[Updated 28 March, 2012: The service described here now supports searching on any institution. Select the "More schools..." pull-down menu, and type the name of a college or university in the text box labeled "Browse by name"]
Are you logged into LinkedIn right now? If so, go to
and look at the business networking site's "Alumni" function.
LinkedIn launched the service in October 2011 under the name LinkedIn Classmates, but quickly changed the name "to more accurately reflect the importance of exchanging insights with your alumni network." It's possible they renamed it because it sounded like the separate third-party website Classmates.com.
Whatever the reason for a name change, here's a quick look at what LinkedIn Alumni does and how it works.
What it Does
LinkedIn Alumni connects you quickly with fellow alumni. Why? To quote LinkedIn's director of product management, Christina Allen, "Since you have your school in common, you have a natural connection." (This is subject to some debate, which I wrote about almost three years ago.) If we assume that's a good enough reason for most people to network with fellow alumni, we can next look at how it works.
Screenshot: click image to enlarge. My annotations are in red.
How it Works
LinkedIn Alumni searches for LinkedIn members based on information you listed in the Education field of your LinkedIn profile (institution name and years attended). If you listed more than one educational institution, it lets you select which institution to search for.
First you will see profiles of fellow alumni to whom you're already connected on LinkedIn. After that, the LinkedIn members listed appear to be those who attended during at least part of the time you did (if you've listed a class year in your profile), and with whom you share at least one connection.
You can pull down the "Years Attended" menu to search by "Graduation Year" instead.
[The service connects you quickly with fellow alumni]
You may choose to see profiles of alumni who don't include their attendance years in their profiles. It is worth clicking the plus sign next to the number of alumni found, to show those with no graduation year listed, which increases the number of profiles returned (bottom left in the screenshot shown here).
Switching to this view dramatically increased the number of visible profiles for me:
- by 45% for my graduate degree alma mater,
- by 95% for my undergraduate school, and
- by 217% for my high school.
At the very bottom of the Alumni screen is a button that allows you to search for "your alumni group" with one click. It won't necessarily show your institution's official groups at the top of the results, depending on the name and description those groups use.
The service is interesting at first because you can quickly see the names of people you had forgotten about. But LinkedIn has added granular controls that make the service truly useful. However, they are not obvious at first, because of the site's design. They are:
Search by Employer, Job Function, and Location
Those blue horizontal bars at the top are clickable. For example, select "Legal" and your Alumni results are re-sorted to show those connections who work in the legal professions. And the re-sort includes the Employer and Location listings ("Where they work..." and ""Where they live..." in LinkedIn's user-friendly labeling system).
Search by Dates Attended or Graduated
Tiny pulldown menus at the top right of the main window let you set the chronological window in which you're searching for fellow alumni. Or you can click on "Attended" and select "Graduated" instead, to focus on alumni from a single class year.
One odd, and presumably temporary problem is that the whole Alumni feature itself is hidden. As of this writing, there is no link or other navigation showing you how to find LinkedIn Alumni from the home page or from your profile.
[It's not the people you know who have
the greatest potential to help you. It's the people they know.]
You can use LinkedIn Alumni to find people who attended any of your listed educational institutions, and can narrow the search by years attended, class year, current location, industry and company. This suggests that the service is most useful for those with a specific networking need (as is LinkedIn in general).
But don't forget about the strength of weak ties. Your immediate connection to fellow alumni makes it easy to reach out to them, and it's tempting to narrow your search using the tools described above. But this is only the start of exploring your network.
It's not the people you know who have the greatest potential to help you. It's the people they know.
For more about the strength of weak ties, see some of the past Alumni Futures stories in the "Related resources" list below.
Overall, LinkedIn Alumni is useful for manipulating existing data according to profile characteristics. Increased access to this kind of data makes our searches more powerful. Only when this happens does LinkedIn increase its value to users. For this reason, I'm guessing that we'll see similar functionality for every kind of affiliation you can display in your profile: places you've worked, languages you speak, awards you've won, conferences you've attended, as well as your skills, groups, and associations.
Have you used LinkedIn Alumni (aka LinkedIn Classmates)?
Is it useful?
If so, what for? If not, why not?
Leave a comment.