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Get the most out of your university’s career services

Why not take advantage of career services offered by your alma mater? You paid for them!
Martina G. Efeyini
June 26, 2020

Last week, I attended a webinar called "Networking for Introverts" hosted by the alumni association of my alma mater, the Pennsylvania State University, and it got me thinking about how much universities and colleges have to offer their job- and connection-seeking alumni. For this week's column, I talked with Cheryl Bonner, director of Alumni Career Services at Penn State.

Bonner has worked in career services for more than 30 years. She started out as a special education major but decided she didn’t really like teaching in the classroom. When she went to graduate school, she switched her emphasis to higher education because she “felt really attracted to the fact that career counseling was very concrete problem-solving,” she said.

Leading alumni career services

At Penn State, Bonner manages a team of career specialists, supports them by getting the resources they need, handles scheduling and budgeting, writes proposals and develops partnerships and programs, such as Lion Link, a platform that connects alumni and students.

“I am a hands-on administrator. I still critique résumés, run workshops, host webinars and meet with alumni one on one," Bonner said. "Due to the issues resulting from COVID-19, I am working on ways to use virtual platforms and tools to engage alumni instead of hosting in-person networking events.”

Bonner has great energy, and  I could tell she enjoys her job.

“I love helping people find their special niche and connecting alums with each other. My personality, skills and background are conducive to helping people think about the big picture: where they might want to be, what problems they enjoy solving the most and what environments they like,” she said.

Using alumni career services

“It is important to remember that universities are not placement agencies," Bonner said. "They are not going to necessarily get you a job.”

Most enrolled students have access to campus interviewing and career fairs. But, as you progress in your career, those types of events might not be as helpful. Alumni are a resource, however.

Examples of alumni career services

  • Webinars and workshops
  • Discussion boards
  • Job boards
  • In-person and virtual networking events
  • One-on-one career coaching
  • Critiques of application materials
  • Mock interviews
  • Online skill assessments
  • Newsletters

“We have a program called Lion Link that allows alums to connect with each other. You can reach out to them based on what they studied, where they work and their current job title,” said Bonner.

Here are a few questions to get you started when connecting with alumni.

  • What are some of the challenges coming up at their company?

  • What are the company's growth areas?

  • What might they expect to be covered during a job interview?

  • How has their job changed due to COVID-19? What are the temporary changes? What do they see happening in the future? 

The answers to those questions, incorporated into a job interview, will help you stand out. You could say, for example, “My research indicated that your company is growing in X area. Can you speak a little more on how this job would interact with that area?"

Connecting with alumni gets you firsthand accounts on what to expect from a company, reduces your job search stress, and helps you develop an actionable career search plan.

"Since a lot of jobs go unadvertised, when you understand the needs of the company by connecting with alumni, you might learn about openings and how you can fit in that company,” said Bonner.

She recommends that all alumni take a little extra time to update their LinkedIn pages and and résumés.

“Alumni should have the tools they need if something happens or their career is disrupted. You don't go to the dentist when you have a toothache; you go dentist for prevention care,” said Bonner.

In addition, she emphasized the importance of taking time for career development off the clock: Volunteer, take a consulting gig, earn a certification in your field or give back to others. The key is to explore options and think outside of your comfort zone.

“Think about where you want to add value and, if you could create your own environment, what it would look like. You don't have to be locked into one thing. Be open to other opportunities," she said.

Author's note

Dear Class of 2020!

Congratulations! You are resilient, intelligent and have the skill set to pursue multiple pathways in science. Whether it be in academia, industry or an alternative career route, the ASBMB is here for you. I look forward to seeing how you will use your science to make an impact. Together, as a society, we will make a difference. Please consider submitting a first-person narrative about your career path to ASBMB Today.

#CongratsBMBgrads,
Martina G. Efeyini
@mefeyini on Twitter

Martina G. Efeyini

Martina Efeyini is a toxicologist and freelance science writer who blogs at Mademoisellescientist.wordpress.com. She also writes for the National Society of Black Engineers and ScientistaFoundation.com.

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