Business Administration

What to Look for in an MBA Alumni Network

What to Look for in an MBA Alumni Network
Members of alumni associations often organize networking events, publish newsletters or magazines, support fundraising efforts for their institution, and serve as exemplars of their institution. Image from Pexels
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly January 31, 2021

MBA alumni networks provide students and graduates invaluable networking opportunities. That's critical in the business world, where who you know might matter more than what you know—especially while establishing your career.

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Choosing where to earn your Master of Business Administration degree requires understanding the particulars of graduate business school, but that’s not where the process ends. You must also assess the program’s qualities to determine which one best suits your skills, interests, and, most importantly, your long-term career ambitions.

In the long list of factors to consider, one is often overlooked: the MBA alumni network. Historically, these networks are an important resource in helping MBA students continue their alma mater’s mission. More than ever, they’re proving that in the business world, who you know might matter more than what you know—especially while establishing your career.

So, how can alumni networks help students jumpstart their careers? And outside of the quest for that dream job offer, what other factors make these networks so appealing? To answer that, let’s look at some of the major benefits of MBA alumni networks—and what you should look for to decide which will be most valuable to you.

Our guide to what to look for in an MBA alumni network covers:

  • What is an alumni network?
  • Alumni network benefits
  • How to leverage alumni network
  • How important is an alumni network?
  • How can you gauge the value of an alumni network?
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What is an alumni network?

As their name indicates, alumni networks are organizations made up of a school’s alumni (i.e., graduates). At some schools these organizations are managed by the career services office. Other schools maintain an autonomous alumni affairs office. Regardless, the network maintains an alumni directory listing each graduate’s career, residence, and contact information. These organizations aren’t exclusive to the undergraduate and grad schools, by the way. Alumni networks also serve high schools, social clubs, fraternities and sororities, and even corporations.

Members of these associations often organize networking events, publish newsletters or magazines, support fundraising efforts for their institution, and serve as exemplars of their institution. Joining a network can be beneficial for a range of reasons, whether you use yours to build professional connections, participate in reunion activities, give back, or simply stay in touch with fellow alumni.

What makes an MBA alumni network different from an undergraduate network?

The common benefits of undergraduate alumni networks share some overlap with those of MBA programs, such as access to college or university resources and regular opportunities to see and interact with fellow alums. But while many undergraduate programs tout their alumni networks for steering graduates to good jobs, research shows that they don’t have much influence.

In a 2019 Gallup survey of over 5,000 college and university graduates in the United States, 22 percent of respondents reported that their alumni community was either unhelpful or very unhelpful in seeking gainful employment upon graduation. Those who reported their alumni network as very helpful amounted to just 9 percent of graduates. The majority reported their network as neither helpful nor unhelpful.

MBA alumni networks, on the other hand, offer advantages that exceed local pub meetups and luncheons with people who earned a bachelor’s degree from your alma mater. Oftentimes, their strength is rooted in the intensity and transformative nature of the business school experience, which can inspire a sense of connectedness among former students, no matter their field, industry, or market.

But how is the power of network influencing the way MBA graduates develop their careers? Primarily through recruitment, the golden ticket of networking. According to a 2018 GMAC Alumni Perspectives Survey, more than nine out of ten b-school alumni reported that they would recruit an alumnus from their program for a job opening. Of this group, 52 percent responded that they “definitely would” and 43 percent acknowledged that they “probably would.”

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“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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Alumni network benefits

It’s not solely their impact on post-graduation employment that makes MBA alumni networks an important part of the business school selection process. Other benefits include:

Mentoring

It’s natural for prospective MBA students to worry about their support system as they start the next chapter of their professional journey. The good news is that most traditional campus programs have mentorship programs in place designed to bring together students and professionals that share common professional interests.

Take the MBA program at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University for example. In addition to “flash” mentor meetings that allow students to have in-depth conversations with Cox alumni and business leaders, the school’s year-long mentor program matches students with top executives in the Dallas area, to whom they can regularly turn for industry and career advice.

MBA internships

Business school alumni can also be a huge help for students seeking internships, whether by helping them explore their options, giving feedback on their resume, or putting them in touch with other alums and business contacts. Many schools welcome alumni back to campus job and internship fairs, where they engage with and interview prospective students for intern roles.

Alumni recruiting events

Alumni recruitment events help connect current MBA students and alumni who seek part- and full-time jobs, internships, co-ops, and other opportunities with employers—many of whom may be alumni themselves. While these events often take place on a business school’s campus through the more traditional career fair approach, more innovative takes on recruiting are becoming increasingly popular, and include hackathons, competitions, expos, and even weekend retreats.

Here are some tips for starting conversations at in-person alumni recruiting events:

  • Seek out people who seem friendly and ready to engage in conversation
  • Introduce yourself by offering to shake hands
  • Make eye contact and smile, and avoid crossing your arms or turning away
  • Share a bit about yourself right off the bat, such as your career goals or what you like best about your work
  • When in doubt, ask a question. Stick with light, generic topics, or ask the person you’re speaking with about themselves

Networking

Many b-school alumni are happy to talk to current students of their alma mater who are interested in their field or industry. Some schools can even connect students with graduates who work at companies they aspire to work at. One method of networking when forging these connections is the informational interview, which gives students the chance to meet one-on-one with alumni, ask questions about their experience in their field, and even get tips and advice that help them strengthen their resumes, cover letters, and interview answers.

How to leverage alumni network

So, how can you make the most of your alumni network? Let’s dive in.

