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How Stern Sends Students to Work

Gary Fraser is the assistant dean of the office of career development at New York University's Stern School of Business

(No. 15 in BusinessWeek's 2002 MBA Rankings). In that position, which he has held for the past three years, Fraser has met with hundreds of companies in his efforts to place approximately 800 full-time MBA graduates annually.

Since arriving from Kraft Nabisco, Fraser has revamped the career-development program for incoming MBAs, restructured the process for companies that interview students on-campus, and built up a staff of more than 20 career counselors and relationship managers. Fraser is also responsible for providing career services to approximately 1,800 part-time MBA students at NYU.

A 1992 alumnus of Stern's MBA program, Fraser held positions in brand management at companies such as Sara Lee (SLE), Cadbury Beverages (CSG), and Kraft Nabisco (KFT), and has helped promote Mott's applesauce, LifeSavers, and Gummi Savers. Recently, he spoke with Mica Schneider, BusinessWeek Online's reporter covering management education, about NYU's efforts to place MBA grads in the tight job market. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Your office has 2,600 MBAs to counsel

as they search for new jobs or reassess their career goals. Eight hundred are full-time MBAs, and the rest are part-time students. How do you divide the office's efforts?

A: It's a challenge, because with the tougher economy everyone has more needs. Until recently, we had a lot of alumni coming back to us, asking for career guidance, since even in a good economy the typical person switches jobs a couple of times.

To deal with increasing demand, we opened a career center for working professionals this past spring. We needed the office because often the skills of our part-time students didn't match the type of jobs recruiters were offering. Someone with six or seven years of experience wasn't having success interviewing for a job that required just three or four years of experience.

The new office is run by Lizette Hernandez, who has experience in human-resources recruiting. She has a team of five people who have recruiting experience. The new office was created by the dean and reports to my office. It's dedicated to working with part-time students, with alumni of Stern's MBA programs (full-time, part-time and EMBA), and with self-sponsored executive MBA students. We also might work with EMBA students looking to move to new jobs within their companies.

Q: What kind of career options did your full-time MBA graduates have in 2003?

A: This year was a little tougher year than last year. But in some ways, it was a cleaner year. Last year, companies that came to campus hadn't adjusted their hiring needs, so some companies interviewed students but never made offers. This past fall, we had fewer companies come to campus, but those that did came to hire.

In 2001, two-thirds of our graduates went to banking and finance. This year, banking is still the top employer, but we've had students go to more diverse companies, including film studios and publishing houses. Some of these job hunts take a little longer, because there isn't a structured recruiting process at such companies. At graduation in 2002, 72% of our graduates had job offers. At this point in the summer, 65% to 70% of our 2003 graduates are placed.

Q: How did salaries change this year, compared with 2002?

A: For the core MBA positions -- for instance, sales and trading, research, or finance at an investment bank -- the base salary is about the same, but hiring packages tend to lack a signing bonus or only include a small signing bonus. Of course, there are also fewer jobs with high salaries, so we may see salaries stay the same or come down slightly.

Q: What changes do you see recruiters making in this slow job market?

A: The method of evaluation is the same, but the process is more competitive. The recruiters are also hiring as they go. In the past, a lot of companies could forecast their demand and hire an MBA for a job that would be available six months later. Now, a hiring decision is based on a company's immediate needs.

Q: Which MBAs have had the most success in this environment?

A: The type of person who is a networker -- extroverted, and outgoing. This isn't the kind of market where a great r?sum? will get you something. My tip to MBAs is to do their research -- understand where you want to go. Companies hate to hear students say, "tell me about your company." In this market, they expect you to know. They want to hear, "I know you're working on this kind of business, which is a new area for the company. Tell me more about it."

As an MBA you're here to learn, that's No. 1. But if you can apportion some time for your job search, you'll have more luck finding a job.

Q: How have Stern's students from abroad fared in this job market?

A: The international students have trailed the full-time, domestic MBAs, but not dramatically. We have a history of attracting top international students. They've done well and are heading off to investment banks and consulting firms. But some companies have shifted their policies for hiring international students and sponsoring them for visas.

This year, we hired someone to help international students find jobs in the U.S. and also back home. This person will work with the students and with companies to identify new opportunities for non-U.S. MBAs.

Q: How did the first-year MBAs fare with their summer-internship placements?

A: About 94% of our first-year MBAs have internships. We've seen companies continue with need-based hiring. A lot of institutions -- and this a plus -- in New York need someone to do a three- or four-week internship. Last year, 92% of our first-year MBAs found internships.

Q: How does Stern's urban location affect the MBAs' ability to find jobs?

A: It's a plus. A large percentage of our MBAs intern while they're taking classes. So if you were interested in working for a hedge fund, you could work for 10 hours per week at a small one. It's a win-win, since a company may need someone to crunch numbers and do research, and the student needs the experience and the chance to network. Some of these in-semester internships have led to [full-time] job offers.

However, we don't want students who are starting the first semester of their first year to jump into an internship, since the first semester is demanding.

Q: What changes have you made to Stern's career office since your arrival three years ago?

A: Overall, we've moved from offering career services for the two years [students are at B-school] to offering life-long assistance. When I arrived, the office was understaffed. Now, there's a balance between people with educational and administrative experience at the university, and those with corporate experience, people who have been recruiters themselves and know how to manage relationships with companies.

We have to look at each group of MBAs as products, and we need the right resources for each group. So we've improved our services for international students, as I mentioned, by adding a new staff member to focus on this group. And we've created the new [career service] division to help our working professionals.

This past year, we also brought in six professional career counselors to do mock interviews with the MBAs, instead of having second-year MBAs do them for the first-years. And we revamped the career-management series and renamed it the career-development program.

We want to ensure that our students are as competitive as possible. We have bright, energetic students, but there are lots of nuances to the recruiting process. So we've begun some required programs for students, including two required mock interviews. Students have said that they're glad we forced them to do the courses, because they hadn't realized how intense recruiting was.

Q: What is your next objective?

A Our office's ongoing challenge is to change with the times. The economy might get better, but it won't be what it was. We need to be as flexible as possible as a career center, and we also have to make sure that students are nimble and understand the benefits of networking. The MBA is going to be valuable in the future to traditional firms, but it's also going to be valuable to new kinds of businesses.

Q: How can you ensure that as more people get an MBA, the degree doesn't lose some of its value?

A: The number of MBAs has exploded since I graduated in 1992. But in the past you'd hear, "do you have an MBA?" Now it's "where's your MBA from?" So we have to ensure that people know the Stern brand for its connection to the New York business community, its strong finance program, and the unique students we have.

An MBA isn't something that will be paid off in two years. You have to know what your long-term career goals are and decide if an MBA will help you [achieve those].

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