Temi Akinaina, Alumni Services Officer responsible for McGill Alumni Career Services (ACS), explains how the newly revamped ACS goes beyond traditional job-seeking assistance.
What’s the overall goal of ACS in its new form?
Temi Akinaina : We wanted, first , to consolidate the resources that are on campus and off campus for grads on our new website, and also start to develop innovative programming that showcases the expertise in the McGill community and allows grads to tap that expertise to help their careers.
Second, it’s the idea of providing higher level career management, much of it online, and offering tools that are not as easily findable as “how do I format my resume?”
Also, we are becoming adept at providing opportunities for alumni to share knowledge and learn from each other. It’s another way of building community among our alumni. The ACS tagline is “Connect. Share. Develop.”
Who are you targeting with Alumni Career Services?
Something like 80% of the current graduate base graduated after the 1980s. It’s a stark demographic reality. In light of the economy, these are individuals who may not be having an easy time finding work or developing a career.
There are also people who went to school before that period, and either went back to school in different areas or at different schools and who are looking for information about their new careers. We’ve noticed that more senior grads are clicking on our emails and going to our website in large numbers, so there is obviously an appeal for them too.
There is also the context on campus, where if you are not in one of the few faculties that offer tailored career services (like Engineering, Management or Law), you don’t have much access to career development opportunities from McGill with the faculty you studied with.
You’ve initiated a series of career services webinars….
So far we’ve hosted 5 ACS webinars – 4 presentations and 1 Career Story. The interactive presentations have focused on topics like Negotiating Skills; Leadership; and Empathic Action and Social Entrepreneurship.
Our first webinar was with Morna Flood Consedine and that was on the topic of negotiating. Morna has a long and storied career in this and she has done it for a lot of high level organizations. Our first foray was really nice to see because we wound up having almost 500 people register their interest within 24 hours and the webinar itself had 215 sign in to participate. Overall, more than 650 grads have registered for the webinars and over 400 have attended the series to date.
Coming webinars will focus on mindfulness and mediation; and money management, for example building your retirement toolkit. We’ll be having one of our affinity partners, TD Meloche Monnex, host that webinar.
It sounds like you are trying to come up with as diverse a list of topics as possible.
In the first year we do want to have a diverse array of topics, and also start to build out an idea of what our grads like and are interested in hearing and learning about. When people sign up for or attend the webinars, we send out a survey and we also have an email address, email@example.com. We are always happy to hear from people who either want to host webinars or people who have ideas for topics.
We are trying to stay away from basic professional development topics; I don’t think it’s up to us to offer “top 10 resume writing tips”, because you can Google that. It’s more like adding to the conversation or building the expertise in a way that hasn’t necessarily been seen before. As well, we do link to those resources on our website; we have the templates and CaPS (McGill’s Career and Planning Service) has them; and faculty career service centres have them.
How do Alumni Career Services and CaPS complement each other?
CaPs’s mandate is primarily for students and to students. We partner with CaPS wherever can, though, and one of our big focuses in Alumni Relations generally is partnering with other McGill units. We help recruit mentors along with CaPS, and we also have a very strong partnership with them in Backpack to Briefcase.
But if you are dealing with, say, graduates who are 10 years out, the CaPs’s services may not be appropriate for them, or they may not want to use documentation tailored to graduating students. As well, grads who are further out of school are probably already used to coming the Alumni Online Community for resources, and they can easily start engaging there, or on our LinkedIn McGill alumni groups.
Tell us about Backpack to Briefcase.
We relaunched Backpack to Briefcase this year. It’s our life skills professional development series, which is held mainly on campus, though we did introduce a virtual component this year. It caters to graduating students and recent grads. We had a very successful in person seminar with Daniel Seligman who is the creative director and one of the founders of POP Montreal; he also manages a few artists, including some McGill grads, and he just opened a record label. He was talking about the creative aspects of running a business and essentially how you make your creative passions into your job or make your profession out of that.
In addition to that event, we partnered with the McGill Young Alumni in Montreal who brought in Gail Vaz-Oxlade to talk about financial planning and money management; and we had Dress for Success events for both men and women, as well as “virtual office hours” online with really interesting grads, one of whom, Diego Osorio BA’96, joined us virtually from Iraq.
You’ve also started a career services blog. What are you offering there?
Even if people are not able to attend our events, they can still keep up with us. Right now we have a number of blog posts on the Backpack to Briefcase series.
One of the other blog series that we run (and that we are always looking for volunteers to help us out with) is our Three Questions series, where we ask grads who’ve achieved at a high level in their careers the same three career questions , in the goal of sharing knowledge and expertise in the community.
What kind of feedback are you getting about the new services?
We have received a lot of positive feedback, first, just about the fact that we’re doing this. Alumni Career Services is a need that has come up a lot in our market research; grads want more of these services to be offered.
We see that people are coming to the ACS website; and with webinars, not only do they attend sessions but we receive very nice notices too. We‘re not yet getting feedback that people are finding actual jobs; but we are engendering a lot of goodwill by taking this on.
What are some of the features of your programs that grads enjoy?
I think people are pleased too that we are doing so much of this online—that is where people are. We have a large young demographic who often move away, or go to do more studies elsewhere.
Particularly important is the opportunity to connect on a more intimate level with the grads who are presenters or hosts. For example in the creativity as a business segment with Dan Seligman. Once the session was over the line of recent grads, or even older grads, waiting for to shake his hand, or ask him about an idea they had, or about a record label, or how to get involved in Pop Montreal, which is a music festival he founded and now helps run….it was really significant.
Same thing with Lisa Kisber , who is an amazing fashion blogger, and at a certain point in the evening she was essentially giving free fashion advice to the women who were attending.
Is it hard to get grads to volunteer to host or be panelists at events?
We look up grads in certain fields and then we reach out to them; and some grads self-identify. But those we research and reach out to are often very pleased and flattered to be asked. And then it’s just a question of whether they have the time, or the familiarity with the format. We haven’t ever reached out and had a bad response.
We don’t have as many in-house resources as some of our American counterparts or even some of our Canadian counterparts. But what we do have are amazing grads—across the spectrum of industries, who are doing really interesting things. It’s nice for them to hear from us; they are happy to be recognized, and glad to share their knowledge.