January 28, 2013 12:11 am

Careers advice: The next step

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When you invest up to six figures in an education you expect – and need – a good job off the back of it. “After your MBA, the question isn’t just finding a job but finding the right job, the right company and the right position for you,” says Sangeeta Agrawal, a graduate of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in 2012. The comment underlines the importance to students of an effective careers service.

“In general, there are two different models of career service”, explains Mark Peterson, president of the MBA Career Services Council, the US-based organisation that compiles data from business school careers offices. “The first is arguably better for the schools’ statistics.” Here the career service operates rather like an estate agent, marketing students to recruiters. “The second works towards developing career pathing methods” – teaching the students to fish for themselves. Julie Morton, associate dean of career services at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, explains there are two corresponding “buckets” of staff in her department. “We have 11 people in the employer-facing team. These are the hunters and gatherers who develop and maintain our relationships with firms.” A second team at Booth “do the coaching and guidance” throughout the year.

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The general timeline for careers departments is roughly similar in most schools. Before students arrive on ­campus, a self-assessment exercise aligns their skills and interests with career paths. At the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, staff speak to around 20 per cent of incoming students before they arrive. “Early on we want people thinking about what they really want to do, what they’re passionate about,” says Jonathan Masland, director of Tuck’s Career Development Office. Some schools also run boot camps before classes begin, providing an intensive run-through of the recruitment processes and opportunities in popular sectors, such as the Finance and Investment Banking boot camp at Insead.

Next students move on to “strategy” and “communicating their personal brand”. In the first term, lectures and workshops explain the recruitment process, and correspondence and networking begin. Corporate visits can be as formal as a plenary session or as informal as Tuck’s strategy of ordering wine, hiring a sommelier and inviting a group of investment bankers to visit, while career coaches circulate.

“In-the-moment feedback is more effective than anything after the event, so our career service staff watch ­students and, if necessary, take them aside with pointers,” says Morton at Chicago Booth. By Christmas, preparations have begun for January’s on-­campus interviews.

The emphasis on internships is the first thing that differentiates European and north American MBAs. A Financial Times survey of alumni shows that 83 per cent of MBA students in the US, Canada and Mexico completed a summer internship as part of their programme. Of these, 60 per cent were offered a job and 56 per cent accepted. Compare this with Europe, where only 50 per cent of students complete an internship, half of them receive a job offer and 42 per cent accept.

Yet Derek Walker, director of careers at Oxford Saïd, insists that US and European schools are much the same: “We differ in the same way that a Mercedes and a BMW differ.” The main distinction is that European schools cater to a more international student body with diverse needs and target employers around the world.

But US schools cater to international students too. “We hired Mathias Machado [as an associate director] at Tuck’s careers department because he grew up in Germany, lived in Latin America and is a Tuck alumnus. So he knows all about being an international student and runs workshops for international students on networking and customs”, says Masland.

Tuck also has a coach who prepares students if English is not their first language. “We tape mock interviews which are reviewed by the language instructor. It helps get rid of some of the anxiety,” says Masland.

With more overseas students and widely spread alumni, European schools can face greater challenges in terms of drawing on past graduates to assist students and help with future job searches. Walker says that at Oxford Saïd, “it’s not a cultural problem but one of logistics”.

At Chicago Booth, Morton says: “This is a careers service for life. With alumni we work on the same things but it’s more about packaging the transition, taking the relationships from the previous job, helping them move into new roles, assisting them with compensation negotiations and if they’ve been laid off, positioning that.”

Walker at Saïd identifies a second difference between the continents: “The MBA is an American product and most US employers are used to dealing with the MBA routine as a major source of talent.” Saïd has about 40 companies visiting campus while Tuck has more than 100. US schools set a time for recruiters to visit, while Saïd works with employers’ differing cycles. Recruiters outside the US tend to view MBA students as experienced candidates for specific vacancies, rather than running an MBA-specific recruitment programme.

But here too there is convergence as some US schools are turning to off-campus recruiting. At Tuck, October is dedicated to off-campus job searches. Masland explains: “This year we have changed things, as opportunities for entrepreneurship, sustainability and non-profit type jobs were getting drowned out by larger companies that have more resources to communicate with MBA schools.”

Continental comparisons aside, MBA schools have developed some innovative services. Harvard has selected, trained and paid 42 professionals around the world with varied experience to act as coaches. Doruk Kurt, a current student, explains: “We have face-to-face sessions or Skype them, and there is also a ‘coach on call’ if there is anything urgent.”

The students themselves also invest in the careers department. At Booth, they attend “mocktail parties” during the second year, where they play the role of recruiter as the fledglings practice networking. One Harvard student, Kelly Schaefer, talks about “free lunch month” when first-year students invite second-year colleagues for lunch, subsidised by the careers department, to discuss summer internships and prior work experience. Students also organise company visits through their various clubs. Philip Aiken, also at Harvard, explains: “At technology club, we made a list of companies and used alumni and networking to set up meetings there. It’s an opportunity for us to visit, to learn about the company and what they’re looking for.”

With staff, alumni and students combining efforts, there is no lack of focus on the careers search – though balancing this with a challenging academic programme and extracurricular activities is another matter.

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Independent advice

Beyond the traditional business school careers office, there is an increasing range of independent services and tools available to MBA students planning their next move.

Career Leader is an online assessment tool. “It measures your interests, motivations and skills, says co-founder James Waldroop. Students are asked, for instance, how much they would enjoy designing a bridge or to choose between different motivational factors such as remuneration and intellectual challenge. Waldroop and his partner Tim Butler have both worked on Harvard Business School’s career development programme and used empirical research to develop algorithms that steer students towards careers that suit them.

Training the Street provides financial coaching for interviews and internships at more than 50 business schools. Scott Rostan, its founder, worked in M&A at Merrill Lynch and has recruited other ex-practitioners on to his team. “The thesis was to bring a practical spin to applied corporate finance,” he says. One of the most popular courses covers financial modelling, looking at best practices, financial statements and constructing models. “Unlike many classes at schools, what we do is very practical,” says Rostan of the service, which uses a combination of practical illustrations, group work, computer exercises and short lectures.

MBACASE helps students crack the case interview, in which applicants are presented with a business problem with related data and charts. Though traditionally used by management consultancies, recruiters in other sectors are increasingly using this type of assessment. “It used to be consulting clubs at MBA schools that called me in to run workshops but now the career services themselves are approaching me as their entire student body needs to be ready for cases,” says founder David Ohrvall. His company runs sessions at some 45 business schools every year teaching the “CLASSIC” format – focused on communication, logic, analysis, social skills, integration and creativity, with a heavy emphasis on problem solving and analytics.

Ease Inc helps students develop networking skills. Ann Marie Sabath, who runs the interactive workshops, talks through techniques for entering conversations, introducing others and “unloading a bore”. She also provides some less obvious tips: “It’s always important to send a note to anyone who speaks to you at a party – that’s how you convert that connection into a relationship.”

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