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By Bob McIntosh, CPRW, MBTI '87, '96 MA, Owner of LinkedIn Strategy

If you aren’t networking with alumni on LinkedIn, you should be. More than 123,000 UMass Amherst alumni are on LinkedIn.  Even if you’ve never met, you likely have many shared experiences— like eating at Antonio’s Pizza, walking around the campus pond or cheering for your favorite UMass team—that will help you connect.

The Find Alumni tool, located in the Connections drop down, provides a snapshot of LinkedIn users who attended your school.

LinkedIn allows you to filter by six categories:

1. Where they live
The majority of alumni live in the Greater Boston Area, as do I. Alumni outside of your geography can be a great resource if you’re traveling or considering relocating to that area.

2. Where they work
When you click on a company, LinkedIn will filter the alumni pool to those employed there. The locations, industries and other criteria will now be only for alumni employed by that company.

3. What they do
Filtering by job function offers a useful way to find alumni in your target industry. Further drilling down to your geographic area or a company you would like to work for will help you narrow that list of 123,000 alumni down to a few with whom you should connect.

4. What they studied
By using the arrow to the right of the screen, you can view additional filters, including what they studied. This can be helpful for those looking at a career transition: filter by what they studied, and see what those alumni do.

5. What they’re skilled at
The ability to filter by skill can be useful if you are seeking expertise on a certain topic, such as Strategic Planning or Project Management. In some cases, skills and industries can overlap, like Sales, Nonprofits or Marketing.

6. How you’re connected
Your 1st degree connections are alumni who are already in your LinkedIn network. 2nd degree connections and group members are prime targets to add to your professional network.

I believe you can feel justified in connecting with any alumnus/na who can be of mutual assistance, but you have to do it the right way.

How to Connect
You need to carefully craft your invite messages. Under no circumstances should you send the default LinkedIn invite. Instead, write a personalized note which will show the professionalism LinkedIn members expect from each other and reference what you have in common. Even though you can hit Connect under the person’s photo, it’s still best to open their profile and choose to connect after reading it thoroughly.

Here’s what you might write after reading your potential connection’s profile:

Dear Mr. Schmidt,
I see you are an alumnus of UMass Amherst and are in the field of Marketing Communications. I would like to take this time to reach out and invite you to my network. I will contact you to see if we can be of assistance to each other.

Completing the process
Your new invite accepts your personalized invitation because both of you share an interest in Marketing Communications, perhaps a connection or group in common, and most importantly your shared experience as UMass Amherst alumni.

In your invitation, you mentioned being of assistance to Mr. Schmidt. Where many people fall short in the process is not following through. Be true to your word by contacting him via e-mail when he accepts your invite. Write down some questions you’d like to ask Mr. Schmidt regarding the line of work he does. Ask him if he might know of anyone who else you could speak with. Finally, tell him you’re at his disposal should he need assistance.

The process of building relationships can be a long one, but these are connections that can be of great help to you throughout your professional development. Whether you’re in the job search or happily employed, the best time to network is now. Start today by joining the UMass Amherst Alumni group on LinkedIn and testing out the Find Alumni tool for UMass Amherst.

To learn more about networking on LinkedIn, visit www.thingscareerrelated.com. For additional career resources, including online tools and free webinars, visit UMassAlumni.com.