Name: Shannon Cross
Current Job Title: Events and Programs Manager
Name of Organization: Office of Alumni Relations, University of Denver
Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Arts, History, Wake Forest University; Minor in Journalism
Graduate Degrees: Master of Science, Strategic Communication, University of Denver
What does your current position entail?
As the Events and Programs Manager at Alumni Relations, I plan DU events for our alumni including our affinity groups (GOLD -graduates of the last decade; our Prime Pioneers -graduates in their 30s and 40s; and our PALs group-DU graduates of 50+ years), while planning regional events for our chapter cities around the country. I'm also the alumni liaison for DU's Indigenous Alumni Affinity group and the LGBTIQA alumni group. Finally, I support DU's signature events (i.e. Founders Day, Homecoming, Pioneer Symposium, and Commencement) to name a few.
I always say I have one of the best jobs in the world, considering I get to chat about DU with fellow alumni who are passionate about the University at really fun events that I would want to attend regardless of my affiliation with Alumni Relations. I love hearing about the different experiences our alumni have had throughout their years at the University of Denver. Whether it is our PALs members that graduated in the 1940s or recent alum fresh out of undergrad, the diversity of experience and passion is so interesting to me.
How did you get your current position?
I moved to Denver to attend the Strategic Communication program at Media, Film and Journalism Studies in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS), and because of Colorado. In April of my first year of grad school, my faculty recommended I apply for the new Alumni Engagement and Events Coordinator position at the AHSS Dean's Office. It seemed like a great fit so I applied immediately and secured the position.
Immediately, I fell in love with alumni relations and event work at DU. I had an excellent team around me at the AHSS Dean's Office and felt very supported in my role to get creative with my work. When the role in the Office of Alumni Relations opened up, it felt like a seamless transition from my role in AHSS, from the basics of already knowing how to use our online systems to having solid relationships with a large chunk of our alumni and having experience with event planning and engagement for our DU alumni.
The interview process for my current role was probably the most difficult waiting period I've had to endure to date, because I had my heart absolutely set on this job. I couldn't have been happier when I got the offer.
In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?
I think, in many ways, I unofficially started the job search when I was applying to grad school. I wanted to move to a city that I could see myself staying in after graduation. I wanted to use the connections I made in grad school to find a job post-graduation.
Officially, I began seriously networking within DU during the second year of my Master's program. I talked to everyone I could about their experience working at DU. I specifically targeted those working in Alumni Relations, whether within the central office or within the individual units. I started the interview process for my position in April and had the job by the end of the month.
In regards to the job search process:
* Did anything surprise you?
I graduated with my Bachelors in 2008 during the worse fiscal crisis in decades, so this was not my first trip around the merry-go-round! This time, I felt the job search was less intimidating because I'd applied to many positions and had gone on many interviews since graduating in 2008. The main difference this time was that I wouldn't have been happy with just any job. Having a Master's degree from a prestigious school like DU gave me the ability to be a bit pickier than I had been in the past.
* What recommendations do you have for current students?
First, network, network and network some more. I know students are sick of hearing this, but it is truly the best way in the door! Knowing someone alone won't get you the job - your credentials, personality and if you're the best fit for the job will do that - but it will get your resume off the stack of hundreds of resumes. I asked 6 different people at DU to send a recommendation in to the Alumni Relations hiring committee talking about their direct experience working with me. You need to be careful with this, because insincere or excessive letters can backfire, but my recommendations talked sincerely about my strengths.
Second, go on informational interviews. Ask people you meet and respect for informational interviews. Ask them out to coffee to talk about themselves and their work. The key here is to be generally interested and ask them pertinent questions, not to ask for a job. And do this early – well before you start applying for jobs.
Third, get internships. Try getting an internship in the field you are interested in before applying for permanent jobs. Before I fully committed to public relations, I took a position as a legal assistant at a law firm quickly realizing law was not for me.
Finally, volunteer. If all else fails and you can't get an internship or job, volunteer for an organization you care about. While I was unemployed in Chicago, I did volunteer PR for a no-kill animal shelter. I felt great giving back to an organization close to my heart and I was actually building up my resume in between jobs.
What's the strangest interview question you were ever asked? How did you respond?
I've been lucky to avoid the overly strange interview questions, but the ones I'm always wary of are the negative questions – like "what do you dislike about working in events?" I never fall into this trap. No one wants to hear you complain in an interview!
Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?
My public relations and communication background has been essential in promoting events to our constituents. My interpersonal skills and interest in talking to all kinds of people has helped me greatly in working with our alumni groups and chatting with alumni at events. My organizational skills perfected during a few years working as an executive assistant out of college taught me to manage my time and projects effectively, even in borderline chaos.
If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?
I am very happy with my time as a Strat Comm grad student at MFJS. I'm very thankful to my faculty advisor Nadia Kaneva for her complete dedication to her students and making us the best communicators we could be – despite our bickering (sometimes!).