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Behind Chicago Booth’s 97.4% Employment Rate

Julie Morton on the campus of the University of Chicago

Julie Morton on the campus of the University of Chicago

P&Q:  How is career services team integrated into the Booth curriculum? How are you personally involved in the classroom so that you’re not just an afterthought? 

JM: I read the interview that you did with Mark from Olin. We are organized very differently here and so I think the answer to the question is quite different from the conversation you had with Mark. One of the big reasons that students come to Booth is for the academics. We find that our students here are really focused on that. For example, when we have issues with internships starting before the end of the academic quarter, students are loath to give up that academic time. So academics here is very, very profound. As such, we talk to students very directly about how we firmly believe – and we have years of data to prove it – that if students focus first-and-foremost on what happens in the classroom, what happens in the interview room will go well. They should never think about sacrificing what happens in the classroom for the sake of career. If they can pursue something that they are passionate about, if they pursue a sound job search, they will do well in that job search. Our faculty firmly believes that [too].

So I know students use a lot of materials that they cover in class in their interviews and on their internships. Students tell us over-and-over again the reason they performed so well was specifically because they put something to use that they learned in class the previous year. Chicago’s flexible curriculum allows students to take very advanced classes and classes that preps them very directly for their internship in their first year. So students definitely avail themselves to that.

But [career services] doesn’t co-teach on the career and curricular sides. The faculty teach in their classroom and we have a lot of time with students outside of the academic stuff where we do career-related activities with them. Some of that is in groups and a lot of that is one-on-one and individualized.

P&Q: What programs or initiatives (or innovations) are you developing for students to further enhance your offerings and maintain your dominance in student placement?

JM: We’re continuing to grow in a couple of directions that we’ve started. The first major direction – and it’s a trajectory that we’ve been on for a while – is that we have a very robust employer outreach team. There are 13 people on my team who are responsible for developing and furthering relationships with employers. That’s not brand new. We started growing the team in 2007-2008, but that team is now robust. We have people here in the U.S, [along with] someone based in London and a woman who’s based in Hong Kong. We are truly global in that regard.

In the U.S., we are organized by industry. Obviously, outside the U.S., we are organized by geography. But that focus on reaching out to employers, both strengthening and deepening existing relationships and forging new relationships, is very much an ongoing focus.

Career Services Event

Career Services Event

Right now, because of student interest, we are very focused on investment management and tech industries. We’re also focused on diversifying by size firm, so startups and small firms are very much on our radar as well. What that entails is for us to be to very flexible and open to different ways of recruiting. Campus recruiting is by no means the be-all and end-all…Once you start working with companies that don’t have a huge presence in the MBA marketplace or large numbers of hiring needs, then you start looking at things like virtual engagement. Do you use Google Hangout for a company presentation or do you use Skype more? Things like that have become more-and-more prevalent.

So that’s on the employer side. On the career management side – the folks on my team who work directly with students – we are doing more-and-more smaller group and more just-in-time work with training. This means that we are offering training in a more modularized way. All of the students are not going to be thinking about writing covering letters in the third week of October. Some students will be doing that in September. Others will be focused on drafting that letter well into April. So the workshops and training that we do around emails and cover letters, for example, we need to offer in chunks of time throughout the year. We can’t just do it all in one fell swoop…So modularizing the program has become more-and-more prevalent. We started to do that this year. And we’re going to do more-and-more of that in the coming years.

And so the other thing that lets us do is shorter and more focused workshops. Instead of putting all of our interview prep into a big training session, we can do it in little chunks, like bite size pieces, that students can use as needed. That’s worked very, very well.

The other thing related to employer outreach that I think is worth noting about Booth is that my office works with students and alums across all of our programs. While we work obviously with students in the full-time MBA program, we also support students in our evening and weekend MBA programs as well as our executive MBA programs. What that means is that we’re working with students who have 4-6 years of experience who are looking for what I call entry level MBA jobs. But we’re also working with executives with 15 or 20 years of experience. And our executive MBA programs are done both here in Chicago and also in London and Hong Kong. What that means is that our employer activity needs to have that kind of both breadth and depth to it. So when we walk into companies and they tell us that they only promote from within for their more junior level MBA jobs, we can talk to them about much more senior lateral level hires as a point of entry into the firm. There are lots of ways for us to garner employer interest.

P&Q: The percentage of students from Booth going into finance has declined in recent years – as it has elsewhere since the Great Recession. Do you think it will make a rebound to pre-2009 days or do you think it has now stabilized and will remain what it is now?

JM: You’re absolutely right. The students going into finance careers at Booth have dropped. Interestingly enough, students going into careers in the investment banking industry have not dropped particularly dramatically. I don’t know what the future holds. But I do think the growing diversity of student interests that we’ve seen – I think that’s here to stay. Students have been successful in pursuing careers in such a range of areas –I think the fact that students are interested in a wider and wider range of areas and the marketplace is open to MBA talent in a wider range of areas is a very exciting development for us. Students here are going into media and entertainment, retail, and other areas that don’t, en masse, embrace MBA talent. We’ve certainly worked incredibly hard at opening doors for students. And it’s been hugely successful. That’s the trend that I hope is here for the duration.

Beyond finance, the other number for us that’s really exciting is the number of students who’ve gone into the tech industry. In 2005, 5% or 6% of the class went into tech. For the class that just graduated, 15% of the class went into tech…And what that’s also accompanied by (surprise) is a greater draw from the west coast. More and more students are going to the west coast, which is another nice diversification.

The other area that I’m sure is not news to you is that students are increasingly interested in socially responsible careers – firms with a social impact. And that doesn’t mean they are all going to work in that industry. But they’re very interested in knowing what their firm does in that space, whether it is part of the firm’s core business or not. They want to know how the company they are going to will make an impact on the community.