Case study

Alumni engagement officer — Josh Papanicola

Experience gained during an internship year abroad enabled Josh to secure his first job after graduation, leading on to the job he does now

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a languages degree and being unsure of my career preference, I took up an internship as a database assistant within the Development and Alumni Relations office of a university.

I enjoyed the sector and the subject area, but not the data-centric internalised nature of the role. So, 18 months and one promotion later I applied for my current job, working in the same department but in an outward-facing alumni engagement role.

What's a typical working day like?

My work is very varied and can broadly be split into the management, development and delivery of our alumni events, volunteering and communications programmes.

A lot of my day-to-day activity is focussed on supporting the department's objectives and continually developing and improving the way the department operates.

The business school operates in a competitive environment and so maintains the highest standards. Because of this, I carry out a large amount of strategic work, ensuring we secure accreditations and that our programmes are ranked globally as high as possible.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy the most is that I get the opportunity to work with so many extremely generous volunteers who give up a lot of time to support today's students and their alma mater, which is truly inspirational.

What are the challenges in your role?

There are many well-documented funding pressures on higher education (HE) institutions and as such universities need the support of their alumni more than ever, so ours is a rapidly growing sector.

There is also the challenge of internationalisation, with universities becoming increasingly global in their outlook. There is a combined pressure to ensure we cater well for our alumni in the UK and also those around the world.

Is your degree relevant?

Not at all relevant, however one of the reasons I was successful in gaining the initial role as a database assistant in the alumni office was my previous experience. During my year abroad in Italy, I did an internship where I did a lot of work with relational databases, so I had prior experience of this already.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My clientele/target market, which is our alumni, is forever growing - meaning the role is continually expanding and the remit is getting larger.

My career ambition is potentially to move into and develop the philanthropy side of alumni relations, but my passion has always been sport, and I would also like to move into a role that helps me support success in this area.

What advice can you give others wanting to work in this role?

Research the sector well as it is still relatively young in the UK within HE, and look to the USA for examples of best practice. Keep in mind however, that each HE institution has its own unique history and graduate profile/demographic.

Volunteer for an organisation or institution to understand the important elements of a successful volunteer programme. Any experience in relationship management is ideal, but dealing with stakeholders who are giving their services philanthropically can be very different to those delivering contractually.

For a business development role in any sector, it's important to understand the need for continual improvement and to never get complacent, but always be setting new goals and seeking to better the position of your organisation.

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