A Career Jumpstart In The MBA Program Of The Year

Most business schools have global immersions for their MBA students. But there is only one school that actually takes its career management staffers along to prep students for internships interviews. As part of the overhaul of the MBA curriculum of Washington University’s Olin Business School, staffers from the school’s Weston Career Center accompanied first-year MBA students on much of their 38-day immersion to Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Spain, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.

In this, the third and final live stream webinar on Poets&Quants‘ MBA Program of the Year, P&Q founder John A. Byrne orchestrates a conversation with Jennifer Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center, Chris Collier, a career coach with the center, and Kendra Kelly, an MBA student started interviewing for internship opportunities while in Barcelona. The first live stream webinar featured Olin Dean Mark Taylor and two professors while the second explored student perspectives on the new MBA curriculum.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows:

John A. Byrne: So I know that recruiting on business school campuses starts super early, and it’s an anxiety-ridden process for students, in part, because there are so many other things that are happening. You’ve just come to campus. You’re thrown into the most demanding part of the MBA curriculum, the core courses. Faculty deliberately toss more work at you than you can possibly do so you learn the importance of prioritizing things.  And then, recruiters descend on campus for info sessions, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and interviews. I’m sure that’s why you started the career planning portion of the program during the immersion. Right?

Jennifer Whitten: Yes. absolutely. We started working with the students even before they got on campus because many students might even start recruiting. As you mentioned, Kendra had an interview during the immersion. So what we’re trying to do is lay that foundation for success. What we’re able to do is work with them a little about who they are, what their story is, and to help them start to think about what their strategy is going to be. We started doing workshops on the road, exploring how they leverage their backgrounds, how to begin targeting companies, and prepare for interviews. All of that we’re doing over the summer to lay the foundation so it is easier when they come back onto campus. We’re just giving them a little bit more time to ramp up.

Byrne: And you’re also helping them translate their experience abroad to potential employers.

Whitten: Many of us actually sat in on some of the sessions with the faculty. We participated. I did some of the tours myself so I could learn what is it that our students are learning to help them articulate that to a future employer. It was a lot of fun as well.

Byrne: Kendra, how in the world were you doing internship interviews from Barcelona. How’d you get that head start?

Kendra Kelly: So I started in May, I believe, with the Poets&Quants networking fair in New York, actually. That was my first touchpoint with L’Oreal where I will be doing my summer internship. I’m also a Consortium fellow. And I went to OP, which is our week-long, really intense recruiting experience. I also went to the Forte conference and even Jump Start for brand management.

Byrne: You checked all the boxes.

Kelly: Yes, and so I came in with a headstart, absolutely. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of just how I was going to get it done. And I’m so grateful for the support that I had during the trip because I could say to our faculty members, “Hey, I have to do an interview and I’m going to have to leave class for a minute.”

And then Career Services, they were just incredible. I could say, “Hey, let me work through this response with you, really fast.” Or, “Help me craft what we just did on this project.” And so that was really helpful. I think it absolutely helped set me apart.

Byrne: Chris, you did actual coaching, both one-on-one and in groups. What was that like?

Chris Collier: It was a fantastic experience. Kendra talked about how we worked to help develop those stories or strategies. And one of the things we were really conscious of is how can you share your competitive advantage with employers. Just reading a P&L statement may not be a competitive advantage. It’s what you did with that P&L statement that becomes your unique identifier during an interview. So we delivered content around identifying competitive advantages and how to talk about it. And we also touched on things like LinkedIn and the digital advantage that they could use as well.

Byrne: So how did you fit all this into the comings and goings of the trip in three different locations?

Whitten: We worked a lot with the faculty to carve out what that time would look like so that it was actually built into the students’ schedules. So as students would get their schedules for the day, you’d see what you’re doing in the classroom. You might see your experiential assignment, and then you would see what you’d be doing with the career center. So it was built into the overall agenda because I think we, our faculty and our administration believe that our students’ careers are of the utmost importance.

Byrne: Kendra, did you find particular pieces of this really helpful for you as you were interviewing for your internship opportunities?

Kelly: Absolutely, I think one of the first sessions we did was just understanding who you are and really crafting your personal brand. And personally, sometimes it’s hard for me to do that. So, it was really helpful to have those techniques readily available in the moment due to the fact that I was interviewing for part of the summer experience.

Byrne: I had asked the previous students who were on the panel, what was their magic moment during the entire trip. I need to ask you.

Kelley: There were a few of us who had the opportunity to spend half of the day on a yacht in Barcelona, which was very fun. And that is an experience I will never forget. We convinced our captain to take us out farther than he usually does and we just jumped off and swam in the ocean for a while and yeah, it was incredible.

Byrne: I don’t know how career-related that is but it really sounds like a good break from the immersion.

Kelly: Well in terms of my career magic moment, I will say I had a late-night interview in Barcelona and I got off my call and I thought to myself, wait a minute, I’m not a student abroad, I’m a working professional because I had the opportunity to talk about these projects that were client-focused and we had to figure out deliverables. Those were just incredible experiences to have in the summer when most of my peers at other schools weren’t doing anything like that. To be able to speak about those experiences so early on in my MBA journey, I think was just an incredible differentiating factor.

Byrne: That’s one of the benefits of experiential learning. When you’re involved in a real project with a real organization that gives you a great talking point for a job interview. How do you help a student shape that story?

Whitten: We do have a really robust career center, and each student comes in with a dedicated career coach. So as we’re walking through that process, they have the opportunity to sit down and talk with somebody about it. It’s the time, the accessibility that a student, anytime they want,  to come in and talk with us. We ask lots of questions to kind of dig a little bit deeper and understand what their accomplishments were and help some articulate that. You know just listening. I think is actually the key to helping somebody to be successful. We’re there to help students practice. If somebody wants to come in and share their story, we’re going to listen, we’re going to refine, and we’re going to pick out the things that could really matter.

