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Alumni Turn to Campus Career Centers for Help

JACKSON, Miss. — Holland Familia has experienced the ups and downs of the job market since graduating from Mississippi State University four years ago.

Since last May, she’s worked as marketing director and regional manager for Material Girls, a women’s clothing boutique with three locations in the state.

She’s also had jobs that didn’t pan out, including one with an advertising agency that ended in a layoff.

She says her alma mater’s career center has helped her consistently since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

“Even if they can’t find you a job, they can help,” Familia says. “A lot of alumni don’t know this resource exists.”

Downsizing has left many college graduates searching for a job or contemplating a new career. And campus placement offices are seeing more graduates returning for assistance.

Nationally, unemployment stands at 4.2 percent for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In January 2007, the last January before the recession began, the rate was 2.1 percent.

November’s 5.1 percent was the highest rate for college grads since BLS began monitoring the figures in 1970.

Mississippi College has seen a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in calls from alumni in the past three years, says career services director Karen Lindsey-Lloyd.

“We’ve had alumni who graduated 10 years ago call us and say, ‘I’m looking to switch careers. Can you help?’ ” she says.

At Mississippi State University, the alumni association saw so much interest that two years ago it held a job search seminar for graduates, says Scott Maynard, director of the university’s placement center.

“This recession, it seems, affected everybody across the board, from education to engineering to arts and sciences,” he says, adding that inquiries from alumni have tripled since fall 2008.

Schools increasingly offer a number of job-hunting resources for alumni. Mississippi College has online job boards as well as resume-writing and interview-coaching services.

Mississippi State alumni out of school for two or more years can take advantage of free online job resources and can have resumes critiqued by career center staff.

The University of Southern Mississippi keeps a database where companies can post job openings and upload resumes.

Many placement centers also offer career advice and guidance on evaluating opportunities.

Jessica Kennedy says the school’s career center helped her evaluate several offers she received after graduated last spring.

“They (stressed) job stability,” she says.

Today, she is working in Virginia as a civilian computer engineer helping test weapons for the Navy.

Government agencies are looking for workers in a number of majors and offer a relatively high amount of stability, making public-sector jobs attractive for college grads still looking for work, says Lashanda Jordan, who heads Jackson State University’s career center.

Graduates on the job hunt should look to professions that may use similar skills to what they studied or have job experience in, she says.

“{graduates) don’t often think outside the box when it comes to finding a job,” she says.

Tonya Nations, director of Millsaps College’s career center, says alumni can be easier to point in a particular direction because they’re generally more sure of their future careers than undergraduates and are attractive to employers because of their experience.

Mississippi College alums can fill out a job search plan that evaluates more than a position’s pay and perks.

Participants must list three fields they’re most interested in, which three attributes they feel translate best from one skill to another and whether they’re willing to move to another city or state to take a job.

Career center directors say alumni staying in touch with their schools will help them better keep up with new job openings and build relationships.

Familia says Maynard helped steer her toward her job and has helped her since graduation. MSU’s career center, she says, not only pointed her toward her first job with a now-defunct computer software company but helped arrange the location of the interview.

Jeremy Kitchens, a 2010 JSU graduate, says career centers can offer a lot to someone struggling to find work, and that more people should learn about their services.

An employee of JSU’s career center told him about an opening in American Airlines’ IT unit. He got the job and is now based in Dallas.

“The door’s there,” he says. “You just have to knock. You have to be prepared.”

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