The Wharton School is the epitome of a “big school.” It houses nearly 1,750 full-time MBA students. That doesn’t even count undergrads or executive MBAs! For Michelle Hopping, director of career management at the Wharton School, scale has its advantages.
Here, highly-accomplished students and wide-ranging expertise translate to major employers making regular pilgrimages to Philadelphia. Don’t assume Hopping’s team caters exclusively to the likes of McKinsey, Amazon, and Goldman Sachs. Being resource-rich, Wharton attracts students who plan to strike out on rarely-tread and unconventional paths. That means Wharton’s career team must “flex” to meet individual needs.
GO BIG OR GO SMALL
“We’re not a one-size-fits-all type of office,” Hopping tells P&Q in a spring interview. “For example, on the company relationship side, we can be pretty scrappy and nimble when we work with startups, VC funds or companies that are unfamiliar with MBA recruiting. We can be creative brainstorm partners with them. On the flip side, we can put forth operational excellence towards companies that want seamless execution at scale. We flex back-and-forth a lot and we see that as a strength.”
That may be a strength for Wharton’s MBA Career Services, but it isn’t an easy balance to maintain. That’s because Hopping’s team focuses on the individual constituents – and their goals, needs, and paths. Based on student feedback, Wharton follows through on Hopping’s mandate. Each year, The Economist holds a satisfaction survey completed by current students and recent alumni. Using a five-point scale, (with 5 being the highest mark), the Wharton School scored a 4.23 average, good for 7th-best among top business schools in 2018. The score also placed Wharton’s Career Services above big school juggernauts like Columbia Business School (4.10), Harvard Business School (4.0), and INSEAD (3.99).
Wharton wasn’t the only program whose career services team was garnering accolades from students, past and present. The University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business is a case in point. In 2018, McCombs placed 3rd in The Economist’s ranking of career services centers. More strikingly, the program’s score has jumped by .36 of a point over the past three surveys. To put it another way, McCombs ranked just 17th in 2016, picking up 14 spots in the past three years
IT’S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU LEARN…AND WHO YOU SHARE IT WITH
What changed? Janet Huang, the managing director of MBA career management at McCombs, traces it to her career consulting team’s obsessive focus on market intelligence – and funneling it across the program. “It is all rooted around understanding industries and being able to translate what is happening out in the market back to help inform our strategy and vision going forward,” she tells P&Q. “We have strategic conversations with our key employment partners on understanding talent transformation and how you define it so we can bring that back in terms of curriculum development and our own internal strategy. At the same time, we can be nimble in terms of helping our students and making tweaks to our curriculum and services so we can be moving with the market.”
That same strategy is applied at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Anderson’s Parker Center, profiled by P&Q in 2017, again reined as the top career center in 2018 according to Economist survey respondents. The University of Chicago’s Career Center, lauded for driving high placement and mobilizing 2nd-year “pay it forward” support, placed as the runner-up. Carnegie Mellon Tepper and (4.30) and NYU Stern (4.25) rounded out the Top Five.
Comparing the 2018 and 2016 survey results, European career centers have taken a major step forward. – at least according to students and alumni. Notably, HEC Paris has seen its survey average jump from 2.75 to 3.54 – a .79 of a point improvement. IESE Business School’s average also climbed from 3.63 to 4.0 – with NYU Stern (+.28) and INSEAD (+.24) also generating more positive reviews. The same can’t be said for IE Business School, where lower scores from respondents dropped the school from 3.59 to 2.87. Virginia Darden and Indiana Kelley, traditionally ranked among the top career centers, tumbled by .65 and .59 of a point respectively as well.
A DATA-DRIVEN APPROACH
The Wharton School is known for its “analytical” approach to understanding business. Not surprisingly, Wharton’s career services takes a data-heavy approach to its work there. That stems partially from MBA students, who tend to factor data such as company statistics, salary information, and alumni patterns into decision-making. However, data collection has also enabled the center to benefit students and employers alike. One example is investment banking, which accounted for a fifth of hiring at Wharton in 2018. Here, students were receiving multiple offers from banks at the same time – which made these employers’ hiring rates look poor.
“Since these firms were making offers to the same couple of students, they were getting a lot of rejections,” Michelle Hopping explains. “So there were distribution and yield problems. Looking over data over a handful of years, we kept seeing it amplify, so we created an algorithm with the help of a professor. Students and employers would input their preferences at the time of final round interviews. Then we curated this list of students who should receive offers in each company.”
Wharton’s Career Center also deploys student data to tweak its offerings and operations. Recently, students inquired about being able to access advisors earlier in the year and more frequently. Looking at historical capacity and duration, Hopping realized that she’d need to make a tradeoff. “We’ve begun asking students if they would rather get in sooner and have a shorter appointment or wait a little bit longer and be able to sit with more time,” she says.
A WAY TO REACH EARLY STAGE FIRMS
Markets and expectations are constantly in flux, particularly when it comes to enticing high-end MBA talent. That’s one reason Wharton can never rest on its laurels, Hopping asserts. “We are always changing, adding, reformatting, and improving based on student feedback. There is nothing created that just sits on a shelf. We are always adapting to what the market is telling us – and thinking, ‘How can we evaluate our services based on what our constituents are looking for?’”
This point hit home for Hopping with entrepreneurship, which has grown increasingly popular with MBAs over the past decade. This option hasn’t just piqued the interest of students looking to launch their own venture in school. Others are weighing whether to join an early-stage company, acquire a nascent firm, or lay the groundwork to become a founder someday. To fill this gap, the school created a team inside the career center that focuses heavily on early-stage firms. Designed to support students and target employers, the startup team is divided into “mature” and “enterprise” segments. Mature firms tend to hire cyclically, Hopping notes, possessing both an HR infrastructure and budget to onboard MBAs. In contrast, the enterprise side offers none of these certainties.
“In this world, companies are engaged in immediate need hiring,” Hopping explains. “They don’t come to campus very often; they may hire one MBA every two or three years. Often, you’re working through an alum and not HR.”
To accommodate these enterprise employers, Wharton created a setting that fostered greater intimacy between students and alumni. “We want to be able to sit in small groups with alumni who work in some of these enterprise industries: sports, retail, hedge funds, private equity, media, and entertainment,” Hopping adds. “So we created a new program called Power Dinners, where we work in conjunction with our external affairs office to create a roster of alumni who would come to Philadelphia. They’ll sit with a dozen students at a time for a dinner to offer advice, career pathing information and management tips. It has been a very well-received addition.”
A look at Economist survey results is found on page 4.