Leveraging alumni networks in the era of COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of life, networking included. Despite the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in mid-December of 2020, the ongoing risks of the virus continue to impact opportunities for traditional alumni engagement. In-person class reunions, homecoming, regional alumni group meetups, and networking events have all been canceled or at least postponed.

As a result, alumni networks are trying out a variety of virtual events and webinars to reach members of their alumni community. The University of Tulsa, for example, has launched their “A Day in the Life” networking event, where TU alumni share what they’ve learned throughout their careers and during their time at the university.

It has also created its “Ask Me Anything” series, which brings students and alumni together to meet with career coaches to learn about what they offer. As noted by the school’s alumni association, the series can be especially beneficial to current students and graduates of TU’s Collins College of Business, including those enrolled in its MBA program.

Contacting alum over email: what’s the best way?

Emailing members of your alumni network is another great way to make connections, whether you’re seeking career insight or simply looking to expand your professional contacts. Once you’ve selected a few alumni that you want to contact, take the time to know why you want to speak to each person—and be sure to gather information about them and their organization.
In your email, make sure to clearly state who you are and how you found them, explain your request for a few minutes of time and advice, and ask whether there might be a convenient time to talk. While requesting a job interview is bad form, attaching a current version of your resume can help your correspondent get a better sense of your work history and background.

Local alumni associations and clubs

MBA alumni networks go much deeper than the national level by providing opportunities for alumni to stay involved and engaged at the regional level, as well as through connections based on cultural backgrounds, interests, and other factors. These subnetworks often interact through social, philanthropic, and professional events grounded on members’ shared background.

Examples of local MBA alumni associations and clubs include:

  • BIPOC chapters
  • Interest groups
  • International chapters
  • LGBTQ+ identifying chapters
  • Regional chapters
  • Women’s chapters

Alumni networking events

In-person MBA networking events take place at formal venues like convention centers and banquet halls and in more casual settings like business school campuses, and even restaurants and bars. Depending on the event type, alumni may interact with companies and prospective employers or relive old memories and discuss topics outside the business world with old classmates and professors. Go, your school’s football team’s name here!

Alumni online community and networking apps

As alumni networks look to keep their members engaged and informed, online communities play an increasingly critical role.‍ Recent years have seen countless b-school networks launch online portals. These serve as platforms on which alumni can reconnect and form bonds based on topics of interest and identities, participate in meaningful discussions, and share knowledge and experiences.

LinkedIn and other social media

Most school websites host a directory of all their alumni social media accounts, including class pages and regional club pages, on their website. Alumni can use these platforms to offer valuable information, resources, and tips; request advice; or simply keep-in-touch with fellow graduates of your alma mater.

With “connect to opportunity” as its tagline, it’s no secret that LinkedIn is ideal for b-school graduates looking to tap into the brainpower of their fellow alum. The platform makes searching for alumni easy by letting users search for their business school’s alumni and allowing them to filter those results by geographic location, place of employment, job, and even skillset.

Users can also filter by degree of connection, including first-degree connections who are already in your network, second-degree connections who are directly connected to your first-degree connections, and so forth.

How important is an alumni network?

The advantages of MBA alumni networks are undeniably lasting. The support that membership provides is a resource graduates can turn to for years to come, whether to gather skills and learn the best practices of a given field, seek out career guidance, or seek help with job placement.

That so many MBA alumni regularly give back to their school, whether by contributing financially, returning for lectures and conferences, or offering help to students as they plan their careers is a testament to the encouragement they received not only from the school but also from close-knit members of its alumni community who came before them.

Is an alumni network more important at certain types of schools or MBA programs?

While it’s difficult to say whether one alumni network is more important than another, some programs offer networks with specific benefits. The Howard University MBA network, for example, is geared for graduates of the historically Black university’s MBA programs. By joining, alumni can maintain a lifelong connection to their alma mater and engage with their fellow MBA grads while supporting Howard’s aim to “develop scholars and professionals who drive change and engage in scholarship that provides solutions to contemporary global problems, particularly ones impacting the African Diaspora.”

How can you gauge the value of an alumni network?

Some argue that the indicators of a strong alumni network are its size and generosity, which often share a mutual relationship. The business school at Harvard University, for example, currently boasts more than 80,000 alumni in over 160 countries and stands as one of the largest alumni networks in the world. In 2019-2020, graduates pledged $74 million in donations to the business school. Given these findings, it’s probably not so surprising that the school regularly ranks among the best MBA alumni networks.

But you shouldn’t rely on rankings alone. It’s beneficial for prospective MBA students to put effort into networking with graduates of the schools they’re considering as a means of gaining a franker view of the alumni community, which they can use to help narrow down their list of potential programs. Applicants should also be sure to look at each school’s MBA employment report. This report reflects data about graduating students, reflecting where students work after graduation. That’s undeniably good to know.

What questions to ask admissions counselors

When judging whether a particular alumni network is a good fit for a student’s needs and interests, it’s helpful to ask admissions counselors questions such as:

  • How visible is the school’s alumni association on campus?
  • What is the rate of alumni participation?

It’s also worth asking whether the school’s network has regional, national, or international reach, as well as affiliate clubs. These questions can be especially important for students who have a specific background or hope to work in a particular field or region.

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What to look for on a school website

When scrolling through a business school’s website, prospective students should keep an eye out for information detailing how the school helps current students connect with alumni, as well as upcoming events such as career fairs, networking events, and alumni speaking engagements. Extra points for stories of proud alumni and how they are staying engaged with their alma mater—and clear calls to action encouraging alumni to join local chapters and clubs.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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