Talk | Michael Iris, Berkeley College
Updated: Oct 13
In this Talk, Michael Iris, Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations & Career Services at Berkeley College, offers useful advice on why has made it his mission to build trust between the Career Services and Alumni Engagement departments. He starts off by talking about the dynamics between career development, career services, and alumni relations. They can either work like a “perfect marriage, or a horrible divorce”, and over the years he has become an expert at building this bridge.
As with all our LiveAlumni Talks, this is a round-table discussion intended to bring the LiveAlumni community together to share knowledge.
Occurred Wednesday, Dec 2nd, 1pm Eastern Time
Alumni Relations and Career Services share the University’s Mission Statement
Nothing rivals LinkedIn’s data quality
It’s time to start sharing resources and budgets with other departments
Put yourself in the servant leadership mentality
Email communications - best practices
The importance of engaging your international alumni
Continuing Education - Bring your alumni back
Don’t neglect your small business owners and entrepreneurs when prospecting
Get involved with your local Career Services and Alumni Services Associations
Working Together: Alumni Relations & Career Services
According to Michael, many Alumni Relations and Career Services departments still operate very separately. He himself started his career working in that climate, so he knows first hand that fostering a partnership between the two takes a lot of convincing and time to transition into an environment of trust. Building a line of communication is the first step to building a bridge.
It is a good idea to start by identifying the end goal which helps both parties realize that working together is going to them each reach that goal. Building a strong working relationship is about putting yourself in the servant leadership mentality that everyone is here to serve our students, alumni and the institution. In the end, everyone's goal is to advance the shared mission of the institution.
There are many data providers out there, but Michael warns to beware of what they are promising. Systems that ask their alumni to self-populate will never rival the accuracy you can get by going to the source of where your alumni are living, which is LinkedIn.
The pandemic is turning higher-ed upside down with regards to budgets and furloughs and layoffs, and enrollment numbers, etc. So if you're not already, it's time to start sharing resources and budgets with other departments.
A good example that was mentioned is, when hiring a speaker, Alumni Relations can cover the per diem costs and Career Services can cover the cost of the books. A book signing event helps engage the student population as well as the alumni population.
Several of the attendants agreed that they find mentorships are very useful for forging that connection path between Alumni Relations and Career Services.
Michael talks about their “A Day in a Life” program. They bring together two or three high-level alums to share what they do and how they got to where they are today. These connections bring students and alumni together and can lead to job opportunities, internship opportunities, volunteer opportunities to serve on alumni boards, etc.
Reaching out to alumni who are career counselors or working in the HR field is a great idea because they are very enthusiastic to either host webinars, mentor students, one on one, mock interviewing sessions, etc for students. LiveAlumni has a pre-generated report that will pull this list for you instantly that Michael characterizes as a ”Gold Mine” or “Winning the Lottery”.
Email and Newsletter:
Michael creates a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of stories from the Media Relations Department, upcoming Alumni Relations events and communications from the President, etc. At the footer, he incorporates useful resources like the campus store or the registrar's office, etc
The more you can tailor your emails, the less you need to blast them out haphazardly. Minding the frequency of your email is important so as to not overwhelm you. Don’t worry if people unsubscribe, the people that are interested are going to continue to want to receive them. Another useful idea suggested is that in order to stand out in a sea of inbox emails, use emojis in the email’s subject line.
Engaging International Alumni
Being virtual is opening up a sea of events that international alumni could not previously attend. It's a great opportunity to curate information that is really specific to them, to help them create your community abroad for you. So they're engaged with you, and with each other, and talking about you with others. They are promoting your school for you abroad.
If you don’t engage your alumni, they won't think about coming back for continued education. Don’t miss out on that opportunity. It might be easier now that everyone is so much more comfortable with online meetings. Also, people engage with content on their own time, not necessarily at the event time, so being able to record and post an event online makes it accessible to anyone.
One attendant commented that they hit a quarter of a million graduate members in their alumni community this year so to celebrate that landmark they put funding from important corporate partners into a bursary program for alumni to give them the opportunity to come back for continuing education.
Covid forced many institutions to think fast and pivot in order to keep afloat. Today's attendants shared some of their ideas that were true “Wins.”
Small Business Directory
Small businesses often get put aside because prospectors are more focused on high-level corporate title holders. One person commented that they spun up a small business directory by using LiveAlumni to identify alumni that are self-identified as business founders and asked them to complete some information, submit logos, and made a directory. The directory includes promotional material and discount coupons. They got great feedback, the alumnus was thrilled to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Alumni zoom happy hours
This is another innovative idea that was suggested to engage alumni. They include a whole new population of alumni that have never been able to attend on-campus happy hours before.
How LiveAlumni can Help
Berkeley uses PeopleSoft, but, due to strict internal privacy rules, they do not import employment updates from LiveAlumni. Michael uses LiveAlumni for running employment reports independently from his database. He mentions how “genius” he feels to be able to pull detailed lists whilst in a board meeting for the president and chairman with information such as which alumni have JD’s, CPA’s, etc! The results are always much more accurate than anything they would find in their database. The group generally agrees that focusing engagement based on degree is just not accurate.
Another piece of great insight that Michael shares is that by finding out where your alumni are working today and tailoring your communications to them based on that industry, you will be a lot more successful at engaging them. If someone's working in tech today, regardless of what degree they received from you, you should be connecting with them based on where their current employment in the tech industry is.
Michael’s Pro Tips
A No-fee Alumni Association
Their Alumni Association is free to all alumni. They also offer lifetime career assistance. So an alum can always come back for career help free of charge. This is a great way to foster that ongoing relationship between the two departments.
Get involved with local Associations
Michael is involved with a Career Services Consortium as well as an Alumni Relations Association which includes all of his colleagues at all the colleges and universities in New Jersey. They meet to share resources which is beneficial, because, after all, everyone is sharing such similar challenges and experiences and there is a lot to learn from each other.
Want to watch more LiveAlumni Talks?
Michael is just one of many inspiring members of the LiveAlumni community who have been sharing their strategies. If you’d like to learn more you can (1) register to attend one of our future Talks or (2) watch recordings of past Talks.