Networking is perhaps the most important skill one can possess in the business world, yet it is not often understood by college students and new graduates. A good business network provides support, industry news, advice and, perhaps most importantly, job opportunities.
The question is, how do students and new grads build up a network of their own? Though Tech’s emphasis on co-ops and internships gives its students a leg up in this area, most students will likely have only had very limited contact with the business world while in school, if any at all.
Part of Tech’s answer to this dilemma is its Alumni Association, and, with over 120,000 alumni worldwide, it’s easy to see why. Alumni can be a source of sound career advice and job opportunities or even just provide the voice of someone who knows what the industry for a certain field is like.
“Alumni are always looking for ways to reconnect. They like the opportunity to share their experience,” said Len Contardo, vice president of the Alumni Association.
However, it can often be difficult for alumni to keep in touch with each other, let alone with students. “The hard part [for alumni] is connecting with one another and then connecting back to the students, but this is made so much easier by advances in technology. “We’re expanding our student and young alum program [and] trying to find a way for students to get in touch with alumni,” Contardo said.
A new aspect of this program is the Tech Alumni Association’s group on LinkedIn.com, a professional social-networking site. Contardo says LinkedIn is a site that is “similar to Facebook, except where the Facebook focus is social, the LinkedIn focus is business.”
Like Facebook, users create and maintain a profile, make contacts, and join groups, but unlike Facebook, there is a distinctly more professional tilt to things. Rather than posting photos, videos and lists of favorites, users post resumes, job openings and discussions of professional experiences.
One key feature of LinkedIn is a discussion board, where professionals can discuss current events in their industry, veterans can share past experiences and students and new graduates can ask questions about their field of study. These boards are not, however, a place where students can simply go to make a job posting.
“We do monitor the discussions, as we want students to use [the boards] as a networking tool, not just a job posting area,” Contardo said.
According to Contardo, the site makes the entire process of professional networking significantly easier.
“Traditionally, as you network, you slowly develop a list of contacts. Prior to [sites like LinkedIn], you would search ‘Georgia Tech’ and, for example, ‘Aerospace’ and see what turned up.
“Now, you can just search the LinkedIn database of Georgia Tech alumni in Aerospace Engineering. The nexus of this is to support our alumni in their careers, and here at Tech, we have a great tradition of alumni supporting other alumni,” Contardo said.
Considering that there are over 30 million active accounts on LinkedIn across over 150 industries, it’s easy to see how powerful of a networking tool it is. Tech’s group on the site is also one of the largest groups of its kind. At around 4,500 members after about six months of operation, Tech’s group ranks at approximately the site’s eighth or ninth position, varying from day to day. This position is likely to rise soon, as the Alumni Association has been aggressively recruiting new students for the group.
“It seems to grow exponentially all the time. We’ve encouraged GT1000 professors to educate their students about this resource,” Contardo said.
He has also spoken to several GT1000 classes in person to recruit new members, with incredibly successful results: “Since I started doing the GT1000 presentations in July, we’ve gained about 2,200 new members. I’d like to see over 6,000 members in the next few months.”
Contardo says that students can “sign up when they arrive.” All that’s necessary is for them to join the Tech group is to be a current Tech student or alumnus with a valid Tech email address.
The group is linked off the Alumni Association’s web site, http://gtalumni.org, or by searching “Georgia Tech Alumni Association” on LinkedIn.