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PlusFive: Stanford Career Education and Stanford Alumni Association team up to provide five years of post-grad career services

Virtual programs connect early-career alumni with more experienced alums from specific industries while individual coaching helps recent grads navigate the complexities of job searches.

In the year after earning her master’s degree in management, science and engineering, Clare Tandy, ’19, MS ’21, watched as her friends changed jobs and applied to graduate school, all while contemplating what her own next career move should be.

“It’s a point in time where you’ve been out in the workforce, had that first job after college,” Tandy said. “Now you’re figuring out what’s next. Do I stay? Do I go to a startup? Or do I go back to school? There’s a lot of change in your career that happens in those first five years after college.”

Tandy and her friends are not alone. To help graduates navigate the first years of their careers, Stanford has launched PlusFive: career services available to all alums in the first five years after graduation.

PlusFive, launched in June 2021, is a collaboration between the Stanford Alumni Association and Stanford Career Education, BEAM. It includes both career coaching and programs to help young alums network within specific industries. This year, PlusFive is running as a pilot program that was marketed to the Class of 2021, and it will be expanded next year.

Recent grads

Stanford Career Education and the Alumni Association have been researching the needs of recent graduates and have found that they primarily want help with job searches (including interview tips), career options, and connecting with other alums.

Career-focused support can be helpful to recent graduates in a wide range of situations.

“There are students who have just started their first jobs and are trying to navigate workplace dynamics,” said Theanne Thomson, director of Alumni Career Connections for the Stanford Alumni Association.

Many early-career alumni  – especially first-generation graduates – have questions about connecting with role models. Some find that their first job is not what they expected and are looking for a way to pivot. Others want to find ways to grow in their current job. Still others are trying to decide whether to go to graduate school.

“Once alumni have made that landing in the first five years, there’s often a transition,” said Laura Dominguez Chan, director of Career Communities at Stanford Career Education.

And some recent graduates may still be trying to land that first job.

“Some alumni are still looking for internships after graduation, which is normal and fine,” said Margot Gilliland, assistant director of Career Communities – Alumni for Stanford Career Education. Even before the pandemic, this was a common way for recent graduates to get short-term experience, and since some missed out on internship opportunities during the pandemic, it may be even more important now.

Industry connections

One part of this year’s pilot is a series of virtual programs focused on connecting early-career alumni with more experienced alums from specific industries.

“For example, if they’re working in the tech industry, maybe they want to connect with someone around product management: what it means to be a product manager and how someone might transition into that role,” said Michelle Moulton Badger, ’00, MA ’02, manager of alumni career engagement for the Stanford Alumni Association.

Each series has an industry panel, a networking skills workshop and a networking event. The first two series focused on the tech industry and healthcare. A series on arts and entertainment is coming in May.

To help clarify what next steps she should consider in her career, Tandy attended the tech industry panel.

“What I particularly liked was an opportunity to hear candid discussion from alumni about how their careers have been – what has worked and what hasn’t,” Tandy said. The format allowed her to hear an overview of several alums’ careers and then ask more detailed questions in breakout sessions. She followed up with a couple of the panelists afterward, connecting on LinkedIn.

“If you go to some random tech event, you’re not necessarily going to feel empowered to do that, but because there is that shared Stanford connection, it makes making that subsequent connection much easier,” Tandy said.

Facilitating connections with alumni is one of the program’s goals.

“We know from our research that our recent graduates often feel intimidated about reaching out to more established alumni,” Badger said. “We’re trying to figure out how to provide openings for recent graduates to reach out in ways that feel a little lower risk.”

For Tandy, the connections she has made through the PlusFive program have helped her see that “there’s no linear progression” required for a successful career. Instead, she said, “freedom and creativity enable you to not take a standard career path and still have confidence that it will probably work out.”

Individual coaching

The PlusFive program also offers career coaching services, both virtual and in person. The coaches, who are provided through Stanford Career Education, can help with the foundational elements of self-assessment, community building, job market analysis, and navigating the complexities of the job search.

For example, recent graduates may find it frustrating that employers often ask for one to three years of experience for an “entry-level” job, Gilliland said. A coach can help a graduate brainstorm all the types of experience they have – from internships and part-time jobs during college to coursework and volunteer work – to show employers they qualify.

Coaches can also help graduates navigate the challenges of the workplace, especially with the increase in remote work and with related factors such as accommodations, building community at work, and affiliating with professional associations.

Michelle Ly, ’21, is on a one-year fellowship through the Haas Center for Public Service working as a program manager for a company that provides technical assistance for departments of the California state government.

“It’s been really interesting being able to work on these huge projects, with the ultimate goal of having more agile government procurement,” Ly said.

During her fellowship, she has also been working with a coach at Stanford Career Education to figure out how to find mentors, both inside and outside her current company, and to decide what is most important to her.

“It does matter to me that the company I’m working at has a mission that I believe in,” said Ly, who is a first-generation college graduate. “My decision-making process is through talking it out, and I really appreciate other people’s input.”