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Graduate Grooming to Get Ahead

Charlotte I. Linn Stein is the Director of Career Planning at the Rice University Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management (second tier on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top B-schools), a post she filled in 2003. After receiving her MBA from the Jones School in 2001, she spent several years as a strategy consultant and manager, first with Andersen Business Consulting's National Strategy Practice and then with BearingPoint's Oil & Gas.

Stein says students need to do their research early and practice getting the word out about what they're looking for in a job .She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What do you ask students to do before they get to campus?

A: During the summer, we send them a mailing that includes our r?sum? template. We find that recruiters like it better when all r?sum?s are uniform and in a one-page format. I'm surprised how many students come to campus with two- and three-page r?sum?s, written in narrative format.

We also provide resources and Web sites like and, as well as our own career Web site. We also have them complete Career Leader, a self-assessment tool to help them understand where their strengths are and what careers might be a good fit for those strengths. During our two-week preterm, we give a workshop called Schmoozing 101, where we try to instill some of the subtleties of the networking process.

Q: What advice do you give students to help them narrow down their job search?

A: A lot of students come into business school thinking that they would want to be an I-banker [investment banker] or a consultant because they think that it sounds sexy and lucrative. We really encourage them to research what a day in the life in some of these careers looks like to determine what would be a good fit for them.

Q: What training do you provide for interviewing?

A: We help them understand the differences between behavioral and case interviewing. We make sure students understand the importance of doing their research about the company. We always hear from recruiters that they're surprised that applicants didn't do more research into their organization. That can be a huge differentiator.

We also encourage them to know their r?sum? well. We remind them of the small things, like being on time, bringing fresh copies of the r?sum?, as well as making sure to close the interview by letting the interviewer know your sincere interest in the position. Also, students shouldn't be afraid to let their personality show a little bit because it helps both sides determine a person's fit within an organization.

Q: What's the biggest mistake that MBAs make in their job search?

A: Procrastination is a big mistake, as well as relying solely on the career-planning center. Only about 50% of them will find jobs through the career-planning center. They also need to join associations, network, and go to career fairs and conferences. Being prepared to give a two-minute explanation to a lot of people, so that everyone they know has a good idea about what kind of opportunity they're looking for is another necessity.

Q: What innovative services do you offer?

A: We try to form relationships with incubator or startup companies through the Houston Technology Center, a nonprofit business incubator. We have a joint career fair for internships with the Houston Technology Center and the Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship, an effort between Rice's schools of Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Management that builds new business ideas coming from research and development on the Rice campus.

We place more students in internships at that event than at any other single event. These types of startups are sometimes considered risky for full-time employment, but they're great for internships because they're generally small and provide a lot of responsibility, as well as looking great on the r?sum?.

Q: How much were your students affected by the recent downturn?

A: In 2001, when all of the big energy merchants like Enron started shutting down their operations and laying off employees, our recruiting was adversely affected. In the class of 2001, we had 15 or 20 students hired by Enron. Our average salary had been in the low 80s in 2000 because of the competitive pay packages that energy companies offer. In 2001, it bottomed out at around $75,000. Now, it's starting to increase again.

Q: Who are your biggest recruiters?

A: We have a good relationship with Conoco-Phillips (COP), which hired all but one of its interns from us. HP (HPQ) is also great for internships. We have strong relationships with the big investment banks on Wall Street because many of them have energy offices in Houston [here's a list of recruiters and employers Rice has attracted].

Q: Are certain MBAs having more success in their job search than others?

A: Absolutely. In today's market, students with more experience are having an easier time with placement because companies don't want to invest in a lot of training. We like to see at least two years experience, but we average about five years. If you have more experience than that, you should only go back to B-school if you're looking to change careers.

Q: Any predictions for the near future?

A: It's definitely picking up. We've seen our postings for full-time positions go up about 25% to 30% this year. We have twice as many internships posted. I think our average salary will be up to the 80s again, and our placement percentage will be up from the 83% that it was at three months after graduation last year.

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