How Olin Maintains A 97% Placement Rate

MBA students on the move

Olin MBA students on the move

What industries, jobs or skills do you see trending in popularity now and what areas do you see becoming hot in the next few years? Skill-wise, we look at communication at Olin, which is an initiative and we’re focused a lot on the presentation and conversational skills, [along with] the skills in the boardroom.

It’s interesting. One of the things I definitely see is if you look back a decade ago at gaming, you know the students were always interactive. Now, all of a sudden, you don’t tend to think of your undergrads as being highly technical…All of a sudden, you realize that your MBA classes get those students as well. They’re coming in with very high competencies in technology. And that skill, in itself, is very helpful. I think it can be very important to their long-term career success. It’s not just their short-term. We care about their long-term career success. So I think understanding how technology and business interact is something that you just can’t choose not to understand. When I went to graduate school 30+ years ago, I was able to know how to key punch and everyone thought I was a computer whiz. Today, I am meeting with students who are online. We have some people using Google Hangouts – all sorts of ways. So those skills are very important. They’re not going to go away. It’s only going to get more embedded. I think that’s a challenge for students who go back to graduate school, particularly those who may have more work experience and haven’t really been engaged in that level of technology.

I think it goes without saying that students are looking for companies that have a mission. I think the mission statements of companies are being scrutinized more than ever by MBA students. It’s not just a job. Is there a commitment to how they’re going to be able to grow? Work-life balance has changed the direction of a lot of MBA students. They recognize that they have to work hard in this world to continue to move, but some are willing to give up things to ensure they have time to raise families. Or, how are they going to engage with diversity and inclusion – respecting students from different nationalities, ethnicities and gays and lesbians? So what we are seeing is all those things that are happening outside of the business school from a global standpoint is directly related to our business and how we function to support our students. You can’t pick-and-choose anymore. Everything I mentioned is happening out in the marketplace. So it has to happen in your business school too.

Mark Brostoff counseling a student

Mark Brostoff counseling a student

What three pieces of advice do you have for MBAs in either their career planning or job hunt? Obviously, the earlier that they can find their passion and direction, the better off they’ll be. I think that many MBA students look at a two-year program thinking, ‘Oh, I have a half year before I have to make a decision. I can cruise in and take classes.’ My first advice for any incoming MBA student is recognizing that this marketplace is a rapidly moving and changing environment. There’s no stability in terms of companies’ hiring practices or what their commitment will be from year-to-year. So you need to understand the following things early on.

First what is your value proposition? We use that term a lot around here. Really, what it comes down to is this: What do you bring to the market that companies are now seeking? So that is expanding your skills from a technology standpoint. That’s understanding how to work with Millennials because you may be that manager of the next undergraduate class graduating from business school. If you can’t understand the Millennial generation and the motivations of undergraduates who will soon be your workers, [you’ll struggle]. I think that the challenge for incoming MBAs is being able to ramp up and to have that self-awareness and self-discipline to ensure they will have a pathway to succeed…You can’t move slowly, unfortunately. The marketplace is moving way too quickly.

The second is, it comes down to communication competencies. I tell incoming MBA students is that if you haven’t already figured out where you stand in terms of your comfort level with networking, small talk, presentations, talking on the phone, writing emails – to me, those are skills that have diminished in competency. The workplace is always telling us that graduates are not capable of writing or understand basic journalistic writing. They can’t rely on Spellcheck or technology to solve their communication. To me, self-exploration of the skill set you have in communication, I think, is extremely important. We only have you for a short amount of time. And if you don’t work at it and begin to develop an improvement plan, again, you’ll enter the marketplace without the viable skills that they’re looking for. Our Communication at Olin initiative, again, addresses first-year MBAs from day one. That’s our biggest priority is building up their self-confidence and self-awareness on how they project themselves in the boardroom and in one-on-one.

