On any given day, Amanda Panarese and Liz Sprouse might Skype with an alumnus planning a career switch, review personal statement drafts with graduate school applicants or film a webinar coaching baby boomers who are starting their own businesses.
Panarese is the director of alumni career services at the University of Virginia Alumni Association and joins Sprouse, the associate director and senior career adviser, and associate director Mary Ann Stumbaugh in offering a panoply of career resources available the moment graduates walk the Lawn. These services are in addition to the UVA Career Center available to students.
“We have more than 225,000 living alumni at every stage of their careers and we try to provide programming across that spectrum,” said Panarese, who was previously a career adviser at the Darden School of Business.
The office offers numerous online resources, including webinars, research and advice about perennially relevant topics like résumé- and cover letter-writing, interview preparation and salary negotiation. Above all, however, Panarese and her colleagues are committed to fostering one-on-one connections.
Alumni Association members can schedule 50-minute phone, Skype or in-person appointments with career advisers to talk through options, practice mock interviews or prepare résumés and cover letters for specific job opportunities. For graduate school applicants, Panarese and Sprouse will review and offer suggestions on personal statements and other application materials. Alumni can also join recently launched online chats, where they can quickly check in with Panarese and Sprouse.
“We know we have a big, broad and global audience, so we are trying to find different ways to engage that audience virtually,” Panarese said.
Her team also works hard to help alumni connect with their peers and others working in their industry.
“Whether I am talking to someone two years out of school or 20, the idea of networking seems to be fraught with anxiety for many people,” she said. “It really is incredibly important. Employee referrals are still one of the top ways to get a new position, and networking with companies you are interested in is the best way to find out not only about posted positions, but also positions that are not posted yet.”
Networking is especially critical in the current job market, Panarese said. Employers are emphasizing emotional intelligence and using multiple layers of technology to screen applications before a human ever reads them, increasing the duration of a job search.
“Technology is a double-edged sword,” she said. “It can be a fantastic way to connect with others and market yourself, but it can also make the job-seeker feel like their application disappears into the ether and cause employers to miss potentially great candidates.”
Panarese suggests making a habit of networking so that it becomes a lifelong practice, not just something you do when you urgently need a job.
“It’s like exercising; if you do a bit every week, it just gets much easier,” she said. “If you have to cold-call or cold-e-mail someone at first, that’s OK. The point of networking is to gradually build relationships that will pay dividends throughout your career.”
Alumni Career Services hosts online networking chats for ’Hoos in different locations and industries. Also popular are the bimonthly “Friday Forum” webinars bringing alumni together to discuss job-search tips or trends in the job market.
A recent three-part webinar for baby boomers interested in entrepreneurship, hosted by McIntire School of Commerce alumnus Jeff Williams, is a prime example of the impact of networking. Williams’ startup, Bizstarters, coaches entrepreneurs in the 50-plus age group.
“Last year, about 115,000 businesses were started by someone over 55,” said Williams, who previously spoke with UVA Today about this emerging trend. “Many people nearing retirement age want and need to continue to work and for many of them, entrepreneurship is the answer.”
During the series, multiple viewers followed up with Williams and one became a new business partner. 1989 Commerce School graduate Chris Inglese is a certified public accountant in Northern Virginia whose start-up, Tax Checkup, provides tax advice to one-person and small businesses. He now serves as a consultant for Williams’ entrepreneur clients, helping them to maximize their tax savings.
“It’s great,” Inglese said of the new partnership. “I am in the same situation as many of our clients, and Jeff and I can help each other and our clients.”
Williams agreed, and pointed out that such connections, especially around new trends in entrepreneurship, help Alumni Career Services to cater to a wide variety of alumni, no matter what their careers look like.
“In offering resources like this, I really think our alumni career office has gone beyond the normal bounds of what most career services departments do,” Williams said. “They do all of the traditional career services very well, but had the initiative to look at other options too.”
To find out more about upcoming webinars, networking events and other career resources, visit alumni.virginia.edu/career-services/. Alumni interested in speaking at future events can contact Amanda Panarese at firstname.lastname@example.org.