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Universities try innovative ways to get grads jobs

With hiring slowed to a trickle, universities are trying new techniques to get alumni jobs

By Contributor / October 9, 2009

Participants conduct six-minute meetings during a speed networking event for alumni of colleges in the New England Small College Athletic Conference in downtown Boston on Oct. 7, 2009. Universities are turning to innovative networking tools to help students and alums through a difficult economy.

Sarah Beth Glicksteen/The Christian Science Monitor

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In an amply provisioned event room in a downtown Boston hotel, well-heeled professionals from their early 20s to well into their 50s sat, chatted for six minutes and, at the ring of a small bell, rose to find the next partner on their agenda.

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Their name tags attested to their academic bona fides: all were graduates of schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), athletic pipsqueaks but intellectual powerhouses like Amherst College, Bowdoin College, and Tufts University. With all the information swapping and animated gesturing, it certainly looked like speed dating for the brainy.

Instead, the roughly 100 NESCAC students and alumni were speed networking, one of several ways universities are attempting to serve their seniors, recent alumni and even long-gone graduates in the face of a crippled job market. By beefing up programs that connect students to alumni and gauging the effect of quirky events like speed networking, universities are testing new ways of helping graduates find success even after they’ve tossed their mortarboards.

“Our alumni have asked for more career support,” said Paul Ryan, an assistant director of alumni relations at Hamilton College, a NESCAC member, who directed the speed networking event. “They had plenty when they were seniors or juniors with us. But when they graduate and enter the workforce, they don’t have a career center to walk to anymore. They’re like, ‘Where do we turn?’ ”

By utilizing computer software that matches networkers based on their areas of interest and need, speed networking makes it easy for people to meet new contacts by slicing an entire room full of potential networking targets down to a manageable list.

“It’s probably the most efficient way of networking that could be. You don’t go in meeting people that you’ve already met. This really focuses you in on those that you don’t know,” said Craig Turet, a Philadelphia attorney who has run dozens of speed-networking events since 2007. “It eliminates the meeting of people who have needs in areas that are not worthwhile.”

Other colleges are also experimenting. At Carleton College, a small liberal arts institution an hour outside of Minneapolis, the career center lacked the flexibility to help students with unique interests, said Richard Berman, director of the Carleton Career Services Center.

So Carleton created an ambitious package of services for current students like a “Scholars” program focused on "taste of industry" tours, bringing groups of current students into the offices of alums involved in public policy (in Washington, D.C.), technology (Silicon Valley) and business (New York City).