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The Best B-Schools vs. the Recession


The top undergraduate schools are fighting back with creative ways of getting their students into a badly rattled job market

When the Class of 2010 enrolled in college four years ago, majoring in business seemed the best route to securing a plum job at graduation. Seniors were graduating with two and three job offers, starting salaries averaged close to $50,000, and big signing bonuses and benefits packages were typical. Then came the Great Recession. Students returned from summer internships without job offers. And those lucky enough to land a position had to settle for lower salaries than they had expected.

Many 2009 graduates were still searching for work long after they stored their caps and gowns in their parents' attics. Now, as the Class of 2010 prepares to follow them into the workforce, the job market continues to deteriorate. "This year isn't going to be particularly strong," says Edwin W. Koc, director of research at the National Association of Colleges & Employers. "It may be even slightly worse than last year."

Anxiety about jobs, and students' dissatisfaction with the help they are getting from school placement offices, are reflected in Bloomberg BusinessWeek's fifth annual ranking of undergraduate business programs. Only 38% of college seniors majoring in business who responded to our survey in January reported having a job offer in hand. That compares with 46% in 2009 and 56% in 2008. Of the 27,317 student respondents, 58% voiced concern about their job searches and 38% reported they are considering alternatives, such as graduate school or the Peace Corps.

At the top of our ranking is the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. In a year when unemployment was at the forefront of student concerns, Notre Dame fared well, thanks in part to a large alumni base willing to lend a hand to young job seekers. At No. 2 University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, students lauded the intense core curriculum taught by teams of professors from different disciplines. Rounding out the top three is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, up four spots from 2009. More than 90% of Sloan students boast summer internships, and its graduates' median starting salary, $62,000, is the highest in the ranking.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek used nine measures to rank these programs, including surveys of senior business majors and corporate recruiters, median starting salaries for graduates, and the number of alumni each program sends to top MBA programs. We also calculated an academic quality rating for each program by combining average SAT scores, student-faculty ratios, class size, the percentage of students with internships, and the number of hours students devote to classwork.

While student satisfaction is down 14% from 2009, the level of discontent varied widely from school to school. Schools that performed well in the ranking pulled out all the stops to help students find work—enlisting faculty and alumni, using social media, and developing talent pipelines to local businesses.

"IT WAS SCARY"

One school that worked hard to find jobs for students was No. 16-ranked Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where a course designed to provide students with hands-on training is also giving them exposure to prospective employers. When Miami University senior Sarah King, 21, returned to campus after an internship at General Electric (GE) without a job, she was terrified. "Even the best and brightest students weren't getting hired," King says. "It was scary." She enrolled in a class called Human Capital Metrics, which pairs groups of students with corporations to help solve problems the companies are facing. King was paired with Nestlé. As her team's liaison with the company, King was in weekly contact with Laura Warren, a Nestlé recruiter.

Throughout the semester, Warren observed King's work habits and business skills. "I got to see the quality of Sarah's work," Warren says. "We had three months with her, not just a 30-minute interview." When Warren began interviewing students for full-time positions, she was certain that King would be a good fit. And King, having learned about the company, was better prepared than most candidates. In the end, she got a job and will start work in August.

At the No. 15-ranked Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond, alumnus Paul B. Queally has stepped in to make sure the school's students are well prepared when it comes to the interview process.

Queally has seen hundreds of job candidates come into his office without any clue about how to present themselves. "They aren't really buttoned up," says Queally, co-president at New York-based private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. He wanted to make sure Robins students didn't make the same mistakes. So in early 2008, under Queally's guidance, Robins launched a program called Q-Camp. The two-day crash course aimed at sophomore business students covers everything from the one-minute elevator pitch and networking to thank-you notes and business dinner etiquette. Presenters at Q-Camp include job placement officers, recent graduates, and recruiters. In January nearly 100 Robins students registered for the program, up from 30 last year. The training, says Queally, "gives Richmond students a potential advantage in the interview process where they compete with candidates from Ivy League schools."

Elsewhere, schools are using technology to give their students an advantage. At Virginia's McIntire School, Tom Fitch, assistant dean of career services, has taken to the Web, using Twitter and Facebook to distribute career tips and help find jobs and internships for students, particularly in industries where few openings exist. Says Fitch: "We're really trying to be creative in our whole approach."

TWEETS AND VIDEO

Through his Twitter page, Fitch is able to send out tweets of any career information that he thinks his students might find useful. Recent tweets include a link to 50 common interview questions and a blog post on how the job market will improve—in 2014. In the social media world, competitors sometimes become allies, with career services officers from one school sharing tips and job leads with colleagues at other programs. But that's O.K., says Fitch, who has more than 900 Twitter followers: "We're all out for the same goal, which is helping students find jobs."

Similarly, students at Notre Dame are being taught to use tech tools to connect with alumni working in specific industries. In the hopes of getting more students in front of recruiters, the school has started using Skype's video capabilities for virtual interviews so companies don't have to spend the money to travel to campus. In less than three weeks, six companies have taken the school up on its offer, scheduling nine video interviews.

Even in the best of times, enticing recruiters to campus is never easy. Like many schools, No. 6 Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley has seen a considerable falloff in recruiter traffic on campus—30% for the 2008-09 academic year. There's little a school can do to goose those numbers, so Tom Devlin, director of the career center, did the next best thing: He figured out a way to make the most of the recruiters who do visit.

Devlin's team came up with what he calls the Turn the Tables Fair. Unlike a traditional career fair, where employers set up booths and pitch their companies to students, student groups, such as the finance or marketing club, take the lead, selling themselves to passing recruiters. It's a more targeted way for recruiters to reach interested students, and for students to connect with the right companies. More than 50 student clubs and 45 employers took part in the first fair last fall. "The feedback was phenomenal," Devlin says.

In a better economy, this kind of outreach probably wouldn't be necessary. But to help business students from the Class of 2010 succeed, undergraduate B-schools are considering every available option.

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