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The Alumni
In this issue's Alumni section:
Ocean, in 1.5 Million Gallons or Less - Career Connections - Public Honors - Vox Populi - Comings and Goings - Changing Classrooms - Yesterday's News

For more alumni web resources, check out Harvard Gateways, the Harvard Alumni Association's website

Career Connections

It's often said, usually by dejected applicants, that success depends more on who you know than what you know. It follows then that what every job seeker should know is who to know. To this end, the Harvard Alumni Association offers a program, launched in May 1997, called Professional Connection--a referral service for alumni seeking advice about working in a particular professional field.

At the heart of Professional Connection is a searchable database of alumni--more than 12,000 of them--who are available to talk about their careers. Eager to expand the service and streamline operations, the HAA hired Alvin Williams last January as program coordinator. He and Terry Shaller, senior associate director at the HAA, are now overseeing an appeal to 20,000 graduates. Since most requests in the past year sought contacts in investment banking, television, film, and biotechnology, Shaller and Williams are targeting alumni in those fields. They hope to recruit an additional 8,000 participants, and would like eventually to have a pool of 20,000 to 25,000 alumni advisers to draw on.

Though he's executed nearly 200 search requests in the past year, Williams feels the program is ready for much more activity. He has transferred all information to a faster, more flexible database, and says most searches now take only about 10 minutes. To stay current, the database automatically checks its files against those in the Alumni Record Office weekly.

In the scant year that Professional Connection has been in full operation, the service has had its share of unlikely success stories. Take the woman who called looking for contacts in investment banking. "She was calling from Vermont," Williams remembers. "My first question was, 'Are you going to move?'" No, came the answer, so Williams called up the data and confirmed his suspicion that no Vermont-based investment banker had signed up as an adviser. But he found he had spoken too soon. "The next day somebody in investment banking in Vermont sent in a survey, and we put them in contact. The woman called me the day after to say that she'd been offered a job."

Shaller emphasizes, however, that the Professional Connection is not an employment service: users can't expect recommendations or job placement from their advisers, but they can expect to hear what it's like to be in a particular industry, or what employment opportunities are in a given locale.

Williams says that many of the inquiries he handles are informational only, making him a career counselor of sorts. "Part of my job is to educate alumni on how to approach advisers, how to network," he says. "Sometimes we don't necessarily do searches. Alumni often call in looking for guidance. Usually they already know what steps to take, but they like to be told officially that they are good things to do." Whether callers are actually seeking contacts or not, Williams says his mission "is to give the alumni what they need, even if what they need is to be told to go somewhere else."

Current students at the University can use Professional Connection for free. Alumni are charged $25 per search for up to 15 contacts, but will not be charged should their search yield fewer than six names. Interested alumni can volunteer as advisers or submit a search request via the Internet at "http://www.haa.harvard.edu/procon/html/jcareers.html". For more information, contact Alvin Williams by telephone at (800)422-1636 or by e-mail at "[email protected]" or "[email protected]".

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