Byrne: Chris, since you were coaching people in Barcelona, I wonder what’s the difference between coaching a student in a foreign location opposed to on campus?

Collier: That’s a good question. You know I think we interact with students in multiple ways, and it’s really kind of easy when you have those structured coaching appointments where they can come in and sit down and go okay, “What would you like to talk about today?” And you know just because of the nature of the travel and the nature of the whole global experience, often times we’d find we would just set up shop in the hotel lobby and flip open the laptop, which says we’re open for business. We’d get the drive-by coaching. And those were a surprising and really successful way to connect with students because it was on the fly, when they needed it in a very relaxed setting.

Byrne: I would think the session’s also different because when you’re in a different location, it may be easier to create a feeling of intimacy and vulnerability in a new and different place.

Collier: Yes, we had lots of, not only hotel lobby discussions, but we had bus ride discussions and we had a lot of back between school sessions. It was an ever-changing way to provide a high level of support.

Byrne: Now do you think the students were better prepared when they came back to campus than what they would have been if they didn’t have this immersion?

Whitten: I definitely feel like they’re better prepared and because they have new stories. Because most of the time when somebody would come in, they’re only going to have the stories they had from their previous background. Now they have these new stories that they could start to share and articulate. I think there’s also the bonding that helped prepare the students. Where before if you didn’t know your career services staff, your career coach, you’re just getting to know them. After this experience, we know them. We’ve spent all this time building that rapport. Students can feel like they could stop by come into our office. That’s a huge part of it. We bonded.

Byrne: Jen, explain to me why recruiting of MBA students start so early? Can’t these companies just lay off for a little while and let everyone get into a groove first before they pounce on them?

Whitten: Great question. It does. It starts really early. It’s still a competitive job market. I would say we do have some early recruitment in the summer. It’s as early as September as we start to see employers on-campus recruiting for internships. We’re still in a great job market, which is fantastic, and companies want to find top talent. So I think a lot of that begins to start early.

Byrne: So this has more to do with the demand for MBAs than anything else. ‘You know people read these headlines about declining MBA applications and some might be led to think that the MBA, if it’s not dead, has jumped the shark. And yet, there’s never been a time when graduating MBAs have made more money, have had more companies clamoring to interview them at stages that are incredibly early in the process. Kendra, you ultimately had five job offers for internships?

Kelly: Yup.

Byrne: That’s remarkable.

Kelly: Thank you, thank you.

Byrne: How do you guide students to be a little more patient about the process? Because I’m sure that if you get an offer really early, you might want to accept it, and it may not be the ideal offer for you. So how do you coach people through that process and against some of the pressure that a potential employer would put on a student to make a quick decision?

Whitten: One of the things that is most important is to give people that space to explore. Even as we’re starting earlier, I do feel like it gives students that opportunity to explore while they’re actually in these experiences. I know some students were thinking about consulting. So you’re able to consult with real companies. You’re traveling. Even that exposure early on, allows students to do a little bit more of that exploration. Then knowing you have a career coach that if you get that early offer, you can go in and you can talk to somebody that really knows who you are to relieve maybe some of that pressure and give you some ideas about how that offer may match up against who are you and what your values are. We’re able to do that with a lot of students. But I do know there’s pressure for many of them.

Byrne: Chris, did you have a magic moment in Barcelona?

Collier: Yes I did. You know one of the interesting things is being part of that bus ride to and from the different locations. We had students from Shanghai who created a group chat and started sharing tips and tricks about their city. It was this wonderful experience. Even though they had been traveling for three or four weeks, they were still having that outreach and I think what was also magical about it was creating that global perspective. And so it was this just a crystallizing moment of what this program is about.

Byrne: So Kendra, when you came back to campus, was it a bit of a downer after having this incredible experience abroad?

Kelly: It was not a downer at all. I was ready to jump into the core and kick off my MBA in a more traditional sense. And so, no, I will say the bonds that we created as a cohort, to be able to have that exist in St. Louis and be just as meaningful, just as strong, just as fun was incredible. I will say that many of us felt very prepared for our core, in terms of how rigorous it is. We were really prepped very well through the global immersion. I believe one of my classmates, Jennifer, called it, “A Baptism by Fire.” And ultimately, that allowed us to be very resilient. And so we entered fall with a core foundation of key principles and concepts that we need to know and understand how to work through those different frameworks. But we were prepared, and ready, to be able to meet those challenges.

Byrne: I’m told a lot of second-year students looked at the first-year students and said, “Hey, what’s going on here?” Because you people were so tight.

Kelly: Yeah, they still comment on it actually. Our bond is different, but I think it’s what you would expect after circumnavigating the globe with a hundred strangers turned friends turned family. So, we’re bonded in a different way.

Byrne: So I’ve asked everybody for their magic moment. Jen, what was yours on the trip?

Whitten: I spent so much time with the students and I think for me, what I realize and self-awareness, for me, I’ve always been in this role where I talk to students for the first time they get on campus, and they’re all going through life changes because they’ve arrived. When I traveled with them, you know what? I was also going through issues with jet lag, and I was tired. I had a very different experience where I realized I was able to put myself in the students’ shoes. That was just a really important part to realize that we can have a common experience with students that I had never had before. And I’ve really enjoyed that bond that’s been able to continue on. They know me. I know them. In a very different way than I’ve ever had before in my previous jobs.

Byrne: Thanks, everyone.


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