Careers Q&A August 26, 2008, 5:14PM EST

How Minnesota B-School Handles Career Placement

The interim director of the Carlson School of Management's career center talks about ways the university helps MBAs find jobs

Ann Lowry is the interim director of the Graduate Business Career Center at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, taking on the role in mid-2008. She is also the director of leadership development and career coaching. She had previously been a consultant at Carlson for six years, as well as serving as chairwoman of the communication studies department at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul for 19 years. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a PhD from the University of Minnesota in strategic management and communication studies.

In her new role, Lowry says she is working to create a stronger emphasis on teamwork and leadership building. One of the strengths of Carlson's MBA program is Carlson School Enterprises, whose students can choose from five different business fields and create projects for outside companies, which allows the students to work hands-on in their fields.

Lowry also says that Carlson's location in the Twin Cities, home to nearly a score of Fortune 500 companies, is advantageous for students seeking to get a foot in the business door. While the economy has affected many other job sectors, employment among recent Carlson graduates has remained about the same as last year, if not slightly better.

Lowry spoke with BusinessWeek's Andrea Castillo about career placement services at Carlson and preparing MBA students to enter the job market. An edited transcript of their interview follows.

What services are available for students at the career center to help them get started on their job search?

We have a lot of services available to students. There are the services related to career coaching, so there's help with résumé writing and résumé review, and we have many different workshops for interviewing. We do mock interviews with students, and we have workshops on everything from dining etiquette to responding to impromptu questions in an interview or making your position statement clear to negotiating a job offer. So we have a lot of different workshops that students can take. They have pretty much unlimited access to coaches to come in anytime to do career counseling.

We also have CareerLeader, where students can go online and do an assessment of what their career interests are. And we're putting more focus on leadership development, as well as on teaming and collaboration initiatives. We've got a person in our area whose job specifically involves leadership development and team collaboration. All the students in the MBA programs work in teams, so there's a lot of focus on collaboration and learning on how to be a team person. That's the coaching side of it.

On the other side of it, of course, we have all the resources for students. An online system lets students upload résumés and have their résumés reviewed by recruiters and employers. We have an alumni database—that's one of the things about the University of Minnesota and Carlson School, specifically—we have a huge alumni network. Alumni are very involved in working with students, as they get ready to finish their MBAs, to help with job hunting, job finding—that sort of thing.

Students do internships after their first year. We've started to work with them in their first year securing an internship for the next summer, and our internship success placement rate is very high. We also have what are called Carlson School Enterprises. Students can pick from five different enterprises: the funds enterprise, the consulting enterprise, the brand enterprise, the venture enterprise, and the new MILI, which is the medical industry leadership enterprise. These enterprises are sort of like a class, but students are doing real projects for real customers and real clients. It's excellent experience for them.

We also have a volunteer experience program. If students want, they can choose to do some volunteer experiences, which also add to their experience base. We're trying to do a 360—cover all of our bases—on getting them curricular as well as co-curricular activities.

Have there been any changes or improvements to the career center recently?

We're doing more with leadership development in teaming and collaboration. My background with the school was really working in teaming and collaboration and on leadership, so my being in the career center really makes that much more seamless. Students can see how leadership development and teaming really fit into their career and finding a job. Also, we are always striving to keep adding value to what we have in place, to our program. In addition to leadership and team stuff, we're continuing to look for ideas for workshops and programming, anything that's going to add value to what we currently have for our students.

Has the economy affected the internship or job offers the students are getting?

We're really fortunate in that our numbers are tracking at least as good, if not even a little better than last year's. So I think what we've been doing is on the right track. We have an excellent business development office that works with employers and potential employers and always keeps new employers coming in. I think the fact that we're a top-notch program makes us somewhat—knock on wood—recession-proof. You never can tell, but it looks like this year is really stable for us.

What are some of the strengths of the MBA program at Carlson? What helps students stand out in the job market?

