How Olin Maintains A 97% Placement Rate

Interior of Olin Business School

Interior of Olin Business School

How is your career services team integrated into the Olin curriculum? How are you personally involved in the classroom so that you’re not just an afterthought? Several years ago, the faculty and administration got together to look at the MBA program and we really changed up the curriculum. Students have the choice to select into what we call a curriculum platform: Finance, marketing, supply chain operations, entrepreneurship, consulting – the major business disciplines.

This is where it really gets exciting. Embedded within the core and the platform (electives) curriculum, we have an academic director who is responsible for the platform. There is also 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…(and these platforms start very early). 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. [We give them] market insights. These are not truly recruiting events, they are educational events. Because we work closely with the faculty, we’re clearly looking at companies, alumni, and guests who are within [student interests]. Obviously, this is not a random selection. For those companies that recruit Olin students, you’ll have a strong corporate presence with us. It gives them a great early insight. So by the second or third week of school, there have already been a large number of guests, alumni, and recruiters in the classroom getting to see our students.

Again, 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. I think that’s why we have been successful. Obviously, you’ll have some students who will stand on sideline. But for the student who engages and takes advantage of the seminars (because students can go to all of them if their schedule permits), engages with clubs, and comes in for their coaching appointments – other than sitting in interview with them – they are really strongly prepared to enter the market.

[For clarification], students are not required to have coaching. We don’t assign coaches, which is another difference. We triage our students every time they come in for an appointment. My front desk staff will basically ask 2-3 questions to make sure the coach that they are going to meet is aligned with the question that they have. Sometimes, the question could be industry-specific and clearly they will talk to [the specific] industry career specialist. Other times, they may come in and have an offer and may want to know how to negotiate that offer. That may not be the same coach. It may be a coach with experience in offer negotiations.

The real beauty here is that students are free to select and be appropriately targeted for their appointment to the right person on my staff. We don’t want students to feel that they have only one person that they can go to. Because we have such a strong administrative recordkeeping system where notes are shared, I feel quite confident that the student is going to have a good interaction with the person that they meet with.

Our career center staff also sponsors receptions every month for students. We want our students to get to know us outside of our offices. We’re spending a great deal of time connecting my team with first- and second-year MBA students outside of the career center because we think it’s important to get to know the entire person’s interests rather than just what goes on in the advising room.

Washington University

Washington University

We have more than 95% of students [come in for coaching and visits]. Some will come in multiple times, others only once. But they come in because of the connectivity. They go to an industry career seminar, which is a curriculum event, and they realize that this is about careers and making me better and that maybe I need to work with someone.

The Weston Career Center is right in the center of our new building. Because we are so deeply involved with clubs, which is truly what I believe to be the glue that holds us all together, my staff is integrated in a number of different ways as advisors to clubs and platform curriculum so that students who don’t come in [are touched in some way]. But I also think it’s just a matter of keeping the engine going so that we don’t get stale in our approach.

I’d like to say my team is nimble enough to react quickly to changes in the marketplace. For example, an alum sent me a job description on a Friday evening with an opportunity. We got the announcement out to the clubs and we had the resume book ready before that employer walked into the office that Monday morning. We set expectations with the clubs too. We’re not just bankrolling the career activities. We also recognize that when we do have a call out or we need something shared quickly, the clubs react very positively to this engagement because we don’t just reach out to them when we need something. It’s something we always do. So it’s nice to know that when a club president gets an email from me asking for a quick turnaround on something, they recognize the value. It’s that value proposition that we really focus on as well.

What programs or initiatives (or innovations) are you developing for students to further enhance your offerings and maintain your dominance in student placement? Our international students are an integral part of MBA admissions. This summer, we brought in a specialist to help us understand the transition issues that an international student has with coming to America for school. A lot of people focus on international students in terms of their job search. And so do we. International students coming to the U.S. are faced with H1B restrictions and we’re all in the same game.

But there are two things. One: They have a longer ramp up. So what we’ve discovered is [that we have to answer this question}: How do we get the international student coming over from China or India and to assimilate not only to the U.S., but also St. Louis and Olin?

