Using Your Alma Mater to Help You Network Into a Career Position
As a career advisor, I assist clients in determining their occupational preferences, develop their employment objectives and prepare their resumes. With these tools in place, we develop their customized marketing strategies. As part of their marketing plan clients contact their alma maters. Their colleges and universities most often offer them career counseling, resume writing, advertised job listings, web site lists and job fairs. The alumni feel that those services are of limited value to them in their stage of the career position search.
Once an educated, sophisticated professional has developed a career focus, employment objective, and resume, he/she needs to tap into the hidden job market through marketing strategies and networking contacts. My clients report that they have not received these services from their alma maters.
APPROACHING YOUR ALMA MATER
The reasons seem two-fold: (1) alumni fail to use the vast resources of their college or university to their advantage and (2) many schools do not offer marketing/networking services to alumni. Alumni contact their alma maters and often find that their schools do not include marketing and networking on their menu of services. Graduates assume that their university can not help them in these areas. They are mistaken. If properly approached, schools can help alumni in their marketing and networking. Once an alumnus has identified the industries, types of positions, geographic locations and companies of interest to him/her, his/her alma mater can serve as an invaluable resource. He/she can contact 1) former professors, 2) department heads 3) alumni associations, and 4) career/placement centers and inquire as to (1) What companies hire our graduates? (2) What companies recruit on our campus? (3) What companies accept our students as interns or cooperative education placements? (4) Who are the contacts within these companies? (5) Who are the alumni who maintain contact with you/this department? (5) May I volunteer my services to contact alumni/companies on behalf of current students? By target marketing to warm (referred) prospects, one greatly increases the likelihood of success.
ALUMNI CAREER SERVICES
Responding to alumni desire to have their alma maters provide career services appropriate to their needs, colleges and universities are developing Alumni Career Networks. The list includes small schools such as Willamette University, Miami University of Ohio and Juniata College and large schools including UCLA, Georgia Tech and University of North Carolina. These programs have established a database of alumni who have volunteered to serve as informational resources on career issues to other alumni. Through these networks, alumni gain access to other alumni identified by and profession and location for career networking purposes. Programs vary regarding the number of networking leads provided, cost (free or subsidized fees), eligibility for services, access to database and degree to which the program monitors use of service. The Alumni Career Network may be directed by the school's career center, alumni association or an alumni career center.
The University of Oregon Career Center working in cooperation with the Alumni Association manages the Alumni Career Network. Alumni request contacts through the Career Center. Eligibility is limited to alumni. A fee is charged for the service. Two leads for informational interviews are provided for each client. Matches are made based upon profession and location. Contact with the University is by telephone or e-mail as is contact with the alumni mentors.
Depauw University Career Services Center offers the Alumni Career Network service to students and alumni at no cost. Those wishing to use the service contact the Center by phone or fax and receive up to five networking leads by mail or e-mail.
The most popular management of the alumni networking service is through the alumni association directly. Willamette University Office of Alumni Relations provides Alumni Career Network through its office to alumni and student. There is no fee. To access the computerized database, users contact the office by phone, receive a password and conduct their own online search for a self-determined number of networking leads.
The University of North Carolina Alumni Association renders the service through its Alumni Advisor Network. The Alumni Association provides the service to its members without additional fees. Users contact the Association by phone and receive advice and a limited but appropriately screened networking leads by phone or mail.
ALUMNI CAREER CENTERS
The University of Michigan Alumni Association supports a separate Alumni Career Center. The Center maintains the Alumni NetWorks, a career coaching networking serving graduates and students. The service is free to student and alumni members of the Alumni Association, which charges membership dues.
The University of Illinois Alumni Association maintains the Alumni Career Center. The Center offers access to the Alumni Networking File for informational interviews as part of its package of career services to alumni for which it charges a fee.
SEARCHING THE INTERNET FOR EMERGING OPPORTUNITIES
With the advent of the Internet, we have become adept at using logic based electronic searches. With journals, newspapers and business information databases placed online, the Internet along with person-to-person networking are the premier resources for researching the hidden job market. The better business databases charge fees, but many colleges and universities make these available to their students. Alumni would welcome access to these databases. Whether accessing through alma maters or other sources, we can uncover voluminous amounts of information through databases and other Internet accessible resources including:
- Economic trends
- Industry trends
- Mission statements
- Financial reports
- Brokerage evaluations
- Company news
- Business proposals
- Executive biographies
- Company contacts
- Job listings
MARKETING TO EMERGING OPPORTUNITIES
With this information in hand, marketing savvy career position seekers are ready to contact people in the industries and companies of interest. Alumni can also complete online this phase of their searches if their alma maters provide searchable online alumni networking databases. As universities devise their databases for alumni to search directly, information provided includes:
- Alumni name
- Job Title
- Job Description
- Degree granting institution(s)
- Year(s) of graduation
- Contact information
The following are scenarios on how alumni could use these searchable databases.
Twenty years experience primarily in accounting. Major: accounting. Job Title: Chief Financial Official.
Seeks relocation to one of four cities in another section of the country. Seeks knowledge of general employment climate and likelihood of securing similar position at similar compensation in selected locales.
Identify alumni with same degree and major graduating from five years prior to five years following his year of graduation located in desired sites with current occupations of Chief Financial Officer, Vice President of Finance, and President. Contact via telephone or e-mail. Determine the locale with best employment opportunities and conduct job search in that city.
Ten years experience in teaching. Major: education. Job Title: teacher.
Seeks position as trainer in current location. Seeks information on transferability of skills, willingness of industry to accept educators as trainers and leads of potential employers.
Identify alumni with education degrees employed as trainers, preferably in current location.
Accepted new position in new geographic area. Spouse without new position. Five years experience in mechanical engineering. Major: mechanical engineering. Job Title: mechanical engineer. Spouse's university does not offer alumni networking services.
Seeks relocation to new area with reemployed spouse. Seeks comparable position as mechanical engineer or project engineer.
Identify alumni with engineering degrees, especially in mechanical engineering graduating five to fifteen years prior to present currently employed in engineering in desired geographic location. Control and conduct informational interview via phone or face-to-face.
Some schools have found additional benefits to maintaining an alumni network. John Hopkins University consists of eight campuses with five independent career centers. The Alumni Relations Office is a centralized service available to all alumni and thus serves as a clearinghouse.
Marguerite Jones, Associate Director states, "We identify our alumni mentors in the University's records. When one of the career centers sought volunteers to serve as sponsors for a job shadowing service for undergraduates, it identified and e-mailed our mentors and secured 35% of their volunteers through that resource."
More academic institutions will create or improve Alumni Career Networks because of:
- Pressure from alumni for services.
- Volatility of the workplace.
- Increasing concern over finding meaningfulness in employment.
- Concern over providing relevant services to alumni.
More academic institutions will create or improve Alumni Career Networks sooner in order to:
- Compete with other institutions by demonstrating long term commitment and service to students/alumni.
- Recruit and retain students.
- Improve student placement.
- Increase alumni association membership.
- Increase alumni giving.
- Decrease rate of student loan defaults.
What started out as creation of a service because it was the right thing to do, will expand because it's the profitable thing to do.