APPLYING INDUSTRY KNOW-HOW TO THE CLASSROOM
Texas McCombs applies a similar formula, one that leans heavily on the staff’s industry expertise. That starts with Janet Huang, a Harvard Business School MBA whose resume features stints at ExxonMobil (engineering), Boston Scientific (business development), American Express (strategy and digital marketing), and Blackbaud (technology). She has sought out similar expertise in her team, whose backgrounds range from consulting for Deloitte to recruiting for Dimensional Fund Advisors.
“When I think about why this matters, we’re very thoughtful about how we can translate our industry knowledge into programming and services that better prepare our students,” Huang explains. “For example, consulting and tech product marketing and management are areas where many MBAs want to go after they graduate. We saw this trend and made a change in our workshop flows. In first-week orientation, we now do a case foundations workshop. This past year, 90% of students attended this workshop that lets them know what’s expected from a technical standpoint if you are doing consulting, tech product management, or CPG.”
McCombs’ career management team stays involved in the curriculum beyond orientation too. The school requires first-years to take BA 181 (Strategic Career Planning), which delves into professional development and job hunting. The course is based on an innovative framework that Huang created when she joined McCombs in 2015. Here, students engage in an intensive self-assessment, one that is based around a product launch framework.
TREATING JOB HUNTING LIKE A PRODUCT LAUNCH
“The idea is that each student is a CMO of a new product that they are launching and that product is the “new you” that you are trying to get into a new marketplace,” Huang outlines. “The idea around the framework is that if you have your strategy right, then your tactics will be easy. What I mean by tactics is reviewing your resume, preparing your Linkedin profile, or doing mock or case interview preparation. The work that you do upfront before that is strategy. The strategy is around doing a market assessment or the due diligence of the market you’re trying to get into and understanding your personal value proposition and where you fit into the new marketplace. That’s really where the rubber meets the road in terms of what actually differentiates what we teach in the classroom as it relates to career strategy.”
Huang calls career planning “part of the program’s DNA,” with BA 181 aligning closely with McCombs’ penchant for experiential learning. Being a first-semester class, students can also put this methodology into practice as they gear up for recruiter visits and internship interviews. This makes McCombs MBAs all the more competitive with peers from other programs.
“The course is about understanding what the market is, what the talent needs, and the things that the company needs that they aren’t saying so you can read between the lines and translate that into what you can bring to the table,” Huang notes. “A big part of what we shifted three years ago was actually incorporating value proposition into the curriculum. It is a really important workshop where you identify your key competitive advantages that you bring to the marketplace. We re-did the flow of our curriculum and it really helps us answer this question: Why me? Why am I the best candidate for you? So when we start working on the resume piece, it’s much easier because they’re not grasping at straws trying to figure what they are going to put in their resume. If they know what their value proposition is, they know what needs to go into a resume.”
AUSTIN ON THE RISE
To complement this, Huang adds, the career services center is integrating more design thinking concepts into orientation as well. “We want to help the students get out of the box of what is expected of them in terms of an MBA experience and help them truly create a plan for how they can prototype and try to tinker with different things as they help create their career plan. Every year, we are looking to ideate so we can ensure that we stay competitive.”
Of course, McCombs enjoys another built-in advantage: Austin itself. Huang calls it the “center of change innovation.” Long known as startup central, Austin has emerged as a tech hub. The industry has grown by 25% in the area over the past five years, boasting 7,000 high tech firms that account for 16% of the area’s jobs (with an average salary of $118,000) according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. In other words, opportunities are plentiful in Austin – and the city’s reach is increasingly global.
“Think about recent investments that companies have made in this city in the last year,” Huang points out. “We have Apple with their billion-dollar campus that will be built with 5,000 jobs to come. PIMCO, a very well-known investment management firm, has opened its third U.S. office right in the heart of downtown Austin; their focus is going to be tech, innovation, and digital. H-E-B, a very prominent supermarket in Texas with 350 stores, built their innovation center in Austin and are looking at transforming the digital retail experience for their customers. Google is building a 35-story building in downtown Austin and Facebook is building a 17-story building in North Austin.”
