For many college seniors and graduate students, commencement is just around the corner and, with it, thoughts about the future. But what many of these new members of the workforce may not realize is that their alma mater’s career services and alumni outreach offices can be of use to them long after they’ve picked up their degrees.
“I have found alumni need just as much, if not sometimes more [assistance], when they’re out in the workforce and trying to make a transition,” says Jenna Collins, associate director, Alumni Professional Development & Outreach at Syracuse University’s Office of Alumni Engagement. Collins has worked with alumni ranging from recent graduates through retirement age, she says.
Whether you’re looking for a résumé refresh or seeking an entirely new career, here are five services and resources your alma mater’s career services office may provide—often free of charge or for a small fee.
Nailing your résumé and cover letter
Collins says that the most frequent request she get from alumni is résumé review. Her office also helps with cover letter writing. “That’s usually one of the starting points, then it grows from there,” she says.
Jason Eckert, director of career services at the University of Dayton in Dayton, OH, says that his office provides résumé review free of charge but takes a more advisory or coaching role. They edit, search for typos, share résumé-writing best practices, and offer suggestions but avoid actually writing the materials themselves. “We’d rather teach them how to write it so that in five years, they can update or write a résumé that reflects where they are now,” he says.
Deciding what you want to be when you grow up
Collins says that résumé and cover letter feedback often leads to a more in-depth discussion about career options. She offers one-on-one sessions to alumni to discuss their strengths, preferences, and options and offer advice on career paths and job searches. Appointments can be done by phone, video conference, or—for those willing to visit the campus—in-person.
This service is also provided by the University of Wisconsin’s SuccessWorks at the College of Letters and Science. Executive Director Rebekah Paré says that she’s seeing graduates change jobs much more frequently. One of her team’s goals is to help alumni process what they’ve done and what their strengths are through counseling sessions. “[H]ow do you reconcile some of that experience? Talking to a professional who can help pull that out, ask the right questions, and provide some reflection can help build a lot of confidence,” she says. Many offices will also help with information about graduate school and assistance evaluating further education options.
Getting ready to wow a new employer
“There are times in life where you go for five years or seven years or ten years or more without having had a formal interview. A practice interview, or what we often call a mock interview, is a great way to scrape off the rust,” Eckert says. Career and alumni services professionals often stay up-to-date on common interview questions and techniques and get information from recent interviewees. Their proximity to so many interviewees gives them insight into strengthening interview performance. Eckert and his staff conduct realistic, hour-long mock interviews and critique how they did, question by question.
Access to hidden job markets
Whether it’s through their relationships with companies and recruiters or large networks of alumni who like to help other alumni, career services and alumni relations teams have a number of resources for job hunters. “Badgers [the University of Wisconsin mascot and nickname for graduates] are always willing to help badgers,” Paré says. Alumni may share job leads that aren’t yet published. “That hidden job market that we always talk about,” she says.
At Syracuse, the ‘CuseConnect LinkedIn group began as a way to connect students with alumni but has “transcended into alumni to alumni connections,” Collins says. Behind the university’s alumni portal is a job board that includes information provided by alumni. Many colleges and universities have their own versions of these tools. Eckert and his team also use Handshake, a platform that connects job hunters with possible opportunities.
Invitations to events and experiences
Alumni may be welcome at campus career events hosted by the university, which may provide insight into new opportunities or contacts, Eckert says. “Alumni may not realize these are open to them,” he adds.
Paré says her team hosts experiential trips that can lead to important contacts and career insight. “We have experiential programs where we’re taking folks to, say, New York City to meet our badgers who are working in finance on Wall Street. We’ll take students on treks to explore the industry they’re interested in or the careers they’re interested in,” she says. Inquire about these opportunities, and let the team know you’re interested in participating.
As various campuses structure their career services and alumni relations offices differently, Paré recommends searching out the various options at your alma mater. Every school has a different approach, and you may find that some options are available through your school-specific career office or an institution-wide centralized office. So, be sure to investigate all of the resources that are available to you.