (Hoya Gateway) of alums they started about a year ago to connect with students. I’m not sure if it’s well connected to the law school, but I’m pretty sure as a graduate school alum, you could join: I’ve really enjoyed all our Gtown events on the west coast–the local club organizes a variety of events for young alums, career days, back-to-college days, and family friendly events. These are events that all Gtown alums can join in on, not just law school, though. I think it varies widely on what city you’re in and how active the local club leadership is.

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