As my time at the University of Massachusetts Amherst quickly comes to an end, I find it hard to think of what my life as a college graduate will be like. Whether it be for a job or graduate school, my heart aches to leave the place I’ve been lucky to call home these past four years. I remind myself that these next few years, however, are exciting, as learning how to connect and network well can truly catapult my career. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sarah Offenbach, Director of Alumni Career Services (email@example.com), and Lindsay McGrath, Director of Student & Young Alumni Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org), to learn more about what life after UMass Amherst can look like with the help of the UMass Alumni Network.
Having a strong alumni network is often a selling point for a lot of schools, especially well-known universities like UMass Amherst. Undergraduates sometimes forget about alumni, however, until it becomes time to get a job and students are scrambling for opportunities to connect with established people. Navigating such a large network of alumni can be overwhelming because it takes work for a student to go forth and connect with fellow UMass graduates. I, for one, didn’t recognize how much UMass does to make this process easier for us. The Alumni Association provides lifelong career support to all UMass alumni, and they have great resources for alums right on their website.
Network, Network, Network!
While the concept of networking can be intimidating, Offenbach and McGrath described it as merely “building relationships, asking questions, and being curious.” The Student & Young Alumni Program focuses on making this an easier and more accessible process for students. I speak for many when I say that I forget how much UMass wants to help us succeed — which sounds silly, because it’s something ingrained in us the second we step foot on campus. Students who are about to graduate often feel frustrated or intimidated — the four years of money, time and effort spent working towards a degree should make for quick hiring come graduation. However, I was reminded during my conversation that the first job out of college is not handed to you, nor is it something most people tend to stay in for long periods of time. Something that a person from any background can deeply benefit from is the ability to network. UMass offers several events throughout the semester where students can attend to meet alumni — recent or established — who work for renowned companies. During the pandemic these events have continued by going virtual.
The focus of the UMass Alumni Network’s is multifaceted. Help can be provided through several councils, like the GOLD (Graduate of the Last Decade) Council, which is an advisory council of recent alumni (similar to an RSO, but for young professionals). There are also affinity networks for to meet alumni who share common backgrounds: different ethnicities, nationalities, and alums from the Minuteman Marching Band all have their own networks.
Also there are alumni career counselors we can meet with — whether we just graduated, we’re thirty years into our careers, or we’re considering coming out of retirement and starting something new. Students tend to forget that leaving Amherst once you graduate does not mean you ever leave the UMass community.
Unique to UMass’s Alumni Network is ConnectUMass, a database with alumni from around the world in all industries who are eager to connect with UMass students. ConnectUMass is similar to Linkedin in it’s networking opportunities, except it is exclusive to the UMass community — Connect UMass is full of UMass alumni who have already said they are interested in helping students with career advice. One of the greatest benefits of Connect UMass is that users can see what areas alumni are able to help in, like resume writing, interviewing, how they got into their current roles, and even how they maneuvered the working world after leaving UMass. This eliminates the ‘fear factor’ we may have of reaching out for networking opportunities. When we meet with an alum, we have a common ground for conversation, which means that if all else fails, you can bond over UMass until the conversation takes off. On ConnectUMass, you can filter through geographic location, job types, companies, and see profiles for each alum about what they did at UMass and where they are in their careers now. You have the opportunity to message them or request a meeting via Zoom, phone, or chat.
People love to talk about their experiences. Especially with a UMass connection, opening these sorts of conversations with established alumni are hugely beneficial to our own careers as we enter the working world.
“Networking can be through anyone you know, don’t forget that they know people, too” McGrath said.
At such a large university, we are handed a common ground of conversation (that being, UMass) with thousands of people all coming from different backgrounds. We all have the same opportunity to network.
Maneuvering The Job Search
Offenbach and McGrath offered several tips for young alumni to get a head start on the job search, with their biggest piece of advice being to ask questions and be resourceful. As students, we must remember that we’ve networked without realizing it: anytime we have a conversation, we are networking. Every person we know also knows other people, and these people can all be pivotal in our success of finding a career opportunity. Because of this, it is important that you “make sure that if you know what you want, or even if you don’t know, that you make it known,” because we never know who has the potential to help us.
It is important to be sensitive and careful of who and where you get information from about the job search and hiring opportunities. Misinformation, biased points of view, or just plain opinions are very quickly disseminated, especially on platforms as big as Linkedin. These platforms are of course helpful for our networking abilities, and often a great resource to get information from, but Offenbach noted how important it is to sift through what information we consume because so much can be misinterpreted or lost in translation. To mitigate this, we must find correct, unbias or “un-social media-ized” information. One way to do this is by finding trustworthy sources — like other UMass Alums.
It is often tempting to get caught up in the job application process with very little direction — I have found myself applying to tons of jobs a week — without networking or making valuable connections with the people reading my resume — and it gets me nowhere. Therefore, it is important to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself about how to manage the job search. Be ambitious, but more importantly, be effective. This can be done by making it known what fields you are interested in, reaching out to employees and hirers, and networking! A useful addition to any job search can be finding an alum who works for the company you like, and reaching out to them. These small gestures have the potential to kickstart your entire career.
If I learned anything from my conversation with Offenbach and McGrath, it’s that our title as UMass Minutemen does not leave us when we leave Amherst. Whether it be right when we graduate, when we are established professionals, or even when we have retired, we will always belong to the UMass family — and we’re lucky to have that, because you never know who is willing to help you!