Our guest on Dec. 18, 2000, was Chris Bristow, director of the Career Management Centre at London Business School (No. 2 on BW's ranking of non-U.S. B-schools). Bristow joined LBS in November 1999, after 22 years in various appointments in the British Army, which included postings in education and training, recruitment, and outplacement. More recently, he led the management team at the Royal Military College of Science to develop management programs for military officers. During his career he has undertaken a part-time MBA and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. Bristow was interviewed by Business Week Online's Mica Schneider . Here's an edited transcript of their discussion:
Q: Chris, you've spent a number of years working with military personnel. When you arrived at LBS in 1999, was the school hungry for structure in this area?
A:Absolutely. To be fair, that's one of the main reasons that I was hired. There were lots of issues around processes that needed sorting out. The school needed a clearer direction of a way forward, and it lacked a long-term view of how things should be done. That involved a review of the needs of all of London's programs. We also had to create a more professional approach to the recruiters.
Q: Had there been complaints about the career office before your arrival?
A:The director of career management had left [the job] about two to three years before I arrived. The school then placed a "caretaker" in the director's place. Basically, [the office] was rudderless for two years. Then the school decided to restructure the office, and I was brought in by an executive search organization.
Q: Once you were settled, what became the long-term strategy of the office?
A:We should be in the business of providing students with a long-term framework of thinking about their careers — not just at school, but throughout their entire career. Again, it's getting away from a short-term view of the career process.
Q: Does that mean that in 10 years, an alumnus can return for career guidance at LBS?
A:They can. In the past, as soon as students left, that was it. There was no help for them. Now, there's a link with Alumni Relations. My office will look after them for six months after graduation. Then, Alumni Relations picks them up. That's because my staff is just 11-strong.
Q: Some of that structure you're accustomed to showed up in October 2000. That's when London Business School introduced its first career strategy module into the first-year MBA curriculum. Why was a compulsory program about landing a job needed?
A:It was modeled on nothing more than a group of members of my team getting together and thinking about a framework which would help students think about their approach to a career and the career search process. It has been successful and has worked. What we found is that it has resulted in fewer of the sort of nitty-gritty inquiries that we have had in the past.
Q: Such as?
A:Little things. "How should I start my career search? How should I start to think about myself?" Now, we've come up with a five-stage model that we tried last year with our students. This year, it's compulsory.
Q: What are the five stages to a successful post-LBS career?
A:First, we ask students to look at their own objectives to find out more about themselves. We ask them to see what resources are available. The second stage is researching those opportunities. The third is matching supply with demand — or what students are good at and what companies are looking for. The fourth stage is preparing the approach to companies. And the fifth stage is selecting opportunities, having been given a number of options, or [job offers]. We find that it's a useful framework for students to dip into at any time [in their career]. And they find it a useful framework — MBA students love frameworks.
Q: Aside from a five-step model for the MBAs, they also have the advantage of a first-year internship http://www.london.edu/mba/careers_and_employment_mba/1998_summer/body_1998_summer.html#summer since LBS has a two-year MBA program http://www.london.edu/mba/index.html. Those internships can be key for career changers. How does the length of the program give LBS grads an edge?
A:We have a huge advantage in that sense. With more time, the summer work opportunities, which are among a number of ways that students can sample a company, or sector, the students can decide if that's really what they want.
Q: Where are the majority of students heading?
A:We're still quite a strong consulting and finance business school. Two-thirds of our students still go into finance and consulting, and one-third go into everything else — from startups to the traditional industry manufacturing sector and to their own companies.
Q: How is London Business School's career office (http://www.london.edu/cmc) advising the startup-bound MBAs now that they could graduate into a shaky market?
A:To be fair, the students are looking at the risk. They seem prepared to take much more risk, and perhaps they have so much less to lose. The others who may have thought about going down that route last March and April here in the U.K. are now not doing that. It's interesting that among the first-year students, no one has come to me to talk about venture capital. And no one has mentioned startup. We're seeing popularity with B2B and B2C: back to banking and back to consulting. More of our students are going back to those traditional companies, the traditional blue-chip MBA recruiters.
Q: Does that bring a smile to the lips of traditional recruiters?
A:It has, yes. In July and August, they were beginning to pull their hair out, wondering what the market was going to be like, whether they were going be able to recruit the numbers [they need]. And what's also quite interesting is that the students who did their summer internship with those companies are now looking very seriously at accepting job offers [from the companies they interned with]. And some of the blue-chip consulting and finance houses thought that the students wouldn't take those offers but would want to rush into these new startups. That's definitely not happening.
