Clutching freshly printed business cards, a group of incoming Johnson School at Cornell University MBA students nibbled on cheese and crackers while mingling with recruiters at the New York offices of Deloitte Consulting last week. The scene was typical of an MBA career event, but the timing was not. It was early June, and students who hadn't even set foot on the Ithaca (N.Y.) campus were already worrying about securing an internship for the following summer.
Business school students used to marvel that internship recruiting—a rite of passage for first-years—began as soon as school started in the fall. But the hiring is slowly starting to creep into the summer months. And with the softening of the job market, career services officers are urging students, especially first-years, to start thinking about their internship and job hunts earlier than ever before. To help them, business schools are ramping up their offerings. Career services officers are planning summer career panels, opening up alumni databases to first-years and incorporating career activities into orientation programs.
The schools are responding to a demand from students for targeted career programming during the off-peak times of the school year, says Randy Allen, the Johnson School's associate dean of external relations. Cornell piloted a "career explorations" panel last summer and students responded so positively that the school decided to expand the offering this summer, she says. There are now three internship networking events during June, focused on consulting, financial services, and marketing.
"This gives students more time to prepare, as opposed to saying, 'I'm gong to spend the whole fall semester trying to figure out what I want to do,'" says Allen. "And this year, we think that with the job market the way it is, it is probably even more important to be focused on what their options are."
Early Birds and Second-Years
Other career services offices have similar mindsets. The University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration will be offering a new career assessment and career discovery program the week before school starts. Students can start networking earlier, as well as more clearly articulate their career goals to recruiters this fall, says Everette Fortner, Darden's director of career development.
"Obviously in the financial industry sector there will be softness, and students will have to work harder for perhaps fewer summer intern slots next summer," Fortner says. "Even the top students will have to work harder to make sure they get an internship this year."
Career services officers' concern extends to second-year students as well, especially those who don't secure a job offer from their summer internship. The University of Rochester's Simon Graduate School of Business will be offering online "Webinar" meetings this summer for small groups of incoming second-year students. They can talk with a job search consultant, who will offer advice and networking leads. And once they arrive on campus, career programming will start earlier than usual.
The school has planned an "all hands on deck" interviewing blitz day for returning second-year students, scheduled for the first Friday of the school year, said Patty Phillips, the school's executive director of career management. "Our goal is to help our second-year students get back into the swing of interviewing as early as possible, so they increase their chances of winning a second-round interview right away," Phillips said in an e-mail.
Ramping Up Online Resources
Some business schools are starting to make more online resources available to students over the summer months. The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business is giving students midsummer access to data bases they can use to explore different careers before they arrive on campus. An instructional program called Introduction to Career Research, typically presented to students after the start of the academic year, will be available this summer for the first time as an instructional screen cast.
At Columbia Business School, students have access to an online library, where they can watch a series of videos that follow a Columbia student's job search, as well as videos featuring recruiters offering interviewing tips. The school is also introducing a new coaching program to students this fall, where alums from different industries will be available to help students prepare for interviews.
"Hit the Ground Running"
In the meantime, motivated students are not wasting any time preparing for their internship hunts. Jennifer Nicholas, 27, an incoming first-year student at the Johnson School, has already started reaching into her Rolodex, contacting alumni from her alma mater and friends she used to work with. Attending the Cornell career panel at Deloitte was just part of the process, she says.
"I'm definitely looking, but I'm not too worried," says Nicholas, who mingled with recruiters and passed out business cards at a happy hour afterward at the nearby Stone Street Tavern. "With the job market the way it is, I want to get a clear idea of the path I want to follow so when I get to school, I can hit the ground running."