On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 students and 40 UConn alumni and employers gathered for the first annual university-wide professional development conference for seniors.
The day was filled with job-seeking strategy sessions, employer panel discussions and practice networking events meant to prepare seniors for the difficult job market.
Hosted by the Department of Career Services with support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the conference focused on the practical actions students should take to make themselves stand out in the job market.
“The resume critiques that Career Services does throughout the year are really valuable,” said actuarial science major Emily Robinson, who hopes to find a job in insurance. “But today we’re getting to interact in an actual networking setting. It’s beyond helpful.”
Because the employers are UConn alumni, she says, she and her fellow students could relate to them, which helped to boost their self-assurance in situations where they had to strike up conversations with strangers.
The day also included fifty-minute strategy sessions on such topics as developing a professional online presence, learning to talk freely about yourself in an interview, navigating career fairs and exploring entrepreneurship.
Kalsum Lalani, a communication major and psychology minor, said she got the most out of the sessions that showed her how to identify and talk about the transferable skills she’s gained within her liberal arts and sciences degree.
“It was really great because it teaches you how to showcase your major, and showcase yourself,” no matter what your major is, she said.
During a half-hour-long practice networking session, students and alumni conversed in a timetable similar to speed-dating, with less than ten minutes of chatting with any particular group. The conference organizers gave each student 25 individualized business cards to use in the session and in their job search.
Caitlin Trinh, director of Alumni Relations for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and one of the organizers, noted that networking can sometimes feel as awkward as a middle-school dance.
“You want the interaction to be genuine,” she told the crowd. “If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. Simply being yourself will take you a long way.”
Alumni also took part in four separate panel discussions, focused on careers in communications, business, human resources and nonprofit management. Jennifer Rykowski, corporate recruiter at Ticketnetwork in South Windsor, said that she was very impressed with the UConn students.
“It’s clear the students here have done their research, instead of asking only about what we do,” she said. “The students are polished, and they will leave this event having overcome some of their fears. They’ll go out into the market with more confidence.”
Lt. Colonel Craig Wonson, a Marine Corps fellow at Yale and a 1992 UConn graduate who works regularly with non-governmental organizations and the State Department, agreed that the event was a confidence-builder.
“You’ll get all the core academics you need at UConn. But past that, we’re looking for good leaders,” he said.
Robinson said that she will definitely recommend the conference to underclassmen.
“I would 100 percent recommend it,” she said. “Especially for people who haven’t decided on a major yet or who want to know how to market themselves, this is a great experience.”