The third is, believe it or not, is to be flexible. You come to an MBA program with an idea of who your one-and-only target company is and who you’re working towards. The student needs some flexibility here because the marketplace is the driver. Certainly, we want them to meet their ambitions and passions that they have. The reality is, you have to be nimble and flexible enough to recognize that what you bring changes if, for example, companies merge. I got some phone calls from students recently who were reading the newspaper about companies that are thinking about laying off people. Don’t overreact to the market, but make sure you are constantly understanding the movers-and-shakers of the different industries because they are ultimately going to decide the next workplace.

I think that’s one reason why we do have success because we do talk to our students about the realities of the marketplace. We certainly have some students who wish to hold out for that job that they expected or wanted. At the end of day, I think we work with them to appreciate opportunities that may be in a different geographic location or with a different company or getting them to appreciate how they’re going to be able to move through their long-term career progression. So we often don’t get students who sit on the sideline. They engage and look for the employment that satisfies their needs, but is also a good launch for their careers.

Simon Hall

Simon Hall

When it comes to negotiating salary and benefits package, what advice would you give to MBA students to maximize their earnings? I think one of the things that MBAs often overlook is their past experience. They think what they go to market with started with their MBA. Getting an MBA isn’t a negotiating position. What is would be understanding the culture of the company and perhaps what do you bring that they desperately need, whether it is diversity and inclusion or a certain skill set. So I think students often times undercut themselves by not thinking holistically about why they got an offer. They need to break that down – what are you bringing? And if you’re bringing something truly unique, then maybe you’re not getting compensated for it because maybe they’re offering only salary that they’re giving to everybody. Therefore, you need to be able to go in from a position of strength and understanding exactly why.

So I try to get students to grasp, first through self-reflection, whether they do have anything that they are negotiating for or are they asking for something more because they think they deserve more (which never really works). Because we get to know the students on such a personal level, it gives us a little insight into whether they will they be successful or not. I do think that over the years, students who come to Olin – where you have a lower cost of living than some of the cities on the coast – I think [there is] somewhat of a recognition of where you’re going to end up is also important. We want them to recognize that you can’t equate a starting salary based on your two year experience if you’re heading to New York or San Francisco. I think it’s important for them to recalibrate what they think their earning potential is not just on Midwest dollars but on coastal dollars.

You taught healthcare marketing and entrepreneurship at Indiana University. How did being a teacher give you a different perspective on how to operate a career center? How have two of your areas of expertise – sales and marketing – informed what you do and where you focus in your role?

First, my Navy experience, being in a military career, that also had a big impact. Let me start with the sales. It’s easy. Two words: Customer service. When I started my company, 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.\

My experience is that the career center has to be woven in and has to have that level of trust and recognition that the students’ passion drives it. We must recognize that we must deliver the highest level of customer service with empathy because students want to know that we care about them – and we do…And another thing: They are alumni now. As an alum of Washington University myself, I’m going to be facing our students 5-10 years from now – or longer. To me, I want to make sure that when I do that that they have something to remember positively about their experience. And if they don’t have a good experience? You can’t return your shoes if they don’t fit. If you don’t like the salesperson, you walk out and go to a different store. You can’t go down the street to another MBA program because you don’t like what course you were in.

I think you need clarity on your vision and mission.  When I teach, I feel that I know the material that I want to share with students – and I still teach a career course at the undergraduate level here. You have to know that you have a way to measure whether or not they understand it and take the information you’re sharing and then putting it into practice. If you just stand up there and talk to them but if they don’t get a chance to put it into practice what you’re recommending, then you’re really not teaching. So I think that this background [sales and marketing] has given me a greater understanding and a level of empathy with the changing times and the changing students that I interact with here. Maybe that [means] a little bit longer explanation with them. Maybe it’s lunch. Maybe it’s engaging with them outside the office. Whatever it takes, you have to be willing to put that time and effort in because your customers have to thrive. You [Poets&Quants] called because of the success we’ve had with employment, but in reality, the employment is driven by the students getting the job.

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