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Fiona Sandford is director of career services at London Business School. She has extensive experience in graduate careers and recruitment and most recently held the position of director of careers at the London School of Economics for eight years.
Ms Sandford’s priorities in her role are to support the work done by faculty to train and develop students and developing career opportunities for students and alumni. She is also a founder, trustee and chair of the Jeans for Genes campaign, which raises funds for research into genetic disorders.
In her spare time, Ms Sandford enjoys running, dancing, gardening and playing tennis.
1. Who are your business heroes?
I love to watch LBS professor Lynda Gratton work a room – she is a networker par excellence and she has a particular way of engaging an audience with her work, explaining her research clearly without losing its complexity.
My first mentor was Sir Christopher Mallaby, formerly the British Ambassador to France, who I worked with on a charity board. He taught me how to run a board and how to get the answers to difficult questions by addressing tricky issues directly, in a non-threatening way.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Students’ career development is at the heart of business schools, more so than in traditional universities. That means that we have the resources to work intensively with students and not just offer a generic service. Being able to support individual students through the job search process and play a part in helping them find their dream job is a great privilege.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
Never say yes to anything in a corridor. This was the mantra of the headmistress of one of my daughter’s schools. Taking time to sit down and hear all of the arguments and points of view will lead to much better decision-making.
4. What advice would you give to women applying to business school?
Be yourself and don’t follow the crowd. Invest some time thinking not just about what you could do, but about what will give you the most satisfaction over your working life. At business school you will get a once in a lifetime opportunity to do some self-evaluation through organisational behaviour modules. Great leaders have great self-knowledge and understanding your strengths is the key to success.
5. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
My generation of women was encouraged to settle down and have our babies early – which I certainly don’t regret. However, I watch the investment that our students (and my daughters) make in their twenties and thirties and see how much they are future proofing their careers. So if I had my time again I’d find a way to complete that PhD!
6. How do you deal with male dominated environments?
The senior management team at London Business School is female dominated, so it’s currently not an issue. However, I have sat on boards that were predominately male. In my experience, it is often easier to get your voice heard if your challenge is gentle but assertive, rather than aggressive and strident.
7. What is the last book you read?
I’ve just finished Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel, a great reminder that in our past leaders paid a very high price for any errors of leadership, often with their lives and of the importance of keeping an eye on the politics of an organisation and of managing up!
8. What is your favourite business book?
LBS’s Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones’s book: Why should anyone be led by you? What it takes to be an authentic leader. We are very interested in the concept of authenticity at LBS. Recent research by Professor Dan Cable showed that candour is the best approach MBA job-seekers can take when interviewing and that misrepresentation often backfires in the workplace and leads to much lower levels of satisfaction and success.
9. What is your life philosophy?
The older I get the more I focus on ‘just do it’. As career services has developed there has been a tendency to over complicate our work and for over-engineered processes to get in the way of the simple two pronged approach of preparing students to put their best foot forward.
10. What are your future plans?
We are working on a new model for integrating soft skills development with coaching, experiential learning, career preparation and with faculty-led teaching and research. It’s very exciting and I think it will be a new model for business education, producing graduates who are market ready (often called ‘plug and play’) and able to have a profound impact on the way the world does business.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke
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