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Finding a Job

On the MBA Job Hunt with Fuqua's Sheryle Dirks

Internship hunting season is in full swing on most MBA campuses, with students looking to secure the coveted summer internship they hope will lead to a full-time job. Although it is still early, all indicators point to a healthy hiring season, both for MBA internships and full-time hires. According to the latest Graduate Management Admission Council’s corporate recruiters survey, 74 percent of companies polled plan to hire MBAs in 2012, up from 57 percent last year, and more than 20 percent of companies plan to increase the number of internships they offer this year over last.

At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, those predictions are proving true thus far. Recruiting activity is up 5 percent to 11 percent in most industries, according to preliminary data, with such fields as consulting and technology proving to be especially robust, says Sheryle Dirks, who is associate dean for career management. Even though hiring is on the uptick, the way companies are hiring MBA students is starting to shift, Dirks says. In addition to the traditional on-campus interviewing process, companies are seeking to diversify how they identify and hire talent, she says. For example, she explains, many are now looking to hire B-school students through job postings, company events, or larger school job fairs or conferences. In an increasingly competitive MBA job market, she feels this can make the job search a bit more challenging for students.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Alison Damast recently spoke with Dirks about how students still looking for jobs and internships should approach their job hunts and how the recruiting season is shaping up on campus. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:

The buzz on most business school campuses this year is that things continue to look good on the job front. How would you describe overall recruiting activity this year compared with last year’s?

It was a busy fall. I would definitely say activity is up at this time compared with last year, but it is still a moderate increase, and I think that is actually a good thing. That is quite honestly the kind of increase we are looking for, because sometimes when there is an enormous spike in activity, it is not sustainable over time.

Typically, companies begin hiring summer interns when students return from winter break, but it seems like some companies are trying to get a head start on internship hiring. Are you seeing more of them deviate from the traditional recruiting schedule?

In some sectors, certain companies are looking to lock down students early. Some companies do things like boot camps before business school even starts in the fall and are really proactively recruiting at affinity conferences. So yes, some companies are getting out there earlier than ever before and looking to manage their yield on students, and certainly that is a good indicator. We have compared notes with others at top business schools and have seen a number of situations where companies are trying to get out of the gate as early as possible, and many of them have made a good number of internship offers.

Should students be concerned if they are still in the process of interviewing for internships and haven’t yet received an offer?

We have had fewer than two weeks of interviews, and students are already saying, “Oh well, a lot of my classmates have jobs.” It is a very visible process, and it feels a little bit like a fishbowl. It is sometimes easy to look around at things and say, “Everyone has a job.” The reality is year in and year out, March and April seem to be the months most students receive and accept offers. So yes, there is some very visible early activity, but the reality is that the process continues for many students well into the spring, and for some, even into the summer.

A few schools we spoke with a few weeks ago, including the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said investment banking recruiting is slowing down this year. Is this something you’re seeing on your campus?

Investment banking is down, and the number of students who went to work on Wall Street this year was down slightly. Typically, we have 75 to 100 students attend our Week on Wall Street event. This year, it was more like 65, and those slightly smaller numbers have followed through. I think the message from the banking world is really clear. The spots are limited, and for those not really 100 percent convinced up front that they want [a career in investment banking], it looks like a very small pool to swim in. We’ve also seen this on the internship side. The number of students who submitted a resume to be considered for investment banks is down 15 percent to 20 percent.

On the flip side, what are some of the industries experiencing growth and hiring more students this year?

Consulting is really active at Fuqua right now, and that is one area in particular where there are just an awful lot of students at any given consulting-focused activity or event. Another one that is up for us is technology, and we’ve had a number of students going to larger premium technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. Those kinds of companies have higher numbers than we’ve had in years. We have seen, not a huge spike, but a spike in interest in corporate-focused finance roles, and that is great. I remember days when companies hiring for corporate finance positions were kind of a fallback position to investment banking. I think because of the environment, folks are seeing more of the viability of the corporate finance path.

Any advice you can offer second-year students who weren’t able to land a job this fall and are still looking?

The first thing I would say is to try to relax. I know it is a hard thing to do and is easier said than done, but there are good jobs out there. At Fuqua, for example, we participate in five to six different events in the spring that are genuinely multi-school events. We partner together with other schools, and they all have full-time job opportunities in those spring events. They should also leverage the alumni networks, go out and do professional activities that allow you to meet with people beyond our own alumni, and keep in touch with people you knew and had relationships with before you came to business school. Most importantly, they need to keep in mind there is no magic bell that goes off just because you graduated. It is far more important to find a good job–and a good job that is right for you–than to say, “I have a job,” and then, in three or six months, be looking to make another transition because it was a bad fit or you got laid off.

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