Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business (No. 10 in BusinessWeek's latest MBA program rankings) is renowned for its tight alumni network -- and Steve Lubrano is living proof of its power. The '87 Tuck grad worked with nine classmates at Dallas real estate developer Trammell Crow before buying several MailBoxes, Etc., franchises. By 1993, he was back in idyllic Hanover, N.H., working for his alma mater in the career services office. In an impeccable feat of timing, he moved out of the career services office in 2000 to become assistant dean and director of the MBA program. On May 2, Lubrano spoke with BusinessWeek Online's Brian Hindo about the MBA job market. Here's an edited version of their conversation:
Q: Can you give me some sense of what the job market is looking like, especially compared with last year?
A: Yeah, it's really tough. Nothing comes easy. I think the silver lining is, students are looking at what they want to do rather than what they think they ought to do because they have an MBA. That has led to stronger focus, which I think will lead to greater retention in the jobs they do select. Historically, it used to be pretty easy to attend a place like Tuck, get an interview with a consultant or a banking outfit, and just take the job, even though it might not be quite right. They're not doing that this year.
Last year at this time, I think we were about 61% placed for second-years. Currently, we're about 57%. It's only four percentage points down. For first-years, we were at 62% placed for internships last year. As of today, we're at 76%. So the numbers are comparing pretty well to last year, but certainly aren't as good as three or four years ago.
Q: How are you doing in terms of companies coming to campus?
A: We've booked 100 firms recruiting on campus. We've had 177 correspondence opportunities for the first-years and more than 320 correspondence opportunities for the second years. Back in 1996, about 55% to 60% of our students found their jobs through on-campus recruiting. Now, with consulting and banking hiring down, students are less inclined to look at firms that know their personnel needs 12 months ahead.
Q: What are some examples of companies that are doing "just-in-time" hiring?
A: Real estate is one. Students need to be very targeted, because it tends to be a very local play. There aren't any national real estate firms in Hanover, N.H. We've got a student who's looking at the luxury condo business down in Florida. That means he goes back and forth to Florida every other week in order to interview aggressively. And these companies aren't making simple hiring decisions. The companies need a lot of face time, a lot of exposure with the prospective hires. That's the price you need to pay to find a job you want. I would far prefer that a student do that rather than take an easy job for a year or two and grow tired of it.
We also see a significant hiring increase in pharma, biotech, and in health care services. Bristol-Myers is going to take six of our students, which for us is a huge number. Wyeth, Guidant, and Johnson & Johnson are looking. Those are all firms that two, three years ago had a tough time capturing any student mind share.
We also see growth in classic, general management jobs, if you will. General Electric hired three of our students for its leadership development programs. John Deere is doing the same thing. Three years ago, to find five students that would go to Moline, Ill., from Hanover -- that was a tough sell. Now students are less inclined to eliminate a company for geographic reasons if everything else is pumping on all cylinders.
Q: How is the banking industry?
A: It's down a little. But all the firms are recruiting on campus, or at least they're looking at students. UBS, for instance, never had much of a presence at Tuck, but this year it's our No. 1 recruiter, hiring at least 14 students between both classes. This has a lot to do with the fact that the chairman of UBS is a Tuck alum, and that's wonderful. The cool thing is that they're hiring for banking, sales and trading, fixed income, and equities. They even have a kid working in the operations group. That means they've taken a comprehensive look at their talent and their recruiting needs.
Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Prudential -- they all have a presence, but they're not hiring double digits. They're hiring one, two, three students. And that's fine. Frankly, I think with what's going on out there, students are lucky that such companies are even looking.
Q: Consulting has always been a big draw for Tuck students. What's going on with hiring in that industry?
A: We're seeing a slight uptick in consulting now, a little bit later in the season. I think that bodes well for next year.
Q: Have you had to do anything extra to entice companies to come to Hanover to recruit?
A: Well, I wish I had a corporate airplane like Cornell does. But the notion that in order to find talent at Tuck you need to be in Hanover is just wrong.
Students aren't looking only at on-campus recruiting, although that's the most efficient method. In an ideal world, what I'd like to see is not a student with 15 offers, but rather a student who thinks carefully about what he or she wants, knows why, who goes after an employer and gets the interview. If that firm is in Poughkeepsie or Cleveland or Seattle, all you need to do is pick up the phone, articulate the reason why you're right for the job, and get on the plane. We tell students not to limit themselves to on-campus recruiting. You leverage the alumni database; you leverage the board of overseers; you reach out aggressively to executive education contacts.
Q: What kind of advice have you given to career changers who are having a hard time in this market?
A: It's a lot easier to change your career from a place like Tuck than it is to do from an existing job or from being unemployed. We've got access to databases and resources and electronic job search channels that you couldn't afford if you weren't affiliated with a school. Furthermore, you're surrounded by 240 classmates, all of whom have connections to previous employers or friends of friends who will provide you with opportunities that you wouldn't have in another environment.
You've got access to faculty, as well, and 9,000 living alumni. Not to mention a group of folks in career services who provide the kind of career coaching you don't find anywhere else.
Q: How are international students faring in the job hunt?
A: The percentage of international students with jobs in both classes is almost the same as in the greater population. So, I guess I don't buy the notion that they are currently at a disadvantage, only because the numbers don't indicate that. But it is harder? Sure, it's harder. It's like the kid who wants a job in Florida real estate who has to fly down there every other week. That wasn't normal three years ago.
Many [international students] view returning to their home country as their best choice coming out of the program. A lot of our Russian students are going back to Russia -- where there are great jobs, by the way. Some of our Latin American students are finding it tough because the economy there is tough. I'd say they're probably in the most difficult shape.
My advice to international students is: Don't compare yourself to all the other MBA applicants -- you know, on the basis of analytical ability, teamwork, drive for success. There's some company that's going to want the kid who speaks four languages. Find out who it is.
Q: The late '90s boom provided plenty of lucrative job opportunities for MBAs, but it also ratcheted up student expectations. How have you dealt with imparting the new job market realities to MBA students?
A: Expectations are a funny thing to manage. Consider: You're a smart MBA applicant. You've just gotten into your three schools of choice. You got an 800 on the GMAT. And you probably have never failed in your life. Then somebody says, 'Hey, you know what, the market's real tough, so be prepared. You think, "Are you kidding me? I'm capturing the world, buddy. I can do anything. All your tales of doom don't apply to me." I'm not sure that the reality of the tough market hits until you experience it.
What we hope to do is minimize the number of folks who experience that by preparing them well and by giving them the recruiting advantage that comes with a top school. That said, you want to have a safety net. That has a lot to do with training on how to find a job, not just giving somebody access to a Rolodex.
Q: What specific job skills do recruiters want in MBAs?
A: When I first took the job in career services, I asked all of our primary recruiters: "What can we teach these people that would make them more attractive to you? What are we not teaching that we need to?"
Most of recruiters looked at me like I had three heads, and said: "Don't worry about it, because we're going to teach them things when they come here. But we want you to teach them to be leaders, to know how to solve a problem, to drive for results."
Q: In that case, it sounds like interpersonal skills would probably be of greater importance than hard, quantitative skills.
A: When MBAs take a class that's a little softer -- about how to manage people or how to motivate people -- these future bankers are scratching their heads thinking, "Come on, this is intuitive, of course I know this stuff.' Then 10 years later, when they're managing people and they're not valuing companies anymore, they come back and they say, 'Can I get a copy of that book again? Because I need to remember how to motivate people, how to manage people, how to lead people through conflict."