Baylor University: Building Alumni Career Engagement to Meet Alumni Needs
Jarrod Mathis led the transformation of Baylor’s Alumni Career Engagement department, quadrupling the department’s offerings from a single Career Advising program to four programs in just over a year.
Jarrod chatted with us about creating programs to serve Baylor’s diverse alumni community. He shared what worked well, what didn’t, and how to balance fast expansion with meticulous planning, on-the-ground research, and constant testing to build programs closely aligned with alumni needs.
Baylor Alumni Career Engagement: Serving alumni at every career stage
As part of Baylor’s Office of Career & Professional Development, the Alumni Career Engagement department exists to serve Baylor alumni in every season of their professional lives.
“We help alumni of all life stages here at Baylor — recent graduates looking for their first job, those who want to advance their career, and seasoned professionals looking for something totally new.
“Oftentimes, we find ourselves working with alumni who’ve been out of the workforce for a decade or more and are looking to head back to work. Because this transition can feel overwhelming, we help alumni research careers, practice interviewing, and craft their resumes.
“We also work with alumni who simply want to develop professionally. They might have a job that they love, but they want to grow in a skill, network with other alumni, or give back to their university by serving as a resource for students. Our goal is to provide opportunities for our alumni to do all of these things, to grow and to serve.”
And with a recently expanded department and resources, the team has been able to rapidly grow their services. In just over a year, Baylor Alumni Career Engagement has piloted three new programs alongside their existing Career Advising services.
Four programs built to support Baylor alumni career development
“As career advisors, we walk alumni through career exploration and self assessment, provide job search advice and resources, and help strengthen resume writing and interviewing skills.”
We Are: Women in the Workplace
“In collaboration with the Baylor Women’s Network, we created a series of networking and panel discussion events called We Are: Women in the Workplace. These events have taken place in Dallas and Waco, and we have our sights set on Houston and Austin later this fall.
“Our goal was to create a series of events for Baylor alumnae to encourage, challenge, and learn from one another. We accomplished this by ensuring that each panel was diverse, and by tailoring our questions and topics of discussion to the needs and interests of our constituents.”
“We are about to launch a webinar series that will cover everything from maximizing LinkedIn to emotional intelligence in the workplace.”
Baylor Mentor Network
“Finally, we have our Baylor Mentor Network, which is run by PeopleGrove. This incredible program allows students and recent graduates to connect with and learn from the experience of our alumni, and allows alumni to reconnect with campus life and give back to the university.”
We asked Jarrod what he’d advise other schools looking to step up their alumni career offerings
Advice #1: Don’t try to do it alone
Given that Jarrod and his team spend a good portion of their time connecting Baylor’s diverse alumni community around mutually beneficial opportunities, it is perhaps fitting that he should cite community and collaboration as the biggest assets in setting up and launching new programs.
“The biggest thing for me has been working with other groups like the Alumni Network, as well as faculty and staff across campus. That’s what made all these programs possible.
“We talked with other stakeholders and people who could benefit from or would be affected by these programs. Our Alumni Network and Marketing and Communications department understand our constituents and know how to communicate effectively.
“It’s been incredible collaborating with them to launch the Baylor Mentor Network, send alumni emails, and market this program through the Baylor Magazine.
“So whether we’re deciding on a new software or trying to create buy-in for a program, I think our best tool has been relationships.”
“I really don’t think we could have launched these programs without the support, advice, and expertise of others. My number one piece of advice is to include people in your thought processes and your planning — more minds are better than one.”
Advice #2: Start small
Even though he’s overseen the launch of three new programs in the last year, Jarrod emphasizes that one of the most helpful things he’s done is start small. He began each program with a small pilot, then talked with alumni and planned the next step based on what had been learned. This process ensured that each program has a solid foundation and is directly aimed at alumni career needs.
“With the first We Are: Women in the Workplace event, we kept the budget small and set reasonable expectations for attendance … and it was a success! Our next event in Waco was larger, but we are being careful to take it one event and one city at a time.
“With the Baylor Mentor Network, we did have a large launch, but this was only after we’d discussed PeopleGrove’s capabilities in great detail with the team, realized what PeopleGrove could provide, and determined that we could feasibly launch to the entire Baylor community.
“I think this is a healthy approach when testing new programs. I’d rather start small, succeed, and then grow, than set expectations — and budgets — extremely high, only to have a program fail.”
Identifying the challenges
It was precisely because they started small that they were well positioned to identify and meet challenges as they built out their programs.
“One of the biggest challenges was understanding what our alumni want and need. Like most schools, we have alumni scattered across the country, working in a variety of industries, and of different ages, backgrounds, and life stages.
“When I initially came on board and began working with alumni, I thought I could solve all these problems and meet every need, but I had to step back and ask, ‘Ok. What are the most common needs and how do we address them?’”
The challenges coalesced into two questions that defined the team’s work:
- What are the common denominators?
- How do we serve and meet those needs?
For Baylor, the bottom line was building a set of programs that alumni (and students) would actually use.
“We can create all day long, but if our alumni and students don’t find our program or resources useful and engaging, then we haven’t actually solved any problems or helped anyone.”
Building the solutions
A listening tour
To make sure they were building programs fitted to alumni needs, Jarrod started with on-the-ground research.
“I planned a listening tour across Texas to meet with alumni. I met one-on-one with people, attended events, and asked questions to figure out what our constituents want and need in terms of career and professional development. We used these conversations to help create the programs we provide now.”
Tools for alumni at every career stage
Jarrod identified some tools and resources that are specific to alumni of different career stages. By having these more customized offerings, the alumni career engagement team is able to ensure they have something for everyone.
“In our Career Advising program, we have resources that cater to different alumni groups, depending on what their goals are, what industry they’re interested in, and so forth.
“In Career Advising, we provide resources that cater to the unique needs of the alumnus — their goals, what industry they’re interested in, and where they’re at in the job search and application process.”
More versatile than these customized resources, however, are the programs and resources that are relevant to all alumni, regardless of where they are in their career. The Baylor Mentor Network is one such program that the team found to be most useful at scale.
The Baylor Mentor Network
“We point everyone we talk to towards the Mentor Network, because the sky is the limit as to how people can use it, who they can meet, and what they can learn. If you are a student or alumnus who wants to grow and learn from others, there are hundreds of alumni across a variety of industries who can share their experiences and expertise. If you are an alumnus who wants to mentor students or network with others, it has never been easier to do so.
We are excited about the Mentor Network, and we believe it is a program that has the ability to impact the entire Baylor community.”
After launching to alumni and students in early 2017, the Mentor Network has grown to over 800 users and continues to facilitate great conversations between students and alumni.
Jarrod Mathis is an Alumni Programming Specialist at Baylor University, creating events and resources to assist alumni in personal and professional development.
PeopleGrove helps universities connect their alumni and student communities with the people and resources they need to achieve their career goals.