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Need career services help? Don’t forget to call your alma mater

By David Hugh Smith

“If you don’t ask, you don’t know.”

So says Karen Single, executive director for the Center for Professional Career Development at MCPHS University. Ms. Single is talking about discovering whether a particular college or university offers career-services help to alums.

One of the first phone calls a worker should make who is looking for job-search assistance is to their alma mater, says Ms. Single. She adds that more and more colleges and universities offer help.

Single, who also is active in the Alumni Career Services Network (ACSN), an organization that “supports and enhances the development of alumni career services practitioners” according to their website, says that one of the key ways MCPHS helps alumni is by providing “someone to talk to … to be validated or reassured.” Beyond that, much of what MCPHS, a.k.a the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, does to help alums is provide networking assistance, including links to other alums who are “living the experience” – the job experience that is being sought.

I called many local colleges and universities to see what career services they offer alumni. I spoke with staff at large schools, like Northeastern and Boston College, and others, like MCPHS, and Pine Minor College in Chestnut Hill, that are much smaller. Some, surprisingly, didn’t respond to repeated inquiries, but among the ones that did, all offer some level of support.

Cheryl Bonner confirms this finding. She is on the board of ACSN and is director of Alumni Career Services at Penn State. She said that many schools have dedicated programs for past graduates. She mentions services such as: job boards, on-line networking groups, and in-person networking events. Even resume review and resume-writing training, along with group career coaching, may be available.

Ms. Bonner said some colleges and universities have stand-alone offices strictly for alums that offer career assistance, although help often is provided through an alumni relations office. For others, help for alumni is provided in tandem with student-focused career-services programs.

The career services program at Penn State is particularly robust, Penn being a large and very prominent school. With its enormous alumni base, Penn State has many alumni groups; it’s even held recent networking events here in Boston. That said, Ms. Bonner believes smaller colleges – colleges that may not have the abundant and varied resources of a Penn State – also can have much to offer. Although they have a smaller alumni base, they can know and track their alums, and may be aware of how particular individuals might help an alum.

An example of this is Pine Manor College. Liz Cary Blum, director of alumni relations, comments that it doesn’t matter whether alums graduated one year ago or 20 or more years ago, Pine Manor is there for its alumni, and the supportive atmosphere they experienced at school still envelopes them.

“We stick by them once they’ve graduated. If we know someone needs support we’re there. We have less than 10,000 alumni. It’s very easy to keep in touch.”

Connections are informal but strong. Someone, for example, may call her office, which will reach out to connect with an alum or alums who are in the field the individual needing help is targeting.

A short distance down Rt. 9 from leafy Pine Manor is urban mega-school Northeastern University. Michele Rapp, associate director, alumni career strategy, in the Office of Alumni Relations said there are 28 staff members in her office, and Northeastern has over 250,000 alums.

Ms. Rapp said the “emphasis is on networking.” And that Northeastern graduates have a “shared bond.” People feel more connected when its a fellow alum who is reaching out for help.

Some people, Rapp said, take very ineffective steps to addressing an employment issue. For example, she said some people rely solely on job postings and don’t realize the importance of networking.

Rapp said her office can help transform the job-seeking efforts of alums, and provide resume and LinkedIn feedback along with a variety of other services. But with regard to smaller institutions that may not offer the specific services larger institutions do, Rapp said even alumni social events can be helpful as a networking opportunity.

Alums from nearby Roxbury Community College can tap into the RCC career center and career fairs. And yes, they can make an appointment to get help from RCC staff members, according to Dr. Andres Oroz, associate vice president for student life.

Dr. Oroz encourages graduates to call or come in to ask for help. But he emphasizes that one of the best ways graduates can get help is from an on-line site RCC offers called Career Gateway. Career Gateway helps students – and alumni – connect with professionals and businesses in a position to offer mentoring, and that also may be able to provide a foot-in-the-door to a job.

Circling back to the importance of reaching out is Emily Austin-Bruns, director of alumni relations for Fitchburg State University. Fitchburg offers support for alums, but Ms. Austin-Bruns said “Not a lot take advantage. If enough asked [for help it’s possible] we could provide more.”

Her office provides resume guidance and help setting up LinkedIn profiles – the usual. But they also hold events throughout the year at which alumni can network, including one last year in Boston. Alums also can find connections through Fitchburg’s alumni magazine, which includes a section on alumni news.

Austin-Bruns said that Fitchburg alumni can start getting help by contacting her department or the department of career services at the university. As with other schools, the most important step for Fitchburg alums looking for a job, or a better job, is to go ahead and call to ask for help.

(Writer’s note: The alumni career services offered at colleges and universities are only as valuable as the willingness of staff members to help. During my research on this article I was struck by the varying attitudes toward talking about career services. Some staff were more than willing to explain what they offer. Others didn’t respond, including staff at a college at which I’m an alum, and have a number of important connections. But as Karen Single from ACSN commented, “If you don’t ask, you don’t know” – don’t know if there are staff members who can – and will! – help.)


David Hugh Smith serves as editor of the PDC Post. He also is a freelance writer/editor/oral historian. He can be reached by email.

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