It’s blackberry season. This year, there’s a bumper crop. So far this month, I have filled baskets of blackberries. For anyone who is a foraging enthusiast like I am, you will know what a meditative practice it can be. In the weeks prior to my book launch (30th of September!) this remains a welcome escape.

With stained purple hands (and matching tongue), I’ve had a lot of time to think. I realized foraging is much like our efforts of connection through our alumni networks. For many, the networking passes them by. Our hedgerows are bursting with blackberries. So too is our alumni network bursting with career or life insights. For most people the blackberries—and the alumni network— remains untouched. Why?

In our frenetic lives, this type of foraging of relationships in our lives is viewed as a slow process. Or, the intentions are noble- I hope to get out to grab some blackberries, my neighbour tells me- but things in our lives get in the way. The same can be said for networking: you need to set aside time to build your network, those connections (or blackberries!) won’t magically come to you.

Foraging blackberries and forging alumni relationships also need purpose. There is no point to spend the time and effort pick blackberries to let them rot. Equally, amassing a network of alumni who studied the same course or attended the same institution is not enough – you need to make it clear why you are connecting. One simple way to do this is always ensure that you add a ‘note’ when connecting with a fellow alum on LinkedIn. Explain what interests you and why you are connecting with them. Are you interested in learning more about their career story through an informational interview? Do you hope to find a mutually beneficial opportunity? Be honest and clear.

Back to our blackberries. While the bushes might be heavy with berries, only some are ripe. There is no point in putting time into a less-than-ripe blackberry (as my children puckered lips would attest!). The same goes for your network. Don’t go for the ‘spray and pray’ method- connecting with anyone and everyone. Relationship-building takes time. Allow the relationship with alumni connections to ripen. Stay regularly connected, possibly with a quick question or with your professional update. Being too greedy and trying to pick all the berries at once can seem like a great strategy, but it can lead to sour results and likely a few thorny encounters. Your alumni network is the same- build your network slowly, forge the relationships at your pace.

Finally, foraging is fun! So is connecting with your alumni network! There is nothing like finding a big juicy blackberry hidden somewhere, especially in an area you scanned only moments before. The same can happen with our networks- we need to be attentive. Our persistence will enable us to find exciting alumni network contacts. We also might not see them the first time around. Scanning over our network again and again is key. Consider a weekly ritual like an #AlumniFriday to keep your network fresh!

I hope your basket is brimming with alumni connections!

Happy foraging!

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