At IMD, Size Matters

With just 90 students, the Swiss B-school gives lots of personal attention and knows every student's dream job, says Career Services Director Katty Ooms Suter

Katty Ooms Suter is the director of MBA admissions and career services at IMD (No. 3 on BusinessWeek's 2002 ranking of schools outside of the U.S.) in Switzerland. Ooms Suter started her career in marketing at Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati and later in the Swiss market. She started teaching marketing courses part-time and that drew her into academia. Finally, a P&G colleague recruited her to work in admissions at IMD.

The school recently decided to put admissions and career placement under the same umbrella. Ooms Suter now aims to admit MBAs who will represent the school well with recruiters. She spoke with BusinessWeek Online's B-school project assistant Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What is the typical job search at your school?

A:

The job search starts during admissions. We try to find people who have a clear vision of what they want to do, and how the MBA, especially the IMD MBA, will help them get there. Once accepted, they have to do an online test to help them think through career possibilities. They walk into the program on Day One with a final version of their profile.

We have specific days fully dedicated to career-services courses [and] when we bring in experts or alumni. We teach students how to position themselves, how to network, how to interview, anything you can think of. Before companies come to campus, students write a full job-search strategy. I look at all of those, and then we sit down with every student to make recommendations, offer help, and identify those who might have more difficulty finding their ideal job.

Q: It has been a tough couple of years for the MBA job market. How did your MBAs fare?

A:

In general we fared really well. Last year, 84% of students [had] job offers by graduation. We were up to 95% a couple of months later, which was extremely good considering the market.

It's so easy for students to be pulled into the content of the program, and their projects, and forget about the job search. Now, there are a lot more slots in the program that are mine so I can schedule either a speaker, a course, or talk to them myself. They can't ignore me! We're telling them to focus on networking, and we're helping them with that. We also give them access to the executives who come on campus. In the end, it's their job search and they need to lead it. If they just wait for the 50 companies that we bring on campus, then it's not going to be an ideal situation. They won't get the job that they really wanted.

Q: Which types of companies are missing from your list of on-campus recruiters? What are you doing to attract them?

A:

If you only have 90 MBAs to offer to a company, it makes no sense to bring 200 companies on campus. We have to be very selective. We try to focus on those companies that really can recruit a couple of people out of a diverse group. These 90 people come out of 40 different countries and want to go to 60 different countries. You really need companies that have international recruiting that's at least focused on one or two regions.

But I don't think I have to attract companies to campus. I feel as comfortable making the right match between an MBA and a company that doesn't come on campus as I do with an on-campus recruiter.

Q: Has there been a lack of diversity among recruiters, as some students have griped in the past? If so, what are you doing to change that?

A:

Ninety people want to go in ninety different directions and that's probably why there were complaints about a lack of diversity. We have the main consulting companies, and then we have quite a diverse range of companies from [different] industries.

In addition, we have something called the Corporate Development Team that sells the IMD executive programs. They're in touch with companies on a day-to-day basis, as are our faculty...[and can tell when] companies [have] an interest in hiring. That company might end up coming on campus or someone there will have a phone conversation with me to tell me exactly what he needs. Then I'll forward three or five or ten [Curriculum Vitaes] to them.

Q: What's the average starting salary for your graduates?

A:

For the 2003 class, the average starting salary was $123,000. And 80% received an [average] sign-on bonus of $23,000.

Q: Have your MBAs been able to change careers with flexibility?

A:

In admissions, we look for people who are on a fast-track in their career. Once you are on the fast-track in a specific industry, you shouldn't just walk away. We try to tell students that throwing away seven years of work experience makes no sense from a career point of view. Still, about 30% of the class changes industry, function, and geography. But it's not what I would recommend.

Q: Does the decision to change careers put them at a disadvantage in the job market?

A:

No. It puts them at a disadvantage in negotiating their salary. The people who really maximize their salary post-MBA are those who use that past experience and the addition of the MBA to bring value to a company in the same industry or at least the same function.

Q: Your students come from all over the world. What regions benefit most from IMD students?

A:

About 76% of our students change geography. About 70% stay in Europe. About 16% go to Asia and between 7% and 20% go to North America...[but] right now, it's very difficult because of the visa situation. The rest go to Central and South America and Africa. When I say 7% go to North America, it's not necessarily the Americans going back, because the Americans want to stay in Europe, and the Europeans often want to go to Asia or the States.

Q: Is the school's small size a disadvantage to your students as they look for career placement?

A:

No, I think the small size is an advantage. Students get a lot of personal attention. I have a full overview of what every single person in the class wants to do.

Q: When talking to recruiters, how do you set your MBAs a part from those at other B-schools?

A:

We admit people in whom we see the potential to be a CEO or leader in their field. That's an advantage for a company scouting the talent of the future. I can tell a recruiter that this person sitting at IMD has already passed a very tough admissions process, which includes a full-day assessment. The other element that sets us apart is that we tend to have MBAs with a lot of work experience -- seven years on average -- and they tend to come from [one] industry and want to go back into [the same] industry. Companies can find people who are immediately operational here.

Q: Will students have an easier time getting a job in a year or two?

A:

If I could predict the future, I would be making a lot more money. In general, I'm very positive. Companies, especially when they're strapped for cash, are not going to want to invest that much in training. Therefore, they will want people who can actually contribute to the company, and I think we're well-positioned for that.

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