When University alum Yvette Atkinson’s husband lost his job last November, it meant one thing for her: back to work.
Atkinson, who received both her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in Social Work from the University, then turned to a heretofore-unusual option in a job search, her alma mater’s alumni network.
During her job search, Atkinson, 44, has been corresponding with Lisa Mangigian, the Alumni Association’s career services manager.
“We just talked about going back to work and, actually, the stress of going back to work,” Atkinson said. “I hadn’t done a résumé for years, so she gave me some tips about my résumé and what I should do because I haven’t worked in nine or 10 years.”
But as the nation’s economy continues to spiral into recession, University alumni around the country are seeking the resources of their alumni network in increasingly large numbers.
Jerry Sigler, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Alumni Association, said that in recent months there has been an influx of alumni inquiring about networking and career advice from the Alumni Association. In response, the Alumni Association is increasing its career and networking programs.
“We are definitely hearing from more alumni who, because of the economy, are looking to us trying to figure out what services we offer that they can take advantage of,” Sigler said, “and what other ways can they tap into the alumni network to be able to help them find a job or make ends meet.”
Through networking events, career counseling and job fairs, the Alumni Association is aiming to offer more help to members who have been hit hard by the economic recession.
The Association launched the Economic Hardship Fund earlier this month, which offers free one-year memberships for alumni who are unemployed.
Sigler said the purpose of the fund, which the association is hoping to be funded through other alumni who have not been hit as badly by the economic crisis, is to allow recently unemployed alumni increased access to the benefits that the Alumni Association has to offer.
“Within hours of that press release going out we had at least a dozen phone calls from alumni,” Sigler said. “And that tells us that there are a lot of people out there who have been affected by (the economy), and they’re looking for anything or anyone that they can turn to help them out.”
According to an Alumni Association press release about the Economic Hardship Fund, traffic to career-related pages on the Alumni Association’s website has increased about 32 percent since December.
Alumni Association memberships are normally $64 per year and provide members with benefits like discounts on cell phones and computers.
Sigler said depending on the response from alumni donating to the Economic Hardship Fund, the Alumni Association might provide emergency loans to alumni in dire need.
Sigler added that in addition to the Economic Hardship Fund, the Alumni Association is also developing a series of networking events over the next few months, including one that was held Tuesday in Chicago. Other upcoming networking events include ones in Flint, Detroit and potentially, New York.
“We’re looking right now at the primary areas that we can be helpful with — the career services, networking, volunteering and getting the alumni network to help support each other and looking at some other benefits that we offer that might help alumni save some money right now,” Sigler said.
Sigler said the Alumni Association has also had conversations with alumni associations from other Big Ten schools about collaborating on a future networking event or job fair.
The events the Alumni Association is hosting now are geared toward helping alumni find jobs as opposed to professional development. In addition, Sigler said the Alumni Association has also increased its career counseling programming to provide career advice to alumni struggling in today’s job market.
In order to gauge the need for their services, the Alumni Association recently surveyed its members about their current career situations, and 5 percent responded saying they are currently unemployed and actively looking for a job, said Kathy Noble, vice president of research, new product development and program implementation for the Alumni Association.
Noble also said 37 percent of members said they are currently employed but worried about their job security.
“We really hear the pain throughout our alumni and recognize the hardship that this economy is causing,” Sigler said. “We want to be as responsive and responsible and want to help them leverage the strength of the University and the strength of Alumni Association network to help get them through this troubling time.”
Doug Baruchin, director of operations for MyWorkster.com, a career-networking site for colleges and universities, said he has also seen an increase in requests for services. In the past six to nine months, website registration has increased by 1,500 percent, he said.
“What’s happening is so many people are all vying for the same jobs,” Baruchin said. “People are looking for whatever possible advances they can get.”
MyWorkster.com links alumni working in various industries to alumni from the same schools looking for jobs.
“And one of the things that we do is we enable them to stay in touch with people from their university and who works at a specific company so they can actually get their foot in the door that way,” Baruchin said.