Q: Are such companies, despite some early success, improving their offers by including options, perks such as cars, cell phones, and other things?
A:Definitely. And we're seeing much more flexibility. The companies are giving students much longer to make up their minds [about job offers]. Internship offers usually have to be confirmed by the end of October, November, or December. Now that's slipping into the new year. And some companies are being even more flexible by saying, "The offer's here, you don't have to take it for a couple of years."
Q: Before the offers are extended, London recruiters (http://www.london.edu/corporate/recruit/recruit.html) have to entice the MBAs to their companies. What's the preferred strategy at LBS?
A:They tend to hold pub nights. And there are more this year. We just finished our careers fair, and we had 34 companies participate. The majority of them have not recruited here before, so it's a really big increase.
Another piece of my job is trying to make our students more attractive to U.S. companies and to other European companies. There is an interest among our students to work outside of the U.K. And 11% of our students went to the U.S. to work [in 2000], and I can see an increase in that number.
Q: How will the B-school increase the number of placements (http://www.london.edu/mba/careers_and_employment_mba/1998_summer/1998_summer.html) in North America?
A:I'm going to the U.S. more. There's a lot of discussion with my U.S. counterparts in career offices. We're much more flexible in reciprocal arrangements. My students who go over to New York, for example, have the opportunity to work with the Columbia and Stern business schools. Their students who want to work in Europe can come here, and we offer them similar facilities.
Q: London Business School has an office of its own in Silicon Valley. Is there a career-management component for that?
A:There is in the sense that we see that [office] as an opportunity for our students who do the Silicon Valley "treks" in April, because they'll be able to operate out of the office. It's also a base for a member of my staff to investigate what the opportunities are on the West Coast for LBS students.
Q: At this time, how would you describe the job opportunities open to LBS students in Silicon Valley now?
A:Limited, really. One of the problems I'm coming up against is that companies there can get MBAs in the U.S. They ask, "Why should we be coming across to Europe to recruit MBAs?" I try to encourage them. Organizations and companies that want a truly international group of students have to recruit from schools like ours.
Q: Does London Business School bring its students over to the States?
A:We are. I'm working very closely with the [student] clubs. On Jan. 5, the Industry Club will travel to Boston for four days to see a range of companies, then to Seattle for another three days.
The tech club will make a Silicon Valley trek in May with a member of my staff. We didn't do this last year.
Q: MBAs aside, your office caters to other B-school students as well.
A:Sponsored executive MBAs who have permission from their companies, or those who are not sponsored, certainly make use of Career Management Center activities. And we treat them in exactly the same way as the other MBA students.
Q: The office of career services also accommodates students from the Master's in Finance program at LBS.
A:The Master of Finance [graduates] work principally in the London area http://www.london.edu/school_life/london_life/london_life.html, and are important to bringing London Business School into [the New York market].
Q: Do MIFs tend to pull along the MBAs with their reputation for being deeply rooted in finance, or are the MBAs' reputations helping the MIFs?
A:It's fair to say that the MBAs are pulling all the Master of Finance students, because that's a much older property. And the MIF [program] is quite new. But there are other companies now that see the benefit of the specialist Master of Finance student and prefer them to the MBAs.
Q: What will be some of the school's biggest challenges for career placement from Europe?
A:I still think it's managing the company's rather than student's expectations. Most of our students are holding down three-plus offers, and I find myself sitting down to discuss with companies how they should think about themselves on campus. There are still too many doing the traditional company presentation, followed by interviews. And I think, for some companies, that's not the best way.
Also, getting work permits for students who want to work in the U.S. is an issue. As I say, there aren't huge numbers wanting to do that, but these do press upon us.
And at London, we're finding more and more students now wanting to go outside of the banking and consulting sector. So, I've just got to make sure that there are opportunities for students and companies outside of that. And I see the [student] clubs as being hugely important in that role.
Q: What makes London's career placement office distinct from those at INSEAD, IMD, IESE, or other schools in Europe?
A:Making the career strategy module an integral part of the MBA is new. We're working very closely with the program offices, not just the MBA, but also with the Sloan [Fellows] offices, to make sure that we are "zipped together" in programs plus the idea of the career search. They shouldn't be seen as two separate identities. So that's working very well. That gives us a march on the other schools.