Networking: the essential connection

As LSA students graduate each year, they take on a new title: alums. With their student status left behind, these recent graduates also burst through their ‘Ann Arbor bubbles’: a close knit group (and safety net) of professors, supporters, advisors, and mentors. 

Beyond college, graduates brave a new world: get the job, do the good, make the money. But that journey isn’t meant to be done alone: a new ‘bubble’, or ‘board of directors’ as one LSA Connect alum shared, of sponsors (workplace advocates who support new grads with career opportunities) and mentors (experienced individuals who provide professional counseling and advice) are formed. How does a new graduate find sponsors and mentors? Simply, through the always-on process of networking. And networking has gotten easier through LSA Connect, the college’s career networking and mentoring platform.

Hub Coach Sarah Burch understands how vital networking is to a recent graduate. As a career coach, she believes she has an answer for students intimidated by the prospect of networking. 

“Job searching, not even on the tail end or in the midst of a pandemic, is already really tough,” Sarah affirms. “But reaching out and getting that support from people who are working in those roles or industries that you're passionate about, those conversations can be really energizing and be the boost that you need in what can feel like a very isolating process at times.” 

However, she understands it can be much more difficult to grasp in practice.

“I think what I find to be most challenging for students in networking is that they feel unsure about who they should be reaching out to. And then once we've landed on someone that aligns with [them], panic ensues, like ‘what do I say?’”

But in this case, Sarah says, the situation isn’t as complex as it may seem, and recommends the Hub’s resource page on informational interviews for students looking for some helpful tips.

“Students are oftentimes very surprised at how simple that initial message is,” Sarah affirms. “You craft that initial, ‘hey, this is who I am, this is my major, do you have 15 to 20 minutes to connect?’ They overthink how casual that message needs to be, but that’s language that they can continue to recycle through all the kinds of different outreach interactions they have.”

As professionals, Sarah sees networking as a constant in their lives, with language the only thing changing. 

“I definitely understand how the stakes might feel high,” Sarah says. “But networking is still just an opportunity to connect with someone. The end goal may look different, but if you've made a really strong connection and you want to continue to grow that relationship, the root of your initial outreach is just wanting to connect with someone—that part doesn't evolve or shift.” 

“Hopefully that takes off some of the pressure,” she laughs. 


LSA alums are here for you

For Michigan alum and 2017 LSA grad Max Brawer, networking has remained a cornerstone in his professional and personal life. Like Sarah, Max recognizes the reassurance that being a wolverine brings. 

“For me, even before arriving at Michigan, the [U-M alum] network was one of the big draw factors for me, it was one thing I got really excited about,” Max recalls. “Knowing that there's 634,888 other alums out there is an exciting thought. And knowing that any one of those people, I can probably reach out to cold and get a positive response to make that instant connection is just a really, really good thing to have.” 

But Max recognizes that as he advances in his career, how he utilizes his network can look very different from when he was an undergraduate student. 

“Networking becomes a little more real post-grad—and actionable,” Max reflects. “As a student, it’s more of just building connections based on exploration [of interests], whereas post-grad, it's more about real time job implications, and has more of an immediate impact.”

Although he only graduated four years ago, Max is already utilizing LSA’s alum network as a mentor. He recently hired a new LSA alum as an analyst on his team at Coinbase.

“It opens up a whole new candidate pool,” Max emphasizes. “From the employer perspective, I just know the quality from a Michigan alum is going to be best-in-class, top grade.” 

Now, Max leverages the Michigan network on a personal and professional level. He’s an active mentor through LSA Connect and has connected with a plethora of students through the platform. Pre-pandemic, he took advantage of the alumni association chapter in the San Francisco Bay area where he works, attending football game watch parties or networking events.

“Wherever you go, there will be a Michigan alum somewhere,” he quips. 


LSA Connections

Hub Coach Sarah points to the Hub’s online resources—namely the Hub’s website and the college’s networking platform, LSA Connect. With over 800+ alums and 1200+ students, the latter is a fast-growing online community, exclusively for LSA students and alums. 

“LSA Connect is that community that you continue to engage with, interact with, collaborate with your peers and other recent grads—and just be there to support one another.”

Looking back to her own post-graduate experience, Sarah recognizes the value of maintaining and growing a personal and professional community. 

“As you graduate, you get farther from one-on-one coaching resources,” Sarah confirms. “But know that everything on the website is still accessible to recent grads. I wish I would’ve stayed tapped into all that.”

As for the ‘how’ of using LSA Connect, both Sarah and Max advise grads to be proactive in contacting LSA alums they see working in companies or fields of interest. 

“It's important to prioritize connecting with people that are doing jobs that might sound interesting to you,” Sarah instructs. “Take the time to hear about who they spoke with and what their trajectory looked like. I'll look at someone's job history and see how it correlates to my own, and if they've advanced into [a field or career] that I'm interested in, I'm definitely interested in reaching out to that person. How are you going to know how to get there if you don't see what that [process] looks like?” 

Looking back at her own experience, this is what Sarah recommends: be thoughtful in how you utilize your time and energy in networking. The UM alum network is an incredible resource, but you still have to be conscious of how you engage with it.

“Be disciplined and consistent in networking, and see it as a strategic advantage as you're navigating the job search and what comes next for you,” Sarah advises. “I wasted a lot of my time and energy blindly applying to different job opportunities without pausing. [Consider] who you can reach out to, find other alums, and [think about] how you can tap into that in order to stand out amongst the other applicants.”

In Sarah’s words: put a person to the application. Don’t reach out blindly, but find individuals, companies, and careers that speak to you and your goals. Like Sarah, Max recognizes the value in platforms like LSA Connect, and encourages students to take advantage of their resources, discovering careers they never knew were possible. 

“LSA Connect is a targeted professional network, while [platforms like] LinkedIn are more general,” Max says. “It’s always advantageous to make those networks more targeted because you’re starting from a place of commonality and you both have those Ann Arbor roots, so that's a connection or shared experience right off the bat.”

In the end, Max believes, there is one thing that unites regardless of university, field, or position.

“There’s a common thread between undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni who are already in the workforce,” Max reflects. “A point of commonality: everyone, at their core, wants to do good.”