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Career counselors from NYU's business school recently answered questions about the current job environment. Here's a transcript of the chat

There's no denying that the economic slowdown is worrying undergraduate business students and MBAs alike. Many soon-to-be graduates and internship seekers are searching for ways to protect themselves from being jobless or getting their career off on the wrong foot (BusinessWeek.com, 4/4/08). Some of them are turning to business school administrators and alumni to quell their fears.

Recently, at a live online chat event, Katie Volz (KatieVolzNYU), director of career counseling at New York University's Stern School of Business, and Trudy Steinfeld (TrudyNYU), executive director of the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development, offered advice to an online audience about keeping your career on track in an economic slowdown. They fielded questions from site visitors and BusinessWeek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) on everything from what employers think of online MBA degrees to the fallout from the Bear Stearns' collapse and sale (BusinessWeek.com, 3/20/08). Here's an edited transcript of the event:

dee4u: I am an international student enrolled in a master's program at OSU. There are rumors that a recession in the job field will be over by October. How true is that? Does it have to do with the elections? Would it be better to delay my graduation until December?

TrudyNYU: No one really knows how long the downward trend in the economy will last. From my experience with past recessions, I think October is very optimistic. If you delay your graduation, it may provide you with more time to secure employment, which can be more challenging for an international student.

julieh: What types of programs/initiatives does Stern implement to ensure the highest percentage of students get internship offers when the economy is slow?

KatieVolzNYU: On the MBA side, the Office of Career Development is dedicated to supporting every student on their career goals, both from a skills/interests and fit perspective, as well as on the employer side—bringing as many recruiters to campus as possible to interview our students. Just one week ago, we had one of our largest career fairs to date, which indicates that recruiters are absolutely showing a strong interest in our students.

TrudyNYU: Many of us at NYU and Stern have been projecting that the economy would be slowing down this year. To make sure that our students had opportunities for internships and other types of job programs, we aggressively targeted employers that were somewhat recession-proof. We also made sure that all the employers with whom we had strong relationships would consider NYU and Stern students early on in the process. It's important to keep every channel open during periods of economic difficulty.

ayosha: I will be receiving a BA in economics from McGill University (Montreal) this May and have decided to return to the States to pursue full-time employment. I intended to find a position in consulting or finance, but a family friend recently recommended I entertain the idea of applying for an MBA in professional accounting at Rutgers University. Do you think it is worth forgoing the opportunity to get an MBA from a top-tier school two to three years down the road to avoid coming out of school during a recession?

KatieVolzNYU: While each student's situation is unique, having the opportunity to gain several years of work experience before starting an MBA is usually highly valued to recruiters, particularly in finance and consulting.

FrancescaBW: Here's a question from someone who could not join us today: "I'm a second-year student at Chicago GSB, and my friends and I have been discussing the ethical ramifications of looking for a job after accepting an offer. Many of us are trying to enter Wall Street, and under normal circumstances we would never consider looking for a job after having signed. But these are extenuating circumstances. Can you comment?"

TrudyNYU: This is certainly an unusual time for students. At the Wasserman Center, we never endorse looking for a job after you have accepted an offer. The industry tends to be smaller than you think, and recruiters move within the industry to different firms. In other words, people talk, and you could hurt your future prospects if employers think you are being unprofessional.

KatieVolzNYU: I echo Trudy's comments. Looking for a job after having accepted an offer—known as reneging—is rarely the right course of action. The business world is small; Wall Street in particular is very small. If it should ever become known that you reneged on an offer, it could not only damage your reputation with the firm you pulled the offer from, but also down the road at other firms, as people often move around.

123115: Is it just the investment banking/financial sector getting hit hard? What about the marketing students? Are they having a tough time finding jobs?

TrudyNYU: Certain banks within the investment banking sector are getting hit hard. With regard to marketing and other sectors we haven't seen as much impact. However, I think we are at the beginnings of this economic situation, and all the impact isn't known yet.

FrancescaBW: Here's another question that came from someone who is unable to join us today: "How do employers view online degrees? And which online schools would you recommend for a degree in business management?"

KatieVolzNYU: Online degrees are typically not as highly valued as the traditional degree. As a former recruiter at an investment bank, I recognized that there is a unique experience one obtains from going through a traditional business school program, [and] that was valued by the bank. I am not familiar with the online programs in this market.

FrancescaBW: Here's yet another question from someone who could not join us: "What is the recommended course of action [at Stern] if one graduates without an attractive offer? Is the student able to utilize on-campus recruiting post-graduation, should this situation occur?"

