Every year as graduation approaches, students reach out wondering if they can continue to speak with me after they leave the university. Although graduation is the end of your academic journey, it's not the end of your connection to your alma mater, and the career center can be a focal point of that contact.
“Visit your career center's website for a sneak peek of its offerings for alumni," advises Ivette Mekdessi, assistant director of career development at Rice University. Some institutions offer career services access for a timed period following graduation. Others, like my institution, offer free lifetime access, while some have a career department specifically working with alumni. That department usually falls within the alumni association, and in certain cases, provides services for a fee.
Keep in mind that access to career services offers you the tools and resources to advance your career, but it is up to you to actively engage in your professional development. Career offices are not placement firms and they also won't job search or network for you. No matter what your situation is, it's what you do that determines the outcome.
Below, I have listed five ways you can use a career center even if you graduated years ago.
Before doing anything else, review the career page on your institution's website. “An overwhelming amount of information can be found online," says Mekdessi. “Your college career center has likely invested in digital resources that you can access at the touch of a button, from anywhere in the world." The website may include suggestions on books, organizations and podcasts to help you move forward. It also allows you to learn more about career management and identify questions or issues to discuss. I tell alumni that if they review resources before our meeting, we can have a more meaningful conversation.
You may also find out about the university's job search platform. “It helps you discover thousands of jobs, find customized guides for every step of the job search process from creating your resume to perfecting your interview or salary negotiation skills, or even for pursuing graduate or professional school," Mekdessi points out. Although your access to opportunities may be limited, you are still able to view and apply for posted jobs. In fact, many employers realize that alumni are likely to use the career services platform and post positions to specifically target that population.
Professional coaching appointments often run at over $150 per hour, so you may want to consider a more affordable option through your institution. “Career centers offer you the opportunity to meet with a career counselor who will help you find and make your place in the world," says Mekdessi. Careers are ever-evolving, and whether you seek advancement or a transition into a new field, career centers can prepare you. Once you enter a field, it's easy to maintain a network in the same industry. You know how to connect with people, what to talk about and how to keep in touch. When contemplating a career transition, you realize that your networking ability outside of your established network may be rusty, and career coaches can help you polish it. They can also help you update your resume, especially if you haven't looked at it since you found your first job.
Options for career counseling appointments vary across institutions. For instance, University of California Berkeley has established the Alumni Advantage Package, which allows counseling appointments for a year after graduation. Other institutions, like NYU Tisch School of the Arts and my own institution, offer lifetime access to career counseling appointments. Some universities like UC Santa Barbara provide alternate options with contract vendors after the one-year post-graduation period.
Another resource available to you is the larger network of fellow alumni, many of whom may have insights or connections in your field of interest. You may have not thought much about being an alumna when you graduated, but I encourage you to engage as soon as you can. “Career center staff members are trained experts, ready to help you tap into strong networks by connecting you with alumni groups, helping you identify contacts in roles or organizations of interest and providing you strategies for how to best maintain your contacts," says Mekdessi.
Connecting with alumni is easier than ever with online platforms. “For a preview of some of the alumni from your university, visit Linkedin.com/alumni," Mekdessi adds. “Your university likely has additional venues for you to connect with alumni and employers of interest, and your career center can help you identify them."
Yet another way to use career resources is to “attend workshops and events hosted by your career center and connect with peers and professionals in your field or organizations of interest to you," says Mekdessi. In partnership with alumni relations departments, career services often plan alumni networking or professional events in different locations, and you can use these opportunities to reconnect and expand your network. In fact, I encourage you to consider giving before taking: Stay connected with career services after graduation and offer to be a speaker or volunteer for an event. Career staff will get to know you well and when you are ready for your next step, they will be happy to guide you along the process. In addition, alumni may be invited to large-scale events such as career fairs or industry days. At the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, I am involved in the planning of an annual TEDxJHUDC event and am thrilled to welcome alumni back as speakers.
“Our approach to alumni career development is informed by developmental psychology and adult learning theories," says Kristina Galligan, alumni career development officer at Quinnipiac University. “We understand that alumni have diverse and changing career needs across their lifespans, so we strive to offer programming that is timely and relevant to them, whatever stage they may be in (young professionals, career transitioners, career advancers, encore careerists)." The world of work is constantly evolving and new skills and abilities are important for success in any career. Higher education institutions promote learning and growth, and it is only natural for continued education options to be an added bonus for alumni.
In collaboration with QU Corporate Training, which “provides training and professional development to business clients," Galligan ensures that alumni have access to professional development courses that allow them “to upgrade their skills and knowledge to further their careers." Even better, the courses are available to alumni online and free of charge! “We have to consider that we have a global community of alumni who can't come to campus for in-person workshops," Galligan says. “Offering the courses online helps us provide resources to all alumni, regardless of location." Courses on the roster include titles such as Emotional Intelligence: The Other Kind of Smart, Resolving Conflict Between Employees and Managing Up -- all wonderful topics for both early- and mid-career professionals.
“Your university career center exists to help you get to know yourself and identify and obtain a career that matches your interests and values," concludes Mekdessi. “Regardless of where in your career development you are, your college career center has tools to help you reach your career aspirations – access them today!"
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