Seeking a job? Call your college

Schools help alumni with career moves

October 22, 2006|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,sun reporter

Graduates are not just relying on their colleges to help them find that first job - now many want assistance from their alma maters when searching for second and third careers.

In a move that's equal parts good will and smart business, more colleges and universities are expanding career counseling and services for former students.

Alumni expect more from alma maters these days in exchange for their pricey investment, college career advisers and experts say. And because workers change jobs and careers with increased frequency, more alumni find themselves searching for employment assistance.

"People are looking more and more to their universities to provide those services," said Anne Kirchgessner, the alumni career adviser at the American University Career Center. "Universities are trying to find ways to meet those requests more."

In return for the career help, schools hope to engage alumni who may be more willing to volunteer, offer their business connections and even job offers to current students. What's more, colleges want their graduates employed rather than jobless. For one thing, school fundraisers know they have a better chance at securing an annual alumni donation from someone who is working.

More than 96 percent of schools offer alumni career services, according to 549 members who responded to a survey conducted last year by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That's an increase from about 76 percent in 1997, according to the association.

"What's been driving this is acknowledgment from research that current graduates will have five to six careers in their lifetimes. And so, we wanted to get on board with the notion that's where the economy is going and provide those opportunities for alumni sooner," said Javaune Adams-Gaston, executive director of the career center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

University of Maryland career officials have added alumni networking events to coincide with the university's biannual job fairs and solicited more job postings for seasoned professionals. Towson University, McDaniel College and Johns Hopkins University also provide services such as alumni career counseling, resume critiques and networking events.

As the alumni specialist at Towson's career center, Priscilla Fox handles all inquiries and requests from its graduates. Fox said alumni seek help that is very specific to their needs, such as re-employment after a layoff or re-entry into the work force after a break.

"And some people come in because they've worked for the same company for a number of years, and there is a promotional opportunity and haven't done a resume for a long time," Fox said.

While schools such as Towson have alumni career advisers, others have job centers on campus dedicated to graduates. The alumni career center at the University of Virginia plans to hire an additional career specialist and expand its hours this academic year to meet increasing demands, said Carter Hunter Hopkins, director of UVA's alumni career services.

Many services, such as resume postings and critiques, are free to graduates, while some schools charge a fee or require membership in the alumni association for things like extensive career counseling. The UVA alumni career center, for instance, charges $50 to association members for a career assessment, while non-members pay $100.

Alumni associations have long promoted their network of business contacts, job leads and introductions. The difference now is that college career centers and alumni associations are no longer relying on informal networks but devoting resources to hire career advisers and set up job search sites and career management conferences - all exclusively for alumni.

"What has changed is associations are approaching it in a structured and systematic way," said Andrew Shaindlin, executive director of the California Institute of Technology Alumni Association, which oversees career services for graduates.

At Caltech, employers can post jobs for experienced engineers, while alumni can post their resumes on the alumni association's Web site. In providing alumni help for the next career move or job change, Shaindlin said the school is showing itself to be an asset.

"This will create grateful alumni who are more likely to support the institution financially, or who will volunteer their own experience and expertise to help students or fellow alumni," he said.

Since 2004, Richard Katz, president of www.seasonedpro.com, has been organizing alumni networking and career conferences for schools, including the University of California at Los Angeles, University of Houston and Arizona State University.

The two-day conferences bring together employers and alumni along with career management experts. Katz said his business has increased as more universities have realized the need to "reconnect with their alumni partly because their funds are being reduced and partly because older alumni don't always end up in the right career."

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