College basketball can be a powerful connector, especially this time of year.
With the NCAA playoffs in full swing, it’s a wonderful time to connect or reconnect with well-placed alumni, college friends or your university career office to see what jobs may be in play. You also could contact some former professors or the most successful members of your sorority and fraternity and chat about college hoops and career hopes almost simultaneously.
It may even work if you’re applying for a job with an alumnus from a rival school, if you can deploy plenty of diplomacy and good sportsmanship. The trick to all this: Use the March Madness letter of introduction to show your collegial and collaborative side as well as your zeal for basketball and winning.
Of course, you run the risk of trying to pitch yourself using basketball to someone who would rather hear about basket-weaving or food baskets for the hungry. So as best you can, try to scrutinize and determine who’s big on basketball and who is not.
Workers in the Midwest and West are more likely to participate in March Madness pools at work, with Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and Washington, D.C. having the highest concentrations, according to a CareerBuilder annual survey by Harris Interactive. Some 27 percent of men are betting on the brackets compared to only 13 percent of women, and twice as many men as women spend an hour or more checking on scores during the work week, according to CareerBuilder’s survey.
So you’re more likely to make a connection with a male alumni in Minneapolis than a female hiring manager in the Miami area.
As a long-time fan of brackets and college basketball (Go Michigan State! Go Detroit!), I would pay more attention to someone who could clearly articulate their value proposition and their basketball devotion in one email. But they’d have to cleverly blend in both elements and not skimp on their sales pitch, nor belabor their love of basketball.
Here are three other suggestions for making the most of March Madness as a way to connect during the next few weeks:
1. Create a list of 10 to 12 alumni to contact.
Ask your alumni association for a dozen contacts. Or request them from your sorority or fraternity. Be specific on what kind of alumnus you wish to connect with, for example, director level or above in engineering or design areas at General Motors or Toyota or another major automaker. Or owners, EVPs or CEOs of marketing or advertising firms in two cities (preferably at least one of them is in proximity to your alma mater so there’s a concentration of grads living there). You also could locate some decision-makers through LinkedIn People searches, using school as one of the screens.
2. Write a personal letter to each one.
Make sure you know their story, and what they’ve been working on in the past five to ten years since college. Make sure you tailor your letter to the person’s background and interests. Even though they went to the same university, someone who has spent her career advocating for lesbian and transgender rights needs a different approach than someone who designs advertising for The Gap. Check too to see if they have been an active alumni or donor or whether they have an advanced degree from another university that may also be on the brackets.
3. Be clear about your purpose.
You don’t just want to chat about how great your college team is – you actually want some career advice or assistance, right? If you’re looking for an introduction to a hiring manager in a particular department, say so. If you’re looking for advice on how to relocate to their city, ask for it. If you want to meet for coffee so you can cultivate a deeper relationship or ask a tough question in person, go ahead and request that. Or maybe you’d like to invite them to your NCAA college basketball celebration, provided it’s not going to be too boozy or wild.
The initial connection will be through hoops hoopla, but you hope to advance beyond that as fast as your team can steal the ball when they’re three points behind. So remember, even when you’re wearing your college colors and become hoarse from cheering, you’re still a professional seeking career advice or a connection that could lead to a new job or some other collaboration.