TrudyNYU: On the undergraduate side, once a student has gone through a full cycle of on-campus recruiting, he cannot continue to utilize the on-campus recruiting service post-graduation. However, the Wasserman Center for Career Development will allow the student/graduate to utilize all of its other resources until he has secured an offer of employment with which he is happy.

KatieVolzNYU: On the MBA side, on-campus recruitment services are open to students currently enrolled in the program. Our two-year career curriculum equips students to be proactive and engage in a successful job search pre- and post-graduation. We also offer alumni lifelong career services through our Career Center for Working Professionals.

ashkank: What recommendations would you have on securing an internship in a desired field for first-semester MBA students who are contemplating a major career change? Personally, I'm interested in breaking into consulting.

KatieVolzNYU: Preparing to make a career change into any industry, including consulting, requires that you learn as much as you can about the field—industry trends, lingo, and players in the space—to successfully secure an internship. Take advantage of networking opportunities (for example, alumni connections, on-campus presentations, associations, etc.). As a first-year MBA student, I encourage you to speak with as many second-year students as possible before reaching out to any alumni or industry contacts to get their perspectives and lessons learned. Many of your basic questions can be answered through this resource.

FrancescaBW: Can you tell us the state of affairs at NYU? More specifically, how are undergraduate business students and MBAs faring this year? How have events such as the collapse and sale of Bear Stearns (BSC) affected you?

TrudyNYU: So far this year, our undergraduate students have done extremely well. Most of the offers were out during the fall semester, and so for the most part our students are O.K. As you might have heard, Bear Stearns rescinded their offers last week. We have met with every one of the students who was affected and have a strategy in place to help them secure new offers.

KatieVolzNYU: We don't have our numbers confirmed yet, but we seem to be tracking fairly similarly to last year in terms of placement. As far as Bear Stearns, only about a dozen of our students were affected, and we are working very closely with them to assist with securing full-time and summer internship opportunities.

TrudyNYU: We think that the summer market is starting to tighten a bit.

wes7a: How is the current market for summer jobs?

KatieVolzNYU: Presently, summer internship hiring remains strong, as companies see real value in the ability to hire quality MBA students for project-based roles and short-term opportunities.

julieh: Has there ever been a case when MBA internships were unpaid because of an economic slowdown? If so, did these mostly result in full-time offers?

KatieVolzNYU: There is a small market for unpaid internships on the MBA side, particularly in certain industries such as media and entertainment. We don't have data to confirm the likelihood of these unpaid internships translating into full-time offers. Typically the types of organizations that offer unpaid internships cannot predict their full-time needs until much later in the year, so if a full-time offer is extended, it's not normally done at the close of the summer internship.

wes7a: How is the investment banking market in general?

KatieVolzNYU: From an MBA hiring perspective, banks have responded to changes in the market by being more conservative with the number of full-time offers extended. However, this does not apply to every division within the banks. In fact, certainly, areas within the world of investment banking, such as private wealth and risk management, have grown.

TrudyNYU: The same changes in the market that Katie is seeing is holding true for undergraduates as well. If the economy continues to decline, we expect to see some impact in the fall semester.

FrancescaBW: Someone brought up the BusinessWeek article that mentioned this idea that if you graduate into a recession (BusinessWeek, 4/14/08), your starting salary is always behind the times. Is there anything today's graduates can do to make sure they don't fall behind when it comes to salary or job type? If so, what?

TrudyNYU: I think the important thing to do during a recession is to secure a job that will develop your skills and give you great experience to make a move when things ease. I would never advise students to accept a job that pays a certain level of salary, unless they feel positive about the position. Positioning yourself and being flexible is the most important advice I could give anyone looking for a job during a recession.

KatieVolzNYU: In the event that your starting salary is below what you have found to be the median, my advice would be to try to negotiate an earlier performance evaluation and salary discussion to remain in line with industry salary norms. However, as Trudy mentioned, obtaining a position that will further develop your skills should be one of the most important factors to consider.

NicholasM: I am a military veteran and a current MBA student. I have had trouble finding a job because I have no business experience. Do you have any advice to overcome this?

KatieVolzNYU: Your question is very timely, as BusinessWeek just had a piece on military men and women in business school (BusinessWeek.com, 3/13/08). During your networking conversations and interviews, focus on the skills you've obtained through your service, such as leadership, working under stressful conditions, being a team player, etc. These skills tend to be highly valued by employers and transferable to the business world.


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