What is the most underrated benefit of being a graduate?

When students graduate from the University of Waterloo, not only are they earning a degree from a world-class institution with a stellar reputation, but they are also given access to practical services and an incredibly accomplished network of over 225,000 alumni around the world.

For me personally, engaging with alumni has had an enormous and positive impact on my life and career.  Here are three ways that Waterloo’s alumni network can set you up for success.

1. Life-changing advice

Every once in a while, someone offers advice that pushes us in an entirely new direction.  For me, this life-changing advice came from an alumni career advisor at Waterloo.

One of the many advantages of being a Waterloo graduate, is that all alumni have in-person as well as remote access to career advising services, with three sessions offered for free with a career advisor.

After completing my master’s degree a number of years ago, I made an in-person appointment using one of my free sessions.  This lovely individual suggested building up my resume with volunteer experience.  This is something I had never really considered before as an opportunity to expand my network and skill set, on top of helping my community.

Within a week of receiving this advice, I signed up to be a public events volunteer with the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

Rebecca volunteering at CIGI and meeting Joe ClarkRebecca volunteering with CIGI and meeting former prime minister Joe Clark.

My volunteer experience with CIGI set me up for a life of community service, and I became an avid volunteer, helping multiple organizations over the next decade, including Women’s College Hospital, Healthy Minds Canada, various political campaigns, KW Counselling Services and the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (to name just a few!). This advice has also had an impact on my employment, as I began targeting positions and organizations that focus on outreach and community building.

I learned the value of volunteering at Waterloo, which helped shape the trajectory of my volunteer and work life.  This continues to have an impact to this day, as it has given me a new sense of purpose and has instilled a community-building mentality and a strong desire to help others.

2. Easing the transition to a new city 

One unique advantage of alumni networks is that engagement with these groups can accelerate your adjustment to a new city and a new environment. Wherever you go after you graduate from Waterloo, there is an alumni network that has your back and comes along with you on your journey.

Rebecca volunteering with the Western Toronto alumni branchRebecca volunteering at an event for the Western Toronto alumni branch

The Waterloo alumni network is quite strong, with thousands of people in dozens of cities across the globe.  Alumni networks mean opportunity, as there are Alumni Chapters around the world, plus multiple groups involved in the Global Alumni Volunteer Network.

One of the first things I did after re-locating to Toronto a number of years ago was to reach out to a local alumni group.  

I initially felt very out of place in my new city and had very few connections. It wasn’t long after connecting with my alumni network, however, that I began to feel at home and comfortable in my surroundings.

My fellow alumni in Toronto were very energetic and eager to help introduce me to the city. My network became something familiar and comfortable in a strange, new environment.  I met people and visited venues that I never would have had the opportunity to acquaint myself with otherwise.

3. Landing that new job

A shared alma mater can form the foundation of a trusting relationship, beginning things on a more comfortable note.

I have connected with several alumni over the years through LinkedIn or email and have used this introduction to set up phone conversations and in-person meetings.

Networking can often be intimidating, but I have found that people in general are quite happy to connect and offer advice in a job search, even in the midst of a pandemic.  

It's about looking out for one another.

REBECCA WAGNER (MA '09), alumnus and volunteer

A number of years ago, a career advisor introduced me to a fellow alumnus who ran a start-up research firm.  This alumnus’s company was hiring at the time, and I was job searching.  There was an immediate connection because of our shared history at Waterloo, and within a few weeks, I was brought on board with the company.

This is just one of the many ways in which your alumni network can help set you up for great accomplishments throughout your career.

There are plenty of free, online workshops available to alumni through Waterloo’s Centre for Career Action and LinkedIn Learning.  From resume writing, to interview preparation and networking advice, the tools exist to help with your success. It’s just a matter of reaching out and initiating contact.

Fellow Waterloo alumni set me up for success in a number of areas, as I discovered pretty quickly that people are happy to share their expertise, especially with someone with a shared educational background.

It's about looking out for one another.