Soapbox

July 28, 2013 11:39 pm

MBA career centres are behind the times

New technology has made the old job-search paradigm of ‘selling yourself’ obsolete

It is time for business school career centres to adjust to the new reality of Millennials, or Generation Y.

To illustrate why, consider the difference between buying and installing technology today versus 20 years ago. Manuals from decades ago were often large and indecipherable. Ultimately, trial-and-error proved to be more efficient than reviewing the manuals, positively reinforcing the “figure it out yourself” behaviour for an entire generation. Millennials, however, have grown up with access to effective instructions for everything. A how-to video or quick-start guide has always been just a click away. For them, looking up instructions is a matter of efficiency.

Business school career centres should take note and evolve along with their audience and the times by making their own teaching more short-and-sweet, step-by-step and directive. The current practice of offering MBAs tips rather than instructions is an outdated and harmful approach.

It’s understandable that Millennial MBAs are frustrated by the career education offerings of their business schools. Imperfect but functional “quick-start” solutions to the job search are ignored in favour of a more academic approach. MBAs are taught exhaustive lists of job-search tips, but expected to curate these tips themselves into a customised plan of attack for the job search.

That is the wrong approach. Given unlimited time, MBAs could curate such a plan of attack, but career centres are far better qualified and resourced to translate those tips into a usable format. However, most resist doing so and remain wedded to non-committal information-sharing rather than solution-building.

I believe career centres have a moral obligation to change. While the job-search process has been transformed quickly and dramatically, career centres have not kept up. Sure, they have added tips for using online services such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com, Facebook, and Twitter, but they have not realised that these very technologies have made the old job-search paradigm of “selling yourself” obsolete.

On a daily basis, individuals are bombarded by sales messages emanating from televisions, billboards, computer screens and mobile phones, not to mention friends and family. Consequently, the average person has little appetite for a jobs pitch from a stranger, regardless of how snappy their approach is. The job search today is no longer about “standing out in a crowd” of applicants, but about securing advocacy before a job is even posted.

Technology (via online job postings, specifically) has made the job search so efficient it has broken the system entirely. Applying for jobs used to take time, effort and money. Today, online job postings mean that hundreds of applicants (qualified or not) can now overwhelm a job posting overnight.

Hiring managers do not want hundreds of CVs, however. They want to get back to work hitting sales targets as quickly as possible, so they are incentivised to find a “good enough” candidate quickly, not a perfect candidate slowly. Therefore, they will turn to internal referrals whenever possible, narrowing the candidate pool only to a pre-endorsed handful, increasing their speed and reducing their own decision anxiety in the process.

The challenge posed by the modern job search is to acquire those internal referrals as efficiently and effectively as possible. Networking is one way of acquiring these internal referrals. Although it is not a fast process, it does steadily improve a student’s chances over time, which applying to online job postings does not. Networking is a challenging endeavour for most. It features ambiguous constraints, conflicting information and unpredictable personalities – in other words, it is a near-perfect proxy for an MBA-level job. How well a jobseeker builds efficacy at that task is directly proportional to their likely success in the workplace.

Career centres are not responsible for removing all ambiguity from the job search for MBAs but they are responsible for teaching networking effectively. Admittedly, there is no consensus for how to do this, but tip-sharing has proved ineffective for those who are not charismatic. Without a viable process with which to tackle networking, less charismatic (as well as more desperate) job-seekers will retreat to the ineffective online posting status quo. Career centres know this to be true so, ethically, they must innovate in response.

Career centres have a duty to prepare job-seeking MBAs not just for their in-school job search, but for all subsequent career searches as well. Technology is critical but it should be curated conscientiously. “More” and “new” online references should only be introduced if they offer a clear advantage over existing resources. “Right tech” should be emphasised over “high tech” whenever possible to minimise learning time. Most importantly, career professionals should incorporate a first-person approach as frequently as possible – “What exactly would I do if I were in my student’s shoes?”

Therein lies the path forward for career services, towards solutions and away from non-committal tips. One career coach’s job-search solution may not work for everyone, but it will help job-seekers gain traction by giving them a credible sample solution. If this does not work for the job-seekers, it will at least inspire (or incite) them to create their own superior one.

The writer is author of ‘The 2-Hour Job Search’ and a Career Management Center director at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

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