This summer, I created the Olin International Alumni Corps. We made a call out to our international alums asking for volunteers willing to connect with incoming students before school starts – but not about careers. This was about just helping them with transitions, such as questions about where to shop or expectations in the classroom. We found that we helped reduce some of that anxiety. 39% of our full-time MBA students are international. Getting them comfortable to get in quickly to all the things we just talked about can be pretty overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for domestic students. Imagine how overwhelming it can be for an international student who has never spent a day in the United States. We launched that initiative this summer and the feedback we got from the students and the alumni was that it was a very positive and comforting interaction that I think set a really positive tone for someone coming from a foreign country to study at Olin.

The other thing that we do for our international students is called our Gateway to Immigration program. It was modeled after something that the Kelley School had started. [In this program-, we have an immigration attorney who could answer questions with companies that had questions about the H1B process. They’re not giving legal advice, but they are answering questions for any employer who may never have sponsored a student in answering, ‘What exactly is the process?’ We’ve had a number of students who were talking to an employer or a startup and the person says, ‘I’m interested in you, but I’ve never sponsored.’ [In these cases], the student can tell the employer that we have a program where you can go online and fill out a confidential form that goes directly to the immigration attorney. Again, the employer would interact directly with the attorney – we’re not a middleman – to get guidance. If they want to hire them, they can proceed for legal advice – that’s between the company and the attorney. That helped with a little bit with the anxiety. We really stress to our students to look at opportunities outside what other MBA programs look for – companies that will hire a large number of their graduates. At Olin, actually, Almost 80 companies hired our 121 students. We have a lot of companies that hire one student every year. We have a couple of companies that hire maybe half a dozen…Maybe I have 4-5 that hire maybe 2 students. 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 that will descend on campuses and want to interview hundreds and select large numbers. 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.

Olin students in class

Olin students in class

How have student interests, goals, or even job search strategies changed over the past five years? How have your services evolved to meet these changing needs?  We talk about this all the time. The [students coming in] are not Millennials yet. It’s a generation that‘s interested, however. We’ve seen a spike in students who are engaging companies. They are giving back to their communities. Social impact is important and we have a lot of students looking to get into social impact consulting. The idea of the entrepreneurial spirit and start ups – being willing to take risk – is increasing. The fact that students are not simply accepting a job because it is the first offer that they receive [has changed].

I think they are more engaged with a better understanding of the global market that has really changed. There is so much written about students coming out of business schools. And I think that the personal attention and early engagement allows the student to be comfortable knowing that we will be there to help support their search no matter what direction they want to take. That’s an important philosophical change in my office – I can’t speak for others – but I think that’s really important. In the past, when a student came in and said, ‘I may be interested in this field,” we might reply, ‘Oh, great. Here are 10 companies coming – be prepared for their interviews and go to their info sessions. Now, we allow students to really understand that we encourage and are very comfortable with them changing direction and offering them an opportunity to look at everything equally across large or small. Wherever their passions are, we will work at the same level as we would if students would want to interview with one of our long-standing corporate partners.

There’s no doubt: Students are coming in with different sense of what they wish to do when they come to get their MBA. I think definitely more at Olin than at some of the larger MBA programs. I see that just with the growth of the Entrepreneurship / Venture Capital Club where we’ve sponsored a couple of happy hours at incubators here in town. Five or six years ago, the club didn’t even exist. Now, I believe they have a membership of 40-50. The same [is true of] Net Impact. I remember when I got here, I had a half dozen students going to the Net Impact Conference. This week, I’m flying to Seattle because I have 20 students going to Net Impact so I’m going up there for an alumni event.

And that’s another thing that we do. When alumni events are taking place across the country, we do alumni events in every city where there’s a conference. Myself and the graduate associate dean are in attendance. We don’t just dump it on alumni to develop them. This is a partnership across all the departments of Olin working collaboratively. I know that I can actually in a meeting say, “I know I can commit to this because I know the graduate office would do the same.” We try to eliminate any bureaucracy by aligning ourselves with that one focus. We tend to call that the “Olin Experience.”

With all that said, this is still an extremely competitive marketplace this year – or any year. The MBA marketplace – the hiring and the decisions and competitiveness of all the top MBA programs – makes students have to work real hard. You have to get the students engaged. You’ve got to be able to provide them with that road map so that they know how to engage and when to engage. And that’s one of the differences. We’re doing more of that guidance than ever before. They don’t have a break to get accustomed to the MBA program. Developing success in your internship and career is a course all to itself and it’s something that happens every day.

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