Last month’s ACSN 2017 Annual Conference in Boston provided an amazing opportunity to network with leaders in alumni career services. And after hosting a roundtable, we came away with valuable insight regarding one of the top challenges facing alumni career services professionals: coaching alumni through career change.

After some time to reflect on the conversation and review our notes, we’ve put together the most crucial takeaways from the ACSN roundtable.

We hope you find something you can take back to your institution and apply to your role.

Understanding the Motive for Career Change

Whether an alum is re-entering the workforce, looking to change industries, or take the next step with their professional advancement, the first step in coaching should be to help them clarify their motive for change.

What are the current circumstances driving an alum to make a move? What position or industry are they transitioning from? What position would or industry would they like to transition to? What is motivating an alum on a personal level? What does an alum value most in making a career change?

These questions do two things. For one, they help the alumni career services professional develop the best coaching strategy. Furthermore, they challenge the alum to determine what is most important to them. By asking these types of questions at the onset of a career change conversation, career coaches prevent an alum from moving to another unsatisfactory position and seeking change in another short period of time.

What Is the Exit Strategy?

Once career coach and alum have an understanding of the motive for change, an exit strategy can be devised.

Again, in order to implement a tailored coaching strategy, all the elements of an exit strategy need to be understood. For example, what is the ideal timeline an alum is looking to complete their career change in? Are there any uncontrollable variables (i.e. a layoff) dictating an exit strategy?

From there, the career change coach and alum can organize a job search strategy and timeline, identify target companies for employment, update and appropriately tailor a resume, and organize any other supporting documents needed to execute a career move and be ready for interviews.

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Highlight Transferable Skills

Regardless of the type of career change an alum is making, highlighting the value of transferable skills is vital. It’s becoming more widely well-known that employers place greater weight on transferable skills when evaluating candidates. So, coaching alumni on how to identify their transferable skills and articulate that to employers is important.

A type of career change can vary. Someone may be moving to a completely new industry, looking to make a dramatic shift in professions, or re-enter the workforce after raising a family. Situations vary, but transferable skills remain constant.

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is a tactic that should be used by both alumni career services professionals and alumni seeking career change.

Changing careers or leaving the only company you’ve known can be quite daunting and often discourage people. That’s why those in attendance at ACSN 2017 recommended alumni career services professionals share stories of others who approached a similar career change when coaching alumni. Relevant success stories inspire and empower alumni to take full action on career goals.

It’s also important for those alumni seeking career change to be able to articulate their career story. Employers may be skeptical of someone’s decision to pursue a new opportunity or leave a specific organization. A carefully crafted story can erase any skepticism and also serve the purpose of getting an employer to look beyond professional accomplishments to who the person in front of is at their core.

When personal values and experiences are brought into the candidate review process, both the employer and candidate can get the best feel for whether or not a company or job role is a true fit.

Informational Interviews and Internships

Depending on the circumstances, internships and informational interviews provide a great opportunity to understand an industry or company, and make a great first impression, before committing to an application process. Keep in mind, though, it’s important to understand the labor laws surrounding unpaid internships.

As an alum with more confidence, experience, and professional or personal connections, it’s realistically easier to land informational interviews with a friend or former colleague working in another industry or at a dream organization. If an alum is looking for a career change in the first place, the opportunity for an informational interview or internship is invaluable. It presents an opportunity to avoid landing in a role or company that will drive another change in the short term.

ACSN attendees also brought attention to an option specific to those returning to the workforce — and that’s the returnship.

Returnship Resources

Speaking of the returnship, here are some companies offering this opportunity:

  • Deloitte
  • Encore
  • IBM
  • General Motors
  • Goldman Sachs
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • PayPal
  • PwC
  • MetLife

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