Bridget Jones' tips on networking with alumni

August 21, 2008

Lessons can be learned from Bridget Jones and Sex and the City as university staff equip themselves with the skills to oil the social wheels at fundraising events.

The examples are used by Nathalie Walker, head of alumni relations at the University of Oxford's Said Business School, who is to lead a session on networking in higher education at the annual conference of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe next week.

Titled "What Bridget Jones has to teach us about alumni relations", the session is aimed primarily at non-academic staff, but Ms Walker said that the lessons applied equally to their faculty colleagues.

"We have to spend a lot of time talking to strangers and introducing strangers to each other to make networking events work, but a lot of people either think networking is a dirty word or are nervous and apprehensive about saying the wrong thing," she said.

"There are some great examples in rom-coms and sitcoms of what not to do - like the bit in Love Actually when the main character swears as she is meeting the Prime Minister and then says "Oh shit, I swore". And then there are examples of what you can do, for example in The Devil Wears Prada when some minions brief their boss on who she will be meeting and what to say to them."

Ms Walker said the ability to make a good impression has never been so important as British universities increasingly woo alumni and others to raise funds.

"Alumni relations is an increasingly important business in Britain and a lot of people come in as an office assistant aged 22 with no networking skills, so they need to learn those skills to feel comfortable dealing with the great and the good," she said. "Equally, academics aren't employed to be good networkers, and while some will hate it and some love it, if you're going to ask them to go to these events you have to provide them with the skills they need.

"You employ academics because they are very smart, good at research and probably teaching - you don't employ them because they're good at networking.

"But actually, it is very important to alumni that they see their academics, because that's how they are connected to the institution."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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