Whenever I log on to LinkedIn, I am invited to scroll a never-ending list of people I may know. There they are—my high school and college classmates—and most of them, including the ones who used to fall asleep in study hall or skip class to watch movies, have multiple degrees and impressive jobs. Almost everyone I know is a “Developer,” “Analyst,” or “Associate” of some kind. They work at prestigious companies, have book deals, teach, or are well on their way to becoming doctors and lawyers. Well done, team.
Social media lets us stay in touch better than ever. We are “friends” with people we haven’t spoken to in years; we “follow” the dude we did one group project with in high school. That, in this day and age, is a form of networking. So, besides being able to compare your career to theirs or say, “I knew them way back when,” what’s the point of keeping in touch with classmates after graduation anyway? Why is networking with classmates important?
1. Finding jobs.
My city is home to a huge insurance company that employees some 50,000 people. Naturally, a dozen of my friends work there. They’ve helped each other get jobs there and recommended each other for promotions. I’m not saying this is common, but I am saying that finding a job is hard, and it’s a little bit easier with an employee referral. The truth is, your classmates, like you, are going places, so it’s useful to have those connections intact later in life, especially if you share the same professional interests or goals.
2. Moving cities.
I’m in a Facebook group for members of my alma mater’s 2012 graduating class. Every so often, someone posts about an apartment for rent or housing needed. Immediately, my former classmates swoop in to help. We reply to those posts, offering our suggestions or tagging other people who might have a lead. Just imagine that your job transfers you to a different city a few years after graduation. How easy it will be to find housing and friends if some of your former classmates call that town home!
3. Requesting character references.
Most of the job or fellowship applications I’ve filled out require legitimate letters of recommendation. These should be from past employers, professors, or advisors who can speak to your academic and professional capabilities. On the other hand, I have applied for a handful of opportunities, some governmental, that request a character reference in addition to the usual letters of recommendation. A character reference should be from someone who knows you well but is not directly related to you. When you provide the name and contact information for a character reference, your prospective employer can get in touch with that person to learn about your values and verify any information uncovered on your background check. I often choose friends I have known since childhood who can speak to the person I am outside of school or work. A few of them have asked for character references from me as well.
4. Bulking up your LinkedIn profile.
Even if you never apply to a job that explicitly requests a character reference, you can still take advantage of the networking you’ve done with your peers. Creating a LinkedIn profile gives you the chance to expound upon your résumé. Once you do, connect with your former classmates. They can vouch for your skills by endorsing you and vice versa. In theory, when a potential employer combs your LinkedIn profile and sees that you have a dozen endorsements for your, say, marketing skills, the employer can assume that you’re the real deal.
5. Widening your circles.
Sure, most people network with industry professionals, but you have a leg up when you network with all of your classmates, whether they major in the hard sciences or art. Not only will your friend group become more diverse and interesting, but you can start playing career matchmaker with friends from different walks of life. Oh, your college roommate is looking for a film job? It’s time to put her in touch with your high school classmate turned agent. It can feel just as good to connect your friends with opportunities as it does to make those connections yourself. Start networking with classmates today so that you can pay it forward tomorrow!