It isn't easy to meet the career needs of the student body of a large public university system—let alone those of its entire alumni population.
It's University of Tennessee Alumni Association's Director of Alumni Career Services Andrew Hart job to do just that. He serves 365,000 UT alumni to help them with everything from individual coaching to access to online job boards and other platforms.
We asked Andrew to discuss the UTAA's implementation of alumni career services five years ago, the success it's seen since then, and its use of online platforms. That interview is below.
Why did the UTAA decide to implement alumni career services? What challenges were you all looking to solve, and what did you hope to accomplish?
The Career Services Task Force was charged with designing an alumni career services program. The UTAA's recent Alumni Attitudes Survey revealed that "identifying job opportunities" is, far and away, the single greatest need of our alumni, particularly those who graduated in the past decade. It's imperative that we develop programing to address this need. During our initial task force discussions, we determined that it was important to research other alumni affairs offices. Through our research, we found that universities with the most sophisticated operations had at least one dedicated staff member, and up to as many as four full-time employees. With the amount of career services programming and software management we do, it is important to have a person oversee the operation. As the office grows, it will be important to continually analyze office statistics and grow the staff as necessary. Several institutions divide their office into different areas: administrative, employer relations, and counseling.
The best asset we have is our alumni base. By creating a culture of alumni career services, we will be able to serve and engage our alumni. These services will touch every point of the alumni life cycle. Young alumni will see that their relationship with the University does not stop after graduation. The Alumni Career Services Office will also provide new ways for alumni in or retired from the workforce to serve as mentors to alumni in various stages of their professional career. By serving our alumni, we can keep current relationships strong and continue to foster new relationships.
We are now in our fifth year in operation with a staff of one that oversees Alumni Career Services for the entire UT system.
What have you and your team accomplished so far, and how did you get there? How do you measure your performance and success?
In five years, the Alumni Career Services program has developed a foundation of programs and services that will allow the UTAA to provide a comprehensive suite of career and networking opportunities. Currently, the UTAA offers career coaching, networking opportunities, job searching resources and online networking events. Last fiscal year, I had over 210 individual coaching appointments. Programming included career related panels, networking events and seminars while in addition, the Alumni Career Services Office works closely with the UTAA Network staff to incorporate career events into their programming requirements. Our alumni job boards continue to be a valued resource for our alumni. This is our second year of providing this service to alumni and employers. The UTAA will also continue to offer a free account to alumni for CareerShift. This license not only covers all 365,000 alumni, but also covers students at all UT campuses. Career Shift continues to be one of our most popular career resources.
One of our key projects for FY 17 is the on-going refinement and implementation of Career Guides. Career Guides are comprised of alumni that are looking to assist students and alumni in their career search. The Career Guides, with over 2,100 currently signed up participants, are searchable through our online alumni directory. This gives alumni another volunteer opportunity and it serves as a tremendous resource for both alumni and students.
Another key project is the expansion of regional career coaching appointments. So far, this outreach program has been well received in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. Our UT graduates are located throughout the country, so this is a way to bring a touch of UT to them outside of our traditional campus locations.
We measure success by examining how alumni respond to our programs and resources. Having over 200 individual appointments this past fiscal year is a sign of success. I am housed on the campus of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Due to my physical location, many alumni are not able to take advantage of the one on one sessions, so I offer Skype and phone appointments as well. After looking at attendance at events, coaching appointments, job board registrations, etc., we meet as a team to discuss strategies to increase our numbers for the upcoming year.
Evaluating and implementing new online platforms that support alumni career services is one part of your role. Why are online platforms so appealing to alumni career services offices? What can they accomplish that offline methods can’t?
Online platforms are so important to our alumni population. They want something that is easy to access and that can give fast results. Currently our alumni have access to CareerShift, our Professional Directory (a simple online tool that allows you to search more than 360,000 UT alumni by location, job title, occupation, and more), Career Guide Directory, Job Board, and online events. Having these online tools instantly gives our alumni results on what exactly they are looking for. Recent grads, mid-level managers, people wanting to jump onto a different career path altogether—everyone I talk to is looking for the same thing: good advice from an unbiased, seasoned professional in their chosen line of work. Networking is too generic a term for what our alumni are requesting. We’re really talking about facilitating strategic and personal connections. Alumni want a phone number to call or an email address to write to, someone willing to answer hard, industry-specific questions.
Want more reading? Check out our other blog posts on alumni mentoring.