How to Start Relationships with Thunderbird Alumni


By Michael Seaver, Director, Alumni Engagement

In 2013, The Economist ranked Thunderbird #2 for “Internationalism of Alumni” and #3 for “Potential to Network”. It certainly isn’t a secret that the Thunderbird Mystique is alive and well. We truly are one of a kind – there is no other graduate global management school like Thunderbird. Alumni worldwide desire to help each other and current students in a variety of ways. He is likely to make himself available for a First Tuesday, to serve as a Thunderbird Global Ambassador, or connect with other T-birds to help them achieve their career goals.

You probably chose Thunderbird to learn from world-renowned faculty, engage with like-minded professionals, and to go through a transformative experience that establishes lifelong connections. As with any change process, it is imperative that you have a strong network of diverse stakeholders to seek guidance from. I like to think of this close circle as your personal board of directors. Organizations have boards of directors; you are the CEO of your brand, so you should have a board, too.

The best place for students to seek subject matter expertise is Thunderbird’s alumni network. As you begin to establish relationships with alumni, it is important to remember that the street is two way – you must generate value for the person you seek knowledge from. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, uses formidable research to prove the value of being able to identify someone else’s needs, anticipating new solutions for them, and then finding ways to contribute to those solutions in a way that they feel is generous and authentic.

Remember, relationship building doesn’t happen overnight, it is a long-term process. Students who think they can be connected to an alumnus and immediately be offered an interview are missing out on the importance of the relationship to their career years into the future. Here are a few key points to consider as you build relationships with other Thunderbirds:

  • Ask a “warm” connection (a person who knows you and the alumnus that you’d like to meet) to make a formal introduction. This will drive higher levels of commitment from all parties to follow through in a timely manner.
  • In your first communication with the alumnus via email or LinkedIn, keep your verbiage short and sweet. I would encourage you to not mention that you are seeking employment; simply offer suggestions for times to talk and words of gratitude for his time.
  • When you talk with the alumnus for the first time, try to limit the conversation to 15 – 30 minutes. Have tailored questions prepared that allow you to easily determine whether you’d like to work in that industry or organization. Your CareerLeader and StrengthsFinder assessments are great places to use foundational information about your motivators, strengths, and communication preferences to derive these questions. Unless he broaches the topic first, avoid lengthy discussion about your employment status.
  • Within 24 hours of the conversation, send a follow up email thanking the alumnus for his time and insights. If, during the conversation, he mentions family, a hobby, or other personal information, be sure to reference it in the email. Your goal is to build a long-term relationship based on unique ways you can help him in ways he’ll appreciate most. Being selfish is a recipe for failure.
  • Allow 2 – 3 weeks to pass and follow up again. Perhaps you could send a hand-written card to the alumnus with a quote or unique saying customized to help him achieve his goals. Maybe you forward him a LinkedIn article that will help him implement a project or impact his team positively. Whatever you do, make the communication channel different from how you touched him last.
  • As jobs open, you can more readily connect with the alumnus and seek advice about how to apply for opportunities or how to have your information be moved to the top of the proverbial resume pile. Although you have now asked for advice or support, your job isn’t done – you must continually find ways every 30 – 60 days to follow up with and generate value for the alum. Be remarkable.

Securing the job you desire, in the 21st century, is heavily correlated to your ability to build a critical mass of supporters/advocates/referral partners inside your target organizations. The Career Management Center coaches do magnificent work in continually reminding students that networking and the job search begins before you arrive on campus. Please take that advice to heart. Reference the chapter from your CS1000 course about Your Brand and Building Business Relationships through Connections; the chapter is full of best practices that will help you succeed. Your success in this process is driven by getting an early start, generating value for others, and being able to relay your personal brand succinctly.

Your success is our success. We are One Thunderbird.

If you have comments or questions, please contact your career coach. If you have specific questions about alumni, I can be reached at or +1 (602) 978-7080.

One thought on “How to Start Relationships with Thunderbird Alumni

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.