The merging of alumni relations and career services is a trend in higher education that acknowledges the strategic importance of network building and the role key stakeholders can play in preparing students for the work world. From an organizational standpoint, combining alumni relations with career services is a potential first step to adding more strategic importance and message focus to the work of stakeholder engagement.

As engagement pros, now with a mandate to help students prepare for the world after graduation, we are afforded the chance to communicate a very specific story that touts alumni as representative of an “outer-inner circle” — a group friendly, accessible and located symbolically just beyond existing relationships with parents, friends and faculty. Engagement programs like work shadow experiences and career road trips can position alumni as guides willing to offer advice and reliably respond to student requests for informational interviews.

What happens in a merger?

Career services has the capacity to impact almost all a university’s key metrics. Strong results in annual Destination Surveys measuring job placement for graduating seniors can be a great admissions bullet point. Helping a student land a fantastic job before graduation has implications for fundraising both over the short and long term.

One can even make the case that the career services narrative of institutional connectedness in our networks-based economy provides the backing for the liberal arts academic experience to thrive. Coaching students how to use Linkedin, is one way to develop connections and build a career strategy. Viewing similar alumni profiles allows art history majors to pursue jobs in public relations or provide accounting majors with the knowledge, opportunity and relationships to be therapists, FBI agents or go into the Peace Corps. Together, alumni and career services tell the story of relationships and connectedness underneath the flag of the university.

Alumni and community members as part of an outer-inner circle

Training students to think of themselves as a business-of-one and that alumni are part of their outer-inner circle from the moment they arrive on campus provides the context for a strong retention strategy. Most universities are teaching students how to make connections on Linkedin and ask for informational interviews. Now that alumni relations is fused with career services, we can enhance the narrative by asking alumni volunteers to introduce themselves to students.

Imagine a first-year student that’s homesick or is at risk academically receives a message on Linkedin or elsewhere from an alumnus that says simply:

“Hi, my name is Ryan. We’ve never met, but I went to Longwood and I had the same major as you! If you ever need help or advice, please let me know. I’m happy to share more about my job and career path too.”

With the fusion of alumni engagement and career services, the opportunity exists to positively reinforce the narrative that mature members of the community mentor, bring in and hire the new ones.

A realignment opportunity

Merged alumni and career services teams operating underneath the organizational advancement umbrella will find themselves making strategic impact on more than just fundraising. It’s happening now anyway. Across our industry, stakeholder engagement work has bigger implications than development alone.

Alumni are part of an outer-inner circle of support available for students and the university at large. Realignment can take place when resources are deployed to help the university community get connected and for a culture of community relationship development to prevail as a leading paradigm. The narrative of connectedness has implications in all corners of the university, and a centralized partnership should emerge between alumni and career and university communities if we ever want to explore the human stories that have impact.


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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