Connecting Young Alumni with Careers

With a shaky job market, many alumni offices are seeing rising demand from recent graduates and young alumni for networking and career help -- just as many undergraduate career offices are seeing rising demand for their services from students nearing graduation. We asked Matthew Donato, senior associate director of alumni career services for the University of Chicago Alumni Association, for advice on what alumni relations professionals can do better to help their young alumni connect with career opportunities.

Online Tools

"Particularly for young alumni, offer a strong set of online resources. Our young alumni expect to have these resources at their fingertips, whenever they want them."
Matthew Donato, U of Chicago

This means a website where young alumni can log in and find tools that might include:

  • Help with cover letter/resume writing
  • Tools for improving interview skills
  • Critique of practice interviews
  • A networking tool to find professional contacts in the young alumni community

Donato recommends cultivating an alumni careers network on LinkedIn. "Facebook often supports more social networking than professional networking," Donato advises. "Also, look to tools such as Twitter that you can use to provide advice and market some of your services to young alumni in a more transactional but also a realtime sense."

Promote Your Services

"Make sure that young alumni know there are services for them after they leave school. Make sure they know career services will continue after graduation."
Matthew Donato, U of Chicago

"Make sure your graduates know they can still access a career counselor," Donato advises, "or that they can access an alumni network and other tools."

Donato suggests use of multiple channels for marketing your services:

  • Blast emails to the alumni community -- customized to specific cohorts/regions
  • Advertise events and services through the alumni magazine or online newsletter
  • Twitter

You can also consider a short newsletter specifically targeted at your alumni careers network. For the University of Chicago Alumni Association, LinkedIn has proven an especially effective channel for marketing services. Having built the alumni career network on LinkedIn up to 7000-8000 members, Donato knows that he can market a day of half-hour career advising sessions to the LinkedIn network, and have those sessions filled within about a week.

Look at Low-Cost Initiatives to Foster Alumni Networking

"If you can invest even a modest amount into a system that can keep track of your career network," Donato suggests, "whether that means managing an alumni careers database or making use of a third-party platform such as LinkedIn, that is a huge value add for any institution."

"The most efficient use of your resources is to provide and promote an effective gathering point."
Matthew Donato, U of Chicago

Then, capture success stories from your alumni who are using that alumni careers network, and use those in promoting the network.

The second value add, Donado suggests, is to compile a list of career resources (such as career sites and databases) that alumni can access for free online. The University of Chicago Alumni Association has chosen to invest in a subscription to Vault.com, in order to provide access to Vault's online career guides to their alumni. Not every institution will be able to afford a Vault subscription, but any effort you can put into becoming a hub of career resources for alumni will pay off in the long term. "The more you can collect resources for your alumni," Donato remarks, "the more engaged your alumni will be with your office. You should become a one-stop shop for them."

Move to a Volunteer-Driven, Staff-Supported Model

You want to expand services to young alumni, but you have limited resources and limited staff. "Lean on your alumni," Donato suggests. "Engage alumni as much as possible in helping you to develop, deliver, and execute career services programs."

For example, suppose that you want to organize networking events around the country each year. Create an event template that includes a description of the event and its goals, as well as the steps needed in order to organize the event. Suggest "5 things" an alum can do in their city. Then engage a volunteer to select one and carry it out.

"You can play more of a consultant role. Hand the ball to your alumni volunteers and ask them to move it down the field."
Matthew Donato, U of Chicago

"Work with your volunteers to get space donated for the event. You can subsidize catering or space if you think the event will be high-attendance, but try to give your alumni creative ways to execute meaningful events at a minimal cost." Donato notes that he has a team of 2 staff including himself, but that they are still able to hold many events each year in disparate locations through reliance on alumni volunteers.

A Win-Win: Partnering with Your Institution's Career Offices

Finally, you can share costs and resources by seeking a closer partnership with undergraduate and professional school career offices on your campus. The alumni relations office can recruit and manage alumni volunteers who can help meet many of the career office's needs. In return, an undergraduate career office can help provide content, career resources and interesting activities for events.

"We can help source the alumni volunteers they need," Donato notes, "and I can use this partnership with career services as a selling point for getting more alumni to volunteer: they get to counsel and advise students."