During the â€œback to schoolâ€ season, I often recall the first day of the first class I took as I pursued my Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. The professor spent the first part of the class talking about the â€œelite networkâ€ of peers we were going to be working alongside for the next few years, and how we would make relationships that would last the rest of our lives.
And I bought in to what he was sayingâ€¦hook, line and sinker.
As it turns out, I worked on my doctorate in some pretty impressive company. One classmate became the Deputy Director of the FAA; another the Director of Library Services for all of Los Angeles County. I even attended classes with the Captain of the Palace Guard for Saddam Hussein!
The sad news is, though, that Iâ€™ve never actually passed a referral to â€“ or received one from â€“ any of these high-level classmates. Thatâ€™s right. Even though I founded, while working on my doctorate no less, what turned out to be the worldâ€™s largest networking organization, I never did utilize much of the â€œelite networkâ€ I was told I would have for a lifetime.
Why is that? Because even though the degree program certainly delivered the opportunity to meet valuable contacts, it never taught me the skills needed to utilize them. After graduation, we quickly spread out to realize the fruits of our labors, and outside of the classroom, we had no real context in which we could keep in touch.
Telling us that we had a great network, but not giving us the tools on now to capitalize on that network, was like telling someone there is a car out there but not giving him any idea of how to drive it!
In all fairness to my particular program, when I was an entrepreneur getting my graduate degree it was in the early- and mid-80s, and today’s tools â€“ particularly social networking and other online services â€“ weren’t readily available to allow us keep in touch. Today, however, there are a multitude of options to help you maintain the relationships you make while pursuing a college or university degree.
1. Take Advantage of Your Schoolâ€™s Alumni Services Department
Interestingly, colleges and universities have only recently realized this same thing: In order to increase and maintain alumni engagement long after graduation, it is vital to establish the connection with the alumni before they leave and spread out all over the country and around the world. They are doing this by creating networking â€œaffinityâ€ groups and other opportunities to get involved. These efforts help students sustain their relationships with each other and â€“ through this â€“ sustain their connections with their universities.
By remaining active with your alumni organization, you may also have the opportunity to share news about your business that may catch the eye of your fellow graduates. Because I kept my schools updated with what I was doing in business, I was given a full feature article in one undergraduate university I attended, and two features in another!
2. Technical Tools Do Much of the Work For You
With the constant moving around that everyone does today, people are making more contacts than everâ€¦and itâ€™s impossible to keep track of every valuable contact without the use of technical tools. For this reason, itâ€™s vital to set up â€“ and maintain â€“ a database of the people you come in contact with.
In addition to the standard contact databases available in Microsoft Outlook or Apple Contacts, or the more robust contact management systems such as ACT, there are web-based contact storage systems that let you store your contacts in â€œthe cloud.â€ You can do this in Gmail, MSN Live, Yahoo â€“ or through your account in LinkedIn or Plaxo.Â My favorite online system is www.Relate2Profit.com. They have elements that directly relate to someoneâ€™s networking efforts.
Donâ€™t forget the amazing capabilities of smart phones to help you store important contact information. For example, thereâ€™s a new mobile app available for iPhone and Android phones called Go2Tag. This app literally allows you to create and apply customized “tags” to your contacts, so that you can remember who came from where, and where they’re from: university classmates, those you met at a particular chamber or other networking group, contacts you meet at trade showsâ€¦even those you make through church, civic groups, or your kidsâ€™ school or sports activities).
3. Online Business and Social Networks
Facebook was started at Harvard University, and now itâ€™s morphed into an international network of people, from students to parents, from entrepreneurs to brands, from friends to families and more. I hear stories all the time about how adults have re-connected with classmates they havenâ€™t seen in years. LinkedIn is the largest â€œbusiness-onlyâ€ social network, and you will likely find many of your former classmates on there.
These are just two of the many social networks available for you to connect and keep in contact.
As you can see, there are many tools available today for maintaining contact with former classmates; you decide which work best for you. The main thing is to maintain touch points with these potentially wonderful business contacts. You canâ€™t just pick up the phone and ask for a favor out of the blue 10, 15 or 20 years later!
Called the â€œfather of modern networkingâ€ by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the worldâ€™s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Senior Partner of the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.
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