It’s graduation season and the job title is about to change overnight.  No longer the Student, you are now (cue fanfare) ‘The Graduate’.  Another, often neglected, title you automatically gain upon graduation is Alumnus.  Whether you are still at university or about to leave, how can Alumni play a part in developing your employability?

The word originates from Latin and relates to ‘nourishment’ – in this context, the result of intellectual nourishment from successfully achieving a degree.  Sounds posh, doesn’t it?

You will spend the rest of your life looking back nostalgically on those few golden years and have a special affinity with the university you attended and its town or city (assuming you had a good time).  And yet, that is often as far as the connection goes.

Universities have traditionally seen alumni as a source of fundraising as they pull on that nostalgia … but student fees in the UK have been a massive game-changer. Students can no longer afford to be so generous given the massive debt they take with them on graduating.

Instead, universities are waking up to the opportunity that alumni present for helping to develop the employability of their existing students. Students are becoming aware of the need to explore their career interests and to gain work experience from the moment they arrive at university.

Consequently, mentoring schemes (like the Birmingham 100) and online portals (like the Leeds Network) have sprung up across campuses as universities re-engage with successful alumni who have got jobs and careers in all walks of life.

Alumni are also fuelling regional economic growth.  For example, the universities in Sheffield are collaborating with the local Council to provide employable graduates as paid interns with SMEs (the RISE scheme), encouraging alumni to stay locally beyond their degrees.

If you’re a current student, how can you tap into alumni to add value to your employability?

  • Engage with alumni through professional networking on LinkedIn from your first year onwards – grow the number of connections you have so you can identify alumni by searching second or third connections (you can search by ‘school’), become known by people in your fields of interest, ask questions, give your views in discussions, learn about professional life and what interests other people so you can build rapport and expand your network.
  • Undertake informational interviews – identify and approach alumni in your dream job or in work areas that interest you and find out what it’s like to be in that job and to work in that environment.
  • Get paired up with a volunteer alumni mentor – find out how they made the transition to professional life, what worked for them, what pitfalls to avoid, what their jobs are like, especially if they graduated relatively recently as they will know what it’s like. They can provide insight or advice into a particular career or industry and give guidance on your own development.  Be courageous and become a remarkable mentee!

How can you be a remarkable alumnus once you graduate?

  • Come back and give a talk, presentation, or attend alumni networking events – develop your presentation skills, maintain your network, share your knowledge, contribute to your organisation’s corporate and social responsibility, maintain or build your own employability.
  • Be a volunteer mentor – share your experience, be a role model, help guide and support a student (after all, you’ve been there).
  • Engage through LinkedIn groups – help students expand their network by encouraging them to connect or offering to make introductions to relevant people in your network.
  • Offer to take on a student for work experience – your former university will bite your hand off.

University is not just about intellectual nourishment these days – it’s also about professional nourishment.  A balanced diet will give you a better chance of a healthy future.