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Help Wanted: Alumni Career Contacts

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Help Wanted: Alumni Career Contacts
The Northwestern Alumni Association offers many opportunities for alumni to help each other in their job searches.
Rich Miller visits with Michele White (KSM90) at a Kellogg Club of Chicago networking event in September.

Photo by Michele Hogan

Though reports indicate the U.S. economy has been improving of late, downsized workers who have yet to experience a change in their job fortunes are turning to their alma maters and fellow alumni for help. Through the Northwestern Alumni Association, a network of alumni serving as mentors, speakers and information contacts are supporting job seekers.

“The traditional methods of job searching have changed drastically in the new economy, and personal contacts are critical to making sure you’re in the right place at the right time,” says Lonnie Dunlap, director of University Career Services (UCS), whose staff assists some 600 alumni a year.

As of fall about 11,000 alumni have registered to be contacts on Northwestern CareerNet, the NAA’s free online searchable database of career contacts. More than 3,700 searches have been conducted, and more than 500 students have registered to use the service.

Volunteer career contacts can serve in a variety of ways, according to their own time preferences. They choose the parameters of their contact with job seekers — e-mail, phone calls or in-person visits. Career contacts also serve as speakers at alumni career events or at the student-run Northwestern Class Alliance’s Career Chats. It is understood that the contacts are only resources, not people who hire.

“Alumni contacts give those needing job search information a chance to speak comfortably and candidly to someone in a particular industry or company and explore things they may not be able to in an interview,” says Cindy Graham, senior assistant director of UCS.

Individual alumni clubs are also working to help job seekers from their membership. For instance, in the Silicon Valley area, where one in 10 jobs have been lost since 2001, the NU Club of the San Francisco Bay area held a networking event with UCS and NAA last spring. A similar event sponsored by the NU Club of Boston in September attracted 75 participants.

Jan Half (SESP75), an education and technology consultant for nonprofit organizations, signed up at the San Francisco event as a contact. Half says she sees volunteering as a chance to help job seekers who are experienced in corporate and high-tech industries apply their knowledge to education and nonprofit organizations.

“Also, because many of these [nonprofit] organizations operate on very small budgets, there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to volunteer as interns to gain experience while they’re looking,” Half says. “Often these situations can lead to full-time employment.”

Some alumni, especially members of the Council of One Hundred, have formed long-term mentoring relationships with students and young alumni over the years. Through other programs, such as NAA Externship, alumni career contacts have the chance to help students on a short-term basis. Externship matches students with alumni professionals for brief job-shadowing opportunities.

Russ Rosenzweig (WCAS93), CEO and co-founder of the Chicago-based consulting firm Round Table Group, volunteered for Externship last winter. Rosenzweig let then-junior Steve Petric follow him around on the job for three days. Petric was then offered the chance to spend a quarter working at the Round Table Group as part of his field studies requirement in the School of Communication.

“I was able to try a bit of everything, like researching cases, giving feedback on the company’s Web site and developing a work plan for a part of the business,” Petric says. “Russ also was good about dropping my name to other professionals and recommending others to talk to.”

Some alumni have found it helpful to work both sides of the alumni career network. In addition to registering on Northwestern CareerNet as a contact to share his background in African studies and his 14 years of experience in the U.S. consumer products industry, Rich Miller (G78, 84) of Evanston is using his alumni connections to help him transition to a new position in e-business management in the Chicago area.

“I’ve been very impressed by the quality and number of Northwestern alumni who serve as networking contacts,” he says. “Through them, I’ve been able to find new contacts and opportunities that traditionally have not been advertised.”

To register as an alumni career contact or find out more about NAA career resources, visit www.alumni.northwestern.edu/career. It links to the Northwestern CareerNet contact database; Northwestern eProNet, a site that lists mid- to senior-level opportunities in business and technical fields; and CareerTools, an online resource for career management.

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Last updated  Wednesday, 23-Sep-2020 16:32:11 CDT
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