What are students now looking for in employers, and how has that changed over the past few years, if at all?
I think MBAs are looking for companies that have breakthrough business models that are changing life. They like the idea of innovation and creativity. They want to work for an exciting, cutting-edge type of situation, with smart people. They want to be surrounded by this energy. The other thing they are looking for is meaning. We learn in the design thinking model there is money-making and there is meaning-making. And I think that’s a good phrase for what students are looking for — a combination of both, ideally. But the meaning-making is very, very important. And they’ll tell me about that — how purposeful employment should be.
I hear this more and more. It’s kind of work-life balance, but it’s more flexible schedules and looking for employers that understand that there is a new normal out there for work-life and professional-life. They do look at company principles at work.
I also am thinking about the overall arching umbrella of well-being. The term well-being, which we have built into our MBA program. We had a well-being calendar last year to focus on activities like yoga, exercise programs, nutrition discussions, a book club, and professors that we will be partnering with to talk about resilience in careers. This well-being topic is high on my priority list because you cannot do anything with people unless they have taken care of themselves and are healthy — mentally and emotionally as well.
So, to inverse the question, what are employers looking for in students nowadays, and how has that changed recently if at all?
Employers are looking for the communication, the problem solving, and the ability to see around corners — to see what isn’t there yet, but be able to project out. I think that’s an additional critical thinking skill that people are looking for in leadership. And, again, getting back to the leadership, they are also looking for collaboration and the ability to get along with people that are very different thinkers and behaviors than yourself and being able to work with them and work with them without authority. Delegating and influencing without authority is huge in these matrix organizations — cross-departmental influence where you’ve got to have some way to make things happen without supervision.
You also have to have hard skills — just basic finance skills — understanding business and finance. Also, Sequel is really beloved and Tableau is an extra-good thing. Excel is an absolute basic skill that is expected. We actually bring Amazon in to teach our MBAs on memo writing. They give a two-hour workshop on how to write and it is really good.
We’ve also heard an executive presence and entrepreneurial spirit. Those are the other two skills. Own the business that you are part of. The empathy word comes up a lot as well. Not from the employers wanting students to have it, but students looking for empathy on the part of the employers — getting back to that previous question you asked.
For students that are really trying to take advantage of what your office has to offer, what are some important points for them?
We do have a requirement for graduation for MBAs. That’s why we put together the six-day professional development course, which is prior to school even starting. That gets them going and then we follow with four more sessions during the fall quarter. A big competency in it is preparing them for interviews, which happen early in fall quarter. We have to get them ready for professional-level interviewing where they may be coming from all these diverse backgrounds a so forth.
In our model competencies, we have the interview skill-building, the resume workshop, the networking, the how-to’s for the international students, and the ability to navigate through this recruiting calendar. So, we assign a professional coach to every student — they can see any of us — but this assures they have at least one person assigned to them. We also have an onboarding position for first-years. This takes them through what to expect, and answers their questions, and tries to make that coming to graduate school process smoother with regard to career.
I teach the professional development course for MBAs, along with a couple other people in my office and we have covered such things as decision making, negotiating a salary, and deciding what offers to pick. We also bring in a lot of different company representatives to talk about what is trending in their companies and industries. We also have second-year panelists that share how they have gotten where they are.
We also have the mentorship program, which is actually quite popular in this region. We have over 85 executives that actually are assigned to students. The students visit their companies and also have one-on-one meetings with the executives. We also have executive office hours here, which means executives come here and in half-hour intervals, talk to our students about their career goals and also what they’ve done in their careers.
We also have treks. We just had our Bay Area trek and have our Asia trek coming up. We also have applied strategy projects in the winter quarter. Students are assigned team projects to work with a company for an entire quarter — like a consulting team. And we also have the same thing for nonprofits.
What influences you all in deciding which programming to implement and when?
We really do follow the design thinking model and getting at the empathy at the very beginning with students. And how we get empathetic with them is that the student body elects representatives to our office and I meet weekly with them for about an hour. We also have great support from the dean to move in all sorts of different directions.
We also have to peer advisors that we pay to coach first-years and we meet with them regularly. We also have three advisory boards that come on campus and help with coaching.
How much has the pressure and insecurity surrounding work visas played a role in what you all do?
We actually haven’t felt that impacted yet. If you look at our numbers, our international students are getting employed. It is not an easy process, however, because many employers are not accepting post-graduates not authorized to work in the U.S. So, we have to look and look and look and create relationships with employers constantly. But we have heard more employers that are retreating back from that and that is a trend across the country.
We spend a great deal of our time trying to find companies that will sponsor for international. That is a concerted focus for this team.
What do employers say about Foster graduates?
I get positive feedback, but this season, in particular, I’ve had a couple employers say, ‘I want to come back for more.’ I have this feeling that the leadership program that involves our leadership fellows is having an impact. They’re learning how to collaborate and how to communicate in ways that go beyond the old model.