Regina Regazzi’s wake up call happened at graduation in 2011. As she waited for the robed-and-tassled class to parade down to the cadence of “Pomp and Circumstance,” she began to feel increasingly uneasy. The newly-hired assistant dean for the Parker Career Management Center at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Regazzi was still growing into her job at her alma mater. As she ran down the list of graduates, she started to ask her staff about where this-or-that student would be working. The answers staggered her.
“People in the office would be saying, I don’t know this person or they haven’t been in touch,” Regazzi admits. “We made a promise back then to try to deal with that.”
Boy, has the Parker Career Management Center delivered. In The Economist’s 2016 survey, Anderson’s career centers earned the highest marks for student satisfaction among top MBA programs. The Parker Center averaged a 4.8 on a 5-point scale, with The Economist factoring in variables like students finding jobs through the center and the team’s ability to meet “expectations and needs.” The school joined an elite group of schools getting the best grades from alums: After Anderson came Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business which has built a near-legendary reputation with its Me Inc. coaching and mentoring program, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, the University of Chicago’s Booth, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School. Anderson, however, can make an additional claim: It has ranked among the top three centers overall for the past three years according to The Economist’s surveys of alumni.
“FEW PEOPLE FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS” AT UCLA
What is Regazzi’s team doing so well? The answer can be traced back to her graduation epiphany. “We know our students,” Regazzi asserts. “That’s a real overarching statement, but I mean it.”
To say that the Parker Career Management Center is an integral part of the Anderson experience would be an understatement. Like many programs, Anderson assigns an advisor to a group of students before orientation starts. This is generally done by industry verticals based on student interests. By the end of orientation, Regazzi’s team has met with every full-time first year. Over that time, they have closely parsed their resumes and held intimate discussions on such fundamental questions as what students hope to achieve. From there, the advisors keep close tabs on job-seeking MBA candidates.
“Quarter by quarter, we would reach out to our people,” Regazzi explains. “Every student was allowed to go to any advisor in our office, but they always had someone who was tracking them. Sometimes, they would change advisors along the way as they changed interests. But they had someone on them for the two years.” As a result, Regazzi knows where a jaw-dropping 99% of students are going when graduation rolls around. “Few people fall through the cracks. Something must be working if we know students that well.”
A CLOSE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN CAREER COACHES AND EMPLOYER RELATIONS
The Parker Center isn’t alone in capturing every student engagement among advisors. You’ll find the same strategy at the Career Development Center (CDC) at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which also earned one of the highest marks from students at 4.53 in The Economist survey. According to Jeff McNish, assistant dean of career development and a Michigan State MBA, one of the center’s strength’s is a close partnership between the employer relations and career coaching ends of the operation. Here, employer relations shares intelligence gathered from employers with the coaching staff. This information — which may include industry developments, key skills, and cultural nuances — is then dished out to students to enhance their odds of landing jobs. At the same time, coaches return the favor by telling employer relations staffers what students are seeking from employers.
For McNish, this collaboration is designed to get the right students in front of the right employers. “That’s probably the best practice in our business,” he explains. “You have information flow between coaches and employer relations people and the employer and the student are in the middle and the communication and information flow is for the benefit of both.”
This partnership plays out in other areas, too. McNish cites Darden’s successful “Week on Wall Street” in December. Sponsored by the school’s finance club, last year’s trip drew 45 students to meet with seven or more investment banks from a Tuesday through a Friday. Here, the employer relations and coaching sides worked closely on details and logistics. Coaches then accompanied the students to New York City as employer relations stayed behind in Charlottesville to work through any scheduling changes.
This working relationship left quite an impression, McNish adds. “It went seamless to students and employers alike. It generated lots of opportunities because students were getting additional interviews and face time, which gave us momentum for the on-grounds recruiting process in January.”
BECOMING A PEER COACH IS A COVETED ROLE FOR SECOND YEARS AT DARDEN
The career coaches aren’t the only ones keeping a close eye on students. At Anderson, the Parker Center enlists second years to act as coaches though ACT (Anderson Career Team). You’ll find the same dynamic at Darden. To become a peer coach, pre-selected second years must complete a course run by the Career Development Center, which trains them how to mentor first years. Like Anderson, Darden second years are organized by verticals. They too work closely with the coaches, providing real time feedback on first-year needs to career center staff. This, in turn, enables staff to better target their time or develop programming to address potential shortcomings in the class.
The program doesn’t just benefit first years, however. “We provide an experience for second years on a life-long skill on how to coach and inspire people to career management success,” McNish points out. “Right off the bat, that’s probably the largest way that we stay connected to first- and second-year classes. We do it in a way to help the second years learn or refine the managerial skill of coaching and mentoring their peers, while also leveraging the experience they had in their first year so they can transmit that knowledge to the incoming class. It’s a well-defined program.”
Becoming a peer coach is also considered a badge of honor at Darden. “Our first-year students look forward to the selection process in hopes that they can give back to Darden by being a second-year coach,” McNish adds. “Our student coaches really take the responsibility of shepherding the first years through the process seriously. They’ve already seen how the outcomes of our internship recruiting season are directly related to the work that they do.”
As you’d expect, both Anderson and Darden survey students incorporate their feedback into the efforts. In fact, Regazzi admits to “surveying the heck out of the students and employers.” Her goal is simple: Get out in front of everyone so they can be sure that they’re doing everything they need to be doing. You won’t find the employer outreach team at either school just printing up resume books or sprucing up interview rooms, either. Instead, both are constantly gathering information from employers.
(Economist career center ranking is found on page 3)