The Cornell University Undergraduate Business Program is housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), where students studying business earn a Bachelor of Science degree in applied economics and management. With over 700 undergrad B-school students, the CALS Career Development Office has to meet a broad spectrum of needs, says director Amy Benedict-Augustine.
Benedict-Augustine says using developmental-based counseling has made a real difference, even in helping those students who are unclear about what they want in a career. Three certified career counselors are on staff to help Cornell students (from accepted applicants to alumni) think objectively about how their skills and interests fit in the business world.
Also, seven student peer advisors assist with editing résumés, mock interviews, and managing events, such as bringing 15 wine industry employers to campus for a viticulture expo. The effort pays off: Over 76% of the undergrad business students last surveyed had landed a job in time for graduation.
A nationally certified career counselor, Benedict-Augustine arrived at Cornell's career services almost 16 years ago. She holds a masters in counseling psychology from Boston College. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek editorial assistant Megan Tucker. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
What are the most popular fields for undergraduates studying business?
The largest number of graduates choose to go into banking and financial services. The next most popular areas are consulting, marketing, and then management.
Which companies usually come to campus to recruit for full-time jobs?
Some of our top employers include JP Morgan (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS) , E&J Gallo Winery, and Procter & Gamble (PG). Northeast Farm Credit also has a significant presence for our students who have an agriculture background.
What's the best way for freshmen to start preparing for their careers?
As soon as they're settled in at Cornell, we invite freshmen to start thinking about opportunities for the following summer. In their second semester, we have a program called FRESH, where students can shadow alums over their spring break. This is a great way for undergrads to get connected with alumni early in their school career. We also recommend that students keep an eye out for any activities or part-time jobs that might begin to test the skills and interests that they expect to put toward their future career.
Are there any on-campus organizations that are particularly useful for building business skills and including on résumés?
Cornell has many great organizations. The Society for Women in Business and the Investment Club are two that come to mind. Cornell also has two business fraternities, Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi.
How do you help students prepare for interviews?
We provide students with sample questions that they should anticipate being asked during interviews. Students develop answers to those questions and we videotape mock interviews between students and peer advisers. The students are given feedback on their performances. Also, we refer applicants to alumni in our career database, who can help them understand more about an organization.
How important is it for job applicants to ask questions during an interview?
Some students think that the questions they ask are the key to clinching an interview. However, the most important thing is to understand the skills and qualities you have to offer and being able to give clear examples and relate those qualities to what the employer is looking for.
I've never heard of a student being denied a job offer because he or she asked poor questions. However, I always encourage a student to have questions prepared that truly interest him or her.
This shows enthusiasm for the job and that they've done research about the organization. Some standard questions include asking what a typical career path within an organization is, and about what the interviewer's own experience has been like.
What's a common mistake undergraduate business students make when they're crafting their résumés?
Students should know that in addition to their paid work, their academic experience is often appropriate and useful to include on a résumé. For example, if a student takes a marketing course where a class project has him or her interacting with a client, analyzing data, and doing research, then the course should absolutely be included as experience on his or her résumé. We try to help the student think not only about his or her paid employment, but other kinds of opportunities that would be important to a potential employer.
Are there any courses which alums, with the benefit of hindsight, wish they'd taken?
Yes. Interestingly, they're not necessarily business classes. Alums often think taking a public speaking class would have been helpful. We have an introduction to wine class that teaches valuable skills such as being able to select an appropriate wine at business dinners. Certainly classes like introduction to marketing and business statistics are also mentioned as missed learning opportunities.
How can you help students who missed the regular recruiting season but still want to break into the private sector?
We have a select internship file which holds the contact information of about 480 employers who have said they'd like to hire Cornellians. Even if a student missed on-campus recruiting, we can connect him or her with alumni to offer assistance in the job hunt. In the academic world, the start of summer is in mid-May, but many companies don't begin thinking about summer hiring quite as early.
This is particularly true for smaller to mid-size firms that often contact us directly about hiring for a specific opportunity within a company. We have an electronic newsletter that is sent out weekly to our network of faculty career representatives. We are connected with staff members in every department of the college who have agreed to act as a liaison to our students. When job postings come through our office, the representatives take the information directly to our students.
How can students get the most out of a career fair?
We always distribute the list of employers who will be attending the fair ahead of time. We encourage students to research the companies they're interested in beforehand, and we ask that they have their résumés in tip-top shape.
Students should also remember to attend the event dressed professionally. Depending on their field of interest, and certainly if they're interested in business, they should wear a suit. We always advise students to dress a little more conservatively because they're creating a first impression.