Transitioning into your fourth job is a wholly different proposition than landing your first.
“Graduating students have recruiters come to the school to hire them, but as an experienced hire, you have to motivate yourself to go through the job search process,” says Lacy Nelson, MEd’89, Owen’s associate director of Executive and Alumni Career Services.
That’s one reason why the Owen Alumni Career Services office under Nelson has expanded its services. It wants to ensure that it is just as helpful when veteran executives undergo transition as when graduating students enter the job market.
“I often say that our goal at Owen is not simply helping students find that first job, but rather helping them navigate a career,” says Dean Eric Johnson. “It is the successful transitions between jobs two, three, four and onward that define the overall arc of a career.”
Expansion of alumni career services began with a mandate from Johnson and the arrival of Nelson in January 2014. Nelson is the former proprietor of her own career and leadership development coaching firm, Now2planB, which had been utilized by Owen’s Leadership Development Program to work with first-year MBA students for several years. She filled in during two leaves of absence of employees from the Vanderbilt Owen Career Management Center and also worked with students from Vanderbilt Law School privately before being recruited to Owen permanently.
“Since learning career development theory in graduate school at Peabody, I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of people and work,” Nelson says. “I listen when alumni talk about what they love and what they naturally do well. I believe that everybody has that sweet spot where their interests, abilities and personality intersect and I like to help our alumni find what that is.”
A special dynamic
When Nelson joined the center, she also gained an experienced ally in Associate Director Sylvia Boyd. The dynamic between Nelson and Boyd lends Alumni Career Services a combination of stability and coziness balanced with state-of-the-art industry smarts.
“Generally people in a career transition are overwhelmed.”
“My passion and what makes me tick have been the alumni and this place, Owen,” Boyd says. “I’ve been here for 23 years. I’m a familiar face, so many alumni were already coming to me in some form or fashion for many things. Now it’s all things Alumni Career Services.”
Boyd is much-loved among alumni, Nelson says. “She is a calm influence when they first reach out, because generally people in a career transition are overwhelmed,” Nelson says. “She makes them feel cared for.”
As well as expanding services, Alumni Career Services was also tasked by the dean with scaling its programs and serving alumni around the world. It also was charged with working with current Executive MBA students, a group that needed additional career services programming.
Some reorganization to improve efficiency was the first step. Boyd designed a triaging process to assist alumni who need immediate access to career services. Nelson began doing more phone consultations, which increased the number of alumni who could be served daily.
In addition, the office emails job search tips and career information every Friday via its newsletter, Subjects for Seekers, and Boyd and Nelson keep up with and learn the latest in job search techniques, including the use of LinkedIn and other social media.
“Our goal is to provide a bank of resources that alumni can access anytime, day or night,” Boyd says. “Our resources include résumé samples, interviewing tips, a salary calculator and many other helpful tools.”
A happy alumnus
Avery Fisher, MBA’11, returned to the job market a few months ago, seeking a corporate position after a deal between his company and a hospital holding company fell apart.
“It had been 10 years since I’d had a boss who was not a board of directors or a client,” Fisher says. “Making the move into a corporate environment was a big switch.”
The skills it takes to run a small company can be hard to define on a résumé, he says.
“Running a small company, you get a keen sense of how to cope with and navigate ambiguity, which is desirable but hard to present to an employer,” he says. “Lacy and Sylvia helped me tailor my story for this new environment.”
Two weeks after starting the job-hunting process, Fisher landed “a really great role with a growing company,” signing on as director of product management for Cognizant, a leading provider of information technology, consulting and business process outsourcing services.
“Lacy and Sylvia are warm, friendly and great at boosting your confidence,” Fisher says. “Getting that tangible support is so helpful in undergoing that process.”
“Our goal is to provide a bank of resources that alumni can access anytime, day
or night.”—Sylvia Boyd
Part of the support that the Alumni Career Services team offers comes in the form of an updated website (owen.vanderbilt.edu/alumni/careerservice) to match its enhanced services.
“It’s designed so an alumnus can go to any stage of a job search or career development and get help and resources right away,” Nelson says. The site contains assessment and research tools, resources for veterans, do’s and don’ts for the critical period after losing a job and much more.
The website, along with the expertise of Nelson and Boyd, are free services to alumni. And on the opposite end of career service, the office also communicates job leads for employers for free.
“If you were to go out into the market to buy career coaching services compared to what we’re providing, it would cost thousands of dollars,” Nelson says. “We want alumni to know we’re here to serve you, and these particular services are here for you as a privilege of earning a degree at Owen.” ■