Think back on your time in school. Chances are, your career center was a sleepy afterthought. It was a remote outpost – a place you’d only visit when you had high stakes and a short deadline. In some quarters, students still view career centers in transactional terms. ‘We’ll call you when you need you,’ they think. By then, it’s often too late.
OLIN BOASTS 97% MBA PLACEMENT WITHIN THREE MONTHS OF GRADUATION IN 2015
At Washington University’s Olin Business School, however, this model is turned on its head. Here, the center is one of the driving forces behind the school. In fact, you could argue that the Weston Career Center is the wheel, with the curriculum, student clubs, and school events acting as its spokes. How tied in is the career center to the MBA students? According to Mark Brostoff, the school’s associate dean and the center’s director, Weston has already received 364 career advising appointments this fall – in a class of 141 students. In fact, 90% of the school’s full-time MBA students have already met with one of the school’s career advisors or industry career specialists. Compare that to the Class of 2016, which drew 85% of its students – with 258 visits – to the center at this time last year.
And it has been a successful model indeed. The Class of 2014, for example, averaged a 96.9% placement rate within three months of graduation. That’s par for the course at Olin, with spring grads holding steady with a 97% rate. What’s more, the 2015 class averaged a median base of $100,000 and a signing bonus of $15,000. They also entered a wide range of industries, including financial services (29%), consulting (15%), tech (14%), consulting (11%), pharmaceuticals and healthcare (10%), and manufacturing (8%). Just as important, they found work with celebrated brands like Amazon, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Kimberly Clark, Strategy&, General Mills, IBM, and JP Morgan.
That said, on average, 80 companies hire from Olin’s pool of full-time MBAs – with many hiring just one student. “I think one of the reasons that our students are successful is that we do look for opportunities outside of just the normal main corporate type multinationals,” shares Brostoff in an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants. “We’re a small program. We’re in the Midwest. So we also understand who we are and how we have to make ourselves competitive in the marketplace. So we spend as much time looking for that company willing to hire their first MBA graduate as much as the company looking to hire a number of graduates.”
CAREER TRAINING EMBEDDED IN EVERY COURSE AND EVERY CONCENTRATION
Indeed, this personal attention is one of the Weston Career Center’s signatures. Generally, the center begins talking to incoming first-years in the spring, sending them an onboarding survey to better pinpoint their passions and goals. With this early outreach, the center can nimbly add staff to fill any expertise gaps long before students set foot on campus. Unlike most career centers, which use generalists and trainers, Weston relies heavily on professional industry specialists – practitioners who have excelled in particular industries. For example, students interested in branding and leadership can work with Anne Petersen, who developed Anheuser Busch’s executive and brand management programs during her 27 years there. At the same time, supply chain students can interact with Lisa Hebert a former partner at Accenture whose clients have included the U.S. Department of Defense. Best of all, students aren’t assigned a coach. Instead, Weston applies a custom approach where students are directed to a particular staff member based on their needs. “We don’t want students to feel that they have only one person that they can go to,” Brostoff emphasizes.
Careers are also heavily integrated into Olin’s MBA curriculum. “Embedded within the core and the platform (electives) curriculum, we have an academic director who is responsible for the platform,” Brostoff shares. “There is a career advisor who is part of the platform, so one of my team members is represented as part of the platform. Therefore they work very closely with faculty…Almost each week, we have what we call a career or industry career seminar built into the MBA curriculum through the platforms. And that’s where we’re bringing in, in collaboration with the academic director and faculty member, speakers and individuals to engage from the marketplace. We’re sharing with students exactly what it takes to get to the level of preparation to get hired as an MBA.”
And this focus on careers so early is no accident at Olin, Brostoff adds. “We recognize the ramp that we make them go through is steep. But we also understand the competitiveness of the marketplace and the fact that we’re geographically located in the Midwest. That is one reason why we start with this early ramp up and engagement because those students who want to get into financial services or Silicon Valley and technology really can’t wait very much longer to begin to engage with alumni or recruiters. They’ve got to be ready to go.”
CAREER CENTER MAIN SOURCE OF FUNDING FOR CLUBS
Here’s another secret behind the school’s placement success: Weston is involved in everything – literally everything – at the school. For starters, the center is the main source of funding for clubs, as it partners with students on speakers, events, and trips to save them from having to run between offices to get approval. “When you add the layer of the club engagement, you’ve got the platform industry career seminars that are focusing on helping students get down the language and what it will take to have a successful internship and how to convert that internship into a full-time job. You have clubs that are circling that, doing career-related activities in collaboration with the career center. So there is no gap.”
Brostoff also heads the school’s management communications center as well as the Weston Career Center. As a result, the two centers work in tandem. “So you could have a student who is having a problem with a resume and may go to the communications center,” Brostoff postulates. “When they’re sitting with a career advisor, that information has been shared [with the advisor].” I always think of it as portable medical records. You have one record per student and everything related to career preparedness, coaching, communications – It’s all there available for advisors and those notes are shared. I think that does make our targeting, in terms of identifying students that we know will need additional assistance, better.”
For Brostoff, Weston is best positioned to facilitate both learning and outcomes. “The Weston Career Center really is a hub in the business school that’s tied to the faculty, the curriculum, or the student clubs. If there is something going on, the Weston Career Center is either behind it or involved with it.”
DIRECTOR’S PHILOSOPHY GROUNDED IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
When you think of a career center director, you probably wouldn’t picture Brostoff, a retired commander in the medical service corps of the U.S. Navy. Holding a bachelor’s in political science from Alfred University and a master’s in health administration from Washington University, Brostoff joined the undergraduate career services office of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 2000.Eight years later – after serving as the center’s assistant director – he joined Weston as its director, where he rebuilt the center from scratch, implementing his all-inclusive model that – in one way or another – touches every member of the class.
That said, Brostoff is both practitioner and academic. Along with his work in student advising and administration, Brostoff has been an entrepreneur who marketed adventure gear and clothing. Such experiences came in handy at Kelley, where he also taught courses in healthcare marketing and startups. And his business background has shaped his service-centric philosophy of operating the Weston Career Center. What’s more, it trained him to always to be looking for ways to connect and never be satisfied with the status quo.
“When I started my company,” Brostoff explains, “I learned from my dad, who was in sales, you do everything you can to anticipate. I always taught my students: You have to anticipate your customers’ objections. If you’re going to make a sale, you need to know why they might say no. Get them to recognize why they might have that need. That’s the basic way in which you sell. I instill in my team that same thing in running the career center. We need to anticipate what objections our students may have or the mark may have on our product. That’s why when we start these various initiatives. It’s based on understanding market intelligence; listening very carefully to what recruiters are telling you; and be willing to take action. That action may be talking to a faculty group about [how] the curriculum may not be meeting the needs of the recruiters in a certain segment – and being able to communicate that in an effective and collaborative way.”
Earlier this month, Poets&Quants sat down with Brostoff to learn why Olin – and Weston in particular – has been so successful in placing MBA graduates. In the interview, Brostoff also outlines the shifts he has witnessed on both the student and employer sides, as well as offering advice for job hunting and negotiating an initial offer. Here are his thoughts…
(Go to next page for full interview)
DON’T MISS: Meet the Washington Olin MBA Class of 2017