By Kelsey Hilmes, Guest Writer
Being a part of the Pacific Lutheran University community can feel like a game of missed connections. With so many Lute alumni, current and former faculty and professional relationships connecting PLU students to the rest of the world, a strong network can seem close but unreachable.
There is a lot of emphasis being put on the importance of networking and mentorship in building a career. The old business mantra “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings more true than ever in our highly connected digital world.
And yet, despite networking’s importance, hunting down alumni has been an incredibly daunting process. To learn their names, you’d have to go through a professor or search the depths of LinkedIn, assuming you knew what you were looking for.
Lutelink, a new program of Career Connections, seeks to resolve that problem. The new program is an online catalog of alumni who have agreed to make themselves available to be contacted by students.
The service functions as a search engine where you can find alumni based on their field of work, job function, major at PLU, industry and location.
“The general idea is to find alumni who want to be career advisors for PLU students and other alums who might be looking for career advice,” Catherine Swearingen, director of Career Connections, said.
Some of the opportunities alumni can offer through this service are informational interviews, job shadows, and internships. They can talk to students about a variety of topics ranging from the first generation college student experience to gender and women’s issues in the workplace.
Swearingen said LuteLink has been about two years in the making through a joint effort of Career Connections, the Alumni Office and the Development Office.
Last June, President Krise sent out a letter announcing the program, and in July the Alumni Office dispersed an email to recruit alumni volunteers.
Originally, Career Connections hoped to recruit 200 alumni to the program, thinking that would be a good number to start with. Just a few months after sending out a request, they have almost 1,400 alumni involved.
“PLU alums really want to help PLU students,” Swearingen said with a smile. “It’s just fantastic; it’s surpassed everything we were hoping for.”
Students can start using the program when they decide they would like to start connecting with alums and build a professional network. When they log onto the Career Connections Opportunity Board, they can follow the link to LuteLink, where they can search the listings of alumni and learn a little bit about their careers.
They can then click a link to send a message to the alum. The contact information of each alumnus is kept private, and is sent directly through the website. Alums then have the opportunity to return the student’s message and make a plan to connect. Students are allowed to contact up to ten alumni each month.
“We’re taking it very seriously, these are people who have volunteered to help students, so we want to make sure we manage it so that it works best for the students and so that alumni don’t feel like they’re being over used,” Swearingen said.
Because the program is so new, Career Connections doesn’t have any data on who is using the program yet. However, they can tell that students are starting to take notice and reach out to alumni through LuteLink.
Networking is vital to careers, Swearingen said, because people are more willing to trust hiring a job candidate that a colleague refers to them. Simply put, networking helps you to find job openings and increases your chances of being asked to fill them.
“It’s been that missing next step that we didn’t have here,” Swearingen said. “We can get you the greatest resume, the greatest cover letter, you can nail your mock interviews, but we didn’t have any way to help you with networking. This fills that void.”