One is the alumni network we have in the Twin Cities. We have 19 Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities, and many of our alums work there. They're very involved in helping students get jobs, and they're very helpful with the business development side and getting recruiters and employers. We have a brand-new building and state-of-the-art technology. We have 19 interview rooms and a wonderful recruiter lounge where recruiters can take a bit of a break during the day. We're trying to keep all of our facilities updated, as well as current technology. We started a new thing this year with our full-time programs: Before students even come on campus, they have to complete an emotional intelligence assessment, as well as a Myers-Briggs assessment. By the time they get here for orientation, we already have an emotional intelligence assessment of them. We have a copy of a résumé for them, almost a final résumé for some of them, and we have a Myers-Briggs-type indicator for them, so we know them really, really well when they come in. I think that always has been an important part of how personalized our program is.

I would say, from working at another institution before I got here, my first impression here was, "Wow, I can see a huge difference in the quality of the product that's put out,". A lot of it has to do with the fact that we just are so careful at working with the students before they get in the door. By the time they've been here for two years, they're ready to go.

What should MBA students keep in mind during the job application process?

The best advice I could give would be to recognize that finding a job isn't just finding a job. It's really about going through a career experience—that's what we're starting to call it here. You need to be a lot more strategic. You need to be a lot more thoughtful about how you approach it, and you need to expect that it's going to take some time. So we're telling our new MBAs coming in that they can expect this to be similar to a job—if not a full-time job, at least a part-time job, in that they need to start early and begin their networking, the résumé reviews, and the workshop. If they think long-run, even in a good economy, that's good. You want students to have the right fit and be prepared and get the most out of their education—to think of it as a more strategic process than just "I'm going to go to the college Web site and find the job that I want and throw my résumé out there." We definitely want students to see it as a much more complex process. And they're responding very well.

Do you see any new trends in the way students are searching for jobs?

Certainly a lot more use of the Internet—there's no denying that. But also, our students are using a lot more of the network connections. That's why the alumni network is so strong. Networking, whether it's in-person networking or through LinkedIn or a social network that's online, they're using it. It's good to embrace that technology and use it to your advantage.

What are some of the more popular industries and companies that MBAs from Carlson find jobs in?

3M (MMM) is a big one for us. Cargillis a big one. Deloitte. Target (TGT) has its headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. We had quite a few at Sears (SHLD). We're trying to build more business in the future in medical health care. We have a huge health-care industry in the Twin Cities, especially in medical devices. The companies tend to be small to midsize—with the exception, of course, of Medtronic (MDT) and St. Jude Medical (STJ). But there's a huge number of medical industry businesses, too; as a baby boomer, I can tell you we're going to be using those services more. That's probably a pretty recession-proof industry, so we're going to be doing more work in that.

More and more students are interested in companies that are ecofriendly and sustainable, and we are talking more to our companies and recruiters about that. We're also getting more students interested in nonprofit management.

Why do you think students are becoming more interested in nonprofit companies?

It's the Millennial generation. If you look at the statistics about who they are and what they value, [nonprofit careers] are more important to them than for the generation before. So if we're looking at a lot of MBAs in traditional programs, we're going to see people in the 24-to-30-year-old range who are right on the cusp with the Millennials. I think it's the generational thing that's important. Of course, they've grown up in a time when the environment has been a huge issue, so that's the sustainability part.

The Millennials want to have a balanced life. A lot of them aren't necessarily interested in working at for-profits, where they think they'll have to put in 60 hours a week. They want to work in a different kind of environment.

How does Carlson prepare students to work in a global economy?

We have a lot of opportunities in the MBA program for students to study abroad. They can do short visits abroad; they can do semester visits abroad. We have international students, and we do a lot to encourage interaction, to make sure students function as a community of diverse people. All of the faculty integrates global pieces into the curriculum. The faculty members themselves are very global.

What resources do you have for students who are career changers?

We're looking at getting a workshop and a consultant in to do something about transitions, because we're seeing that a lot of students coming into our programs are transitioning to different careers. That transition, of course, isn't just isolated to a job; it's also often a function of their life. We've had conversations with three consultants now, and we're planning workshops. We'll definitely do more work with students on how to pick what you want to do and make the transition successfully.

Do you have any parting words for MBAs in the job market?

It's really important that they think realistically about what is out there, how long the job search is going to take, what's going to be expected of them, and how they should be intentional and strategic when they pursue a job.


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