Alumni Job Seekers: Pack Your Skills Suitcase for the Journey into the New Job Market

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts alumni seeking career assistance need only turn to their alma mater for help. The University''s alumni career services program offers graduates a range of services, not to mention access to an important campus resource: Karen Knight, associate director of the UMass Campus Career Network and founder of the University''s alumni career program. Knight''s work is rapidly gaining a national reputation and the UMass program is fast becoming a model for other institutions across the country.

UMass is one of only a handful of public institutions dedicated to advising alumni about strategies for staying current in today''s job market, says Joan Stoia, director of the Campus Career Network. The workplace is changing, says Stoia, and about two years ago, she decided it was important for her office to augment its undergraduate career services by committing an experienced staff member to provide guidance for alumni. "The explosion of technology, new competition in the global marketplace, the proliferation of mergers, takeovers, acquisitions, and major company re-organizations have dramatically altered the way work is done and the skills that are now needed and valued in the workplace," says Stoia.

Knight says many of her clients fall into similar categories: those who are underemployed or working without passion; down-sized executives; liberal arts and humanities majors who never found their niche; or individuals suffering from mid-career malaise, career mismatch, corporate culture clashes; or others simply interested in changing careers but lacking the know-how to orchestrate it. Her services are free to alumni and she is available during the evenings to consult with others for a fee.

"I see more than 400 people a year," says Knight. "Many experienced, older workers are unsure where they fit in this reconfigured labor market and may need to re-invent themselves. I can help them do that."

Knight has written an "Alumni Career Search Guide," which is licensed and already under contract for use by one institution, with others interested as well. She has recently made presentations at regional and national conferences including that held by the National Career Development Association, and her work was featured in the national publication "Career Choices."

In addition to individual consultations in person or by phone with long-distance alumni, and the multitude of services offered at the Campus Career Network, Knight also gives workshops in Boston on career management, informational interviewing and networking, and transferable career skills. She''s well-known for arriving at these events toting a burgundy-colored suitcase with the word "skills" taped to it. "We''re in the age of lifelong learning and continuous education," she says, advising alumni, "You''re going to have to continually add to your portfolio of skills. I call it a ''skills suitcase.'' What you need to do is put as many skills into your suitcase as you can, and take the suitcase with you."

She also notes that many of the individuals she advises don''t understand that they and not their employers are responsible for their own career development and that the career-search process is a life-long endeavor. Says Knight: "My most important message to the adults I work with: remember, you are much more than your last job title and you have more options than you think."

The need for career self-management guidance even has many cutting-edge companies recognizing the importance of helping their employees manage their careers and are establishing career development programs within their own firms, Knight adds.

Karen Knight may be reached at 413/545-0742 or kdk@acad.umass.edu.