“BURNT ORANGE PUMPING THROUGH THEIR BLOODSTREAM”
With the opening of Rowling Hall in 2018, McCombs is smack-dab in the middle of all of this. “Go up to the 5th floor, which is where our interview center is,” Huang pictures. “If you look to the left, you can see campus. If you look to the right, you can see downtown. It is really symbolic of how we can reach the world, but also with the ability that this university has. We’re able to harness this because of the firepower of our alumni. They are extremely engaged. In fact, I don’t think there is a day where I don’t meet an alum on campus. They have a very deep passion for supporting the school.”
Passion? Well, Huang likens it to having “burnt orange pumping through their bloodstream.” Hyperbole? Sure, but Huang notes that McCombs MBA alums scored far better than the benchmark in a recent perspectives survey on school support. In fact, alumni often serve as panelists and speakers in the BA 181 course, as well as regularly providing invaluable market intelligence to the career services team. The best sign, Huang says, comes when alumni want to join her team.
“In January, we were hosting recruiter interviews for internships. There are always alumni who are coming back to represent their companies. I was talking to one of them and he said, ‘I knew when I graduated that I was going to work really, really hard to get on the recruiting team.’ There is literally in-fighting on who gets to be part of the recruiting team.”
ALUMNI WHO’LL PICK UP THE PHONE
The Wharton School also invests in alumni connectivity. In particular, the career management office engages heavily with alumni, says Michelle Hopping. Career coaches, for example, will interface with alums – either in-person or teleconference – in clubs, holding content-driven workshops or sharing insights and opportunities for a geographic area. The school’s website also provides advising and event information, giving alumni access to everything except on-campus recruiting. That dialogue has been deepened by the Wharton Alumni Career Chat, a platform that features a curated list of alumni “who are willing to take the call,” says Hopping.
“They will speak to students about their industry, function, and location,” she adds. “It cuts out the need for students to swim through a massive alumni directory and hope that someone responds to them. So students can tap into a more simplified list with this platform. One iteration of this involves global regions, specifically for non-US job seekers, where alumni can speak to market trends, industry players, and job requirements in their area. Last fall, we also launched Round 2, [extending this initiative] to the Enterprise Framework.”
Internally, Wharton is structured to equally serve students and alumni. “One of the unique things about Wharton is that we have alumni career management sitting in the career services office,” Hopping points out. “Our alumni job seeker support is housed with us. We also have a very strong partnership with external affairs and alumni engagement teams, so there is a lot of dialogue happening.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE…
That structural integration doesn’t stop there. Career management, for example, reports to the same person as the student life, admissions, and financial aid offices, leveling potential silos that might normally inhibit communication and collaboration. To enhance support for MBA students, Wharton launched its Advising Support Network – “lovingly” referred to as ASN – two years ago.
“Essentially, every student is assigned an academic advisor, student life associate director, career management advisor, and leadership officer advisor,” Hopping summarizes. “There are four advisors working in tandem for every student. On the career management side, we are aligned by industry. Ultimately, students can go to whoever they want to see, but there is a point of triage where the career management advisor for that student can act as a point person as needed.”
Bottom line: the ASN, which begins work in pre-term and is broken down by cluster, mixes the big picture with individual attention. Together, each network explores the activities they want students to complete, along with the questions that they need to reflect on early in their Wharton year. Perhaps the ASN’s biggest success has been the pre-term goal-setting exercise, which helps first-years flush out their goals and set a plan going forward.
“There is a lot of brainstorming and cross-pollination to creating these programs,” Hopping notes. “When you think of the student-facing part of that, they’re visible at events together so one piece of it is being accessible and people knowing who their go-to person is as a student. Another piece is, let’s say students are running into challenges or they need support in a particular area. How can those four people come together and be helpful, even if it is not their area of expertise? So it is like this added cushion or support system beyond the single point person they may have.”