Business Schools

A Talk with Michigan's Placement Director

Q: What has been happening to starting salaries? How much has the slow economy hurt?

A: For the second year in a row, starting salaries will remain flat. This is after having watched starting salaries increase steadily for many years. What has been reduced, again, is the amount of signing bonuses. When prospective students look at the schools' employment results, it's important to remember that the reduction in hiring of consultants, with their significant starting salaries, impacts the overall figures while, industry by industry, most salaries remain steady.

Q: What career do most older graduates pursue, if they don't want to seek advanced positions in their original industry? Do investment banks and consulting firms prefer younger students?

A: If students realize that their abilities will enable them to pursue a position at a higher level than typical on-campus offerings, we work with them to pursue those positions via an off-campus search. In a sense, this search becomes more like a traditional career move. It's necessary, though, to be sure that off-campus interviewers are educated as to the value of the MBA. It has been my experience that investment banks don't evaluate based on age. They seem to hire based on a person's experience and willingness to do the job. Consulting firms often have "expert roles" that enable them to make use of graduates with greater or more specific experience.

Q: Do you have any sense of how alumni have been doing in their career development in these times? Do some come back for assistance?

A: Many of our alumni do touch base with us regularly for advice and consideration. In the last two years, they are obviously much more hesitant to make a career move that, prior to 2001, they would have made very quickly.

Q: How is the morale of your graduating students? Can you estimate what percentage of the class has accepted offers?

A: I have been impressed that the class of 2003 is a tremendously collaborative, pragmatic, and upbeat group of students. They are working together, assisting each other with leads, and, as we wrap up the on-campus recruitment season, they are buckling down to focus on the off-campus effort as necessary. At this point, we are ahead of last year's pace, which left us with approximately 80% of the class having received an offer by summer's end. We will begin our employment survey in earnest in the next few weeks.

Q: Is there an age bias with on-campus recruiters?

A: I have not had that experience. On rare occasions, a student will come to us with concerns about their experience during an on-campus interview. This is a time when we leverage our deep relationships with our recruiting companies and have a quick and frank discussion about the student's concerns. In virtually all cases, these situations are resolved satisfactorily. Such a question will arise only, maybe, once every few years.

Q: Is there a cutoff age at which it isn't as feasible for an older student to pursue the MBA -- for example, over 45?

A: There is no cutoff age. Rather, both the student and the employer look at a student's experience and their desire for particular positions. As I mentioned, I do have some students who have more experience who conclude that their goal is best achieved through off-campus efforts.

Q: Has the economy had any effect on how the school prepares students for a more challenging business world?

A: There has clearly been a significant increase in the discussion of ethics, integrity, and honesty in the workplace. While this has always been central to the student experience at Michigan, it seems to be a lot easier to get everyone's attention on those topics in the past year.

Q: If a student gets an MBA but has no prior business work experience, how are his or her chances at landing a management consulting position?

A: In general, consulting firms who recruit at top-tier MBA programs are presuming a certain level of experience before the commencement of the student's education. A student with no prior work experience would be advised to talk directly with the companies and identify the most appropriate position for them. The consulting firms are focused on hiring intelligent people who can make a difference with their clients. While experience can help in that regard, they are always willing to consider individuals with the right characteristics.

Q: Does a student without any business experience have a decent chance for admission to B-school in the first place?

A: We don't see many students coming in with no experience. Most top schools publish the median age of their entering class, and that should be some guidance. The response to this question will vary from school to school.

Q: How many job offers did the average Michigan grad have last year? And do you expect that number to go up or down for the class of '03?

A: Averages are decpetive figures, but for our students: Of those who had received an offer, the average was one and a half. And no one that I know of accepted one-half of an offer!

Q: What's your advice for a job-hunting strategy for students at this point?

A: It may be counterintuitive, but more than ever, during a recession, the employer is going to hire the person who is the most focused on the particular job that's available. Many people feel that they should keep their options open, that by showing a willingness to do anything the company requires, they will increase their likelihood of securing the job. Our recruiters tell us that when they only have a few jobs to offer, it's more important than ever that they identify students who understand the position and why they are a good match with that position. The short answer: Focus, and stay true to yourself.

Q: This year, what are the top three industries from a hiring point of view?

A: So far, pharmaceutical, brand management, and corporate finance.

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