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  • Engage Alumni by Offering Programming That Meets Their Generational Needs

    May 18, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    Alumni from multiple generations stand in a group.

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    The University of Southern California (USC) has approximately 370,000 living alumni, with major geographical concentrations in Southern California, Texas, and Washington state. There are 57 U.S.-based USC alumni clubs and 22 international USC alumni clubs.

    As this alumni base is so large and spread across the globe, how does USC engage its alumni and keep them engaged? One successful approach USC takes is grouping its alumni by their years since graduating and customizing programming for each of these generational groups.

    “We work very hard not to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to programming,” says Jennifer O’Connor, associate director, alumni and student career services. “We do some programming that reaches a broader audience, but we realize that people need different types of assistance and information at different stages of their careers.”

    To address these needs, the USC Alumni Association created generational groups to provide more customized programming, and help alumni build and maintain their lifelong ties to the university. These generational groups include:

    • Young Alumni (ages 22 to 34)
    • Second Decade Society (ages 35 to 45)
    • Encore Alumni (ages 50 to 70)
    • Half-Century Trojans (ages 70-plus)

    The career center and the alumni association seek feedback from USC’s alumni clubs and advisory boards to identify what alumni want and need. Staff members look at data by generations from the Alumni Attitude Study that it sends to its alumni population every other year. In addition to driving career services programming, this feedback and data was the catalyst for the alumni association creating generational groups.

    Lori Shreve Blake, senior director, alumni and student career services, and O’Connor meet with the alumni association once a year to discuss alumni preferences by generation and strategize subsequent programming to address their needs. They also work closely with the alumni association staff throughout the academic year to execute this programming.

    “In addition, Jen and I look at not just what’s happening in the university community, but what’s happening in the job market, what the private sector is doing, what’s trending, the future of work, and more, and we try to create programming around that,” Blake explains.

    Examples of recent programs for generational groups are:

    • “Jump Start Your Job Search” (recent graduates)
    • “Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders” (Young Alumni)
    • “Getting Hired in the ‘C’ Suite” (Second Decade Society)
    • “Ignite Your Career at 50 Plus: Your Next Act on Your Terms” (Encore Alumni)

    A further indication of the collaborative focus at USC—a decentralized campus—are Blake’s positions. Her job is jointly funded to help the entire alumni population, something Blake says was rare when she was hired 16 years ago. She reports to the career center executive director, but she also is on the staff of the alumni association. Her roles have sparked innovative collaborations and provided her with valuable insight.

    “Years ago, when we first said that we are now serving USC alumni for career counseling appointments, we thought 20-somethings would come into the center to use this service,” Blake says. “Actually, it was 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings who used it. We realized that we needed to have programming for these groups.”

    She also points out that having alumni of different generations at the same event can be uncomfortable for both groups.

    “We have found that generational programming makes people more comfortable because they can be around their peers,” Blake says. “They can see they’re not the only one, for instance, at 50-plus years old trying to find a job and seeking direction. When they get in that room, they no longer feel they are the only one in their situation, and they are able to connect and network more freely.”

    Blake and O’Connor say to get the most out of your generational programming efforts at your school, you should:

    • Develop a relationship with your alumni association—This is your strong connection to the alumni you are trying to serve. This partnership will yield valuable data about your school’s alumni and their preferences.
    • Listen to your population—To achieve success with generational programming, you must understand what alumni in each generational group want. Then, bring in topic experts to craft programming.
    • Engage other campus partners—Tap into experts on campus who know about the subjects of your programming. For example, alumni love to hear from faculty experts. Create partnerships with key faculty members to address topics pertinent to your school’s generational alumni or use faculty members as panel moderators. Or, if your campus is decentralized, ask another career center to recommend employers that could serve as speakers for events.
    • Go outside of your institution—Not everybody who speaks at your events has to have a connection with your institution. Give your alumni access to dynamic speakers who provide valuable content no matter their ties—or lack thereof—with your school.
    • Use presenters from the target generation—Have presenters be representative of your audience. USC has found programming is better received coming from a peer instead of, for example, a 50-year-old telling young alumni what they need to do to land a promotion.
    • Leverage technology—Make use of online registrations, webinars, live streaming, and more. Using technology can extend your reach and accessibility. For example, you can hold a live event that alumni all over the world can listen to it as it happens, and you get the archive for others to access at their convenience. At many colleges and universities, there is pressure to scale offerings. Technology is one way to accomplish this.
    • Go beyond generations—Based on alumni feedback, the USC Alumni Association has established affinity groups within the generational groups, such as those for women, veterans, LGBT alumni, specific industries, and more. Developing programming for these groups further customizes programming, and strengthens ties between the alumni and your institution.

    Jennifer O’Connor and Sarah Yoo will present “Engage and Inspire Your Alumni: Generational-Based Programming” during NACE16.