Duke's Jobs Pro: I've Seen Worse

Jean Eisel, career-services director at the Fuqua School of Business, on how she's dealing with today's sickly job market for MBAs

It's a tough job market, all right, but in her more than 30 years of career-services experience, Jean Eisel has seen worse. Eisel began dealing specifically with MBAs in 1994, when she took the top career-services job at Carnegie Mellon's Graduate School of Industrial Administration. This past February, she left CMU for Duke's Fuqua School of Business (No. 9 in BusinessWeek's latest B-school rankings).

Her tenure began ominously -- an ice storm closed Duke on Feb. 17, her first day on the job -- but Eisel inherits a smooth operation. In BusinessWeek's 2002 MBA survey, Fuqua's career-services center drew rave reviews from students and recruiters alike. Companies were drawn by a diverse and technically apt student body, and grads appreciated the office's efforts to make sure recruiters came to campus during the boom returned in leaner times.

Eisel recently spoke with BW Online Management Education Reporter Brian Hindo about the job market and her new setting. Here's an edited version of their conversation:

Q: Can you give a comparative sense of how bad this hiring market is?


It's surely not the worst I've ever seen -- because I've been doing this for an awfully long time. But since 1994, it's the worst we've been through. We were riding pretty high until about 2000. And then 2001 was kind of a shaky year, 2002 was shaky, and this is, I think, a little shakier still.

The thing I keep saying to students is that there are special people at these schools, and they're marketing something different than, say, somebody coming out with just an undergraduate degree. So I'm hoping. I'm realistically optimistic -- some people would say I'm overly optimistic. But I'm confident we're going to find places for our people.

Last year, Fuqua actually got every single student out into an internship, and we're optimistic we're going to do that again this year.

Q: If not now or the early '90s, when was the worst job market you've seen?


I started at Boston College in '68 -- that was a really difficult time. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War, and that was the first time the number of college graduates met the need of the employment market. Also, you really didn't have people focused at that point on what they wanted to do.

And when we started to get rid of the middle-management group in the late '80's and early '90's, that was a real challenge. You had people who were never going to be able to find a job similar to what they had done. People had to adjust lifestyles. Right now, I don't think we're seeing people lose homes and things of that sort. You probably saw some of that in the '80's and '90's.

Probably every 10 years, you get into this kind of craziness.

Q: Have you noticed anything different or particular about Fuqua's students -- especially in comparison to students at some of the other places where you've worked?


The concept we're trying to put forward is that nobody has a job until we've all got a job. That fits really nice with us, with our concept of "Team Fuqua."

It has been working very nicely here, because students are being sensitive to their classmates. I have one student who literally, every week, sends me jobs he has found somewhere on the Web. We're trying to work with that concept -- that we've got lots of eyes and ears out there looking for anything that might be a good option for people.

Q: Many of your colleagues at other B-schools have stressed the need to ensure students have the right expectations about finding jobs in this labor market. Was that a more difficult task with last year's graduating class?


I can remember, in some years, that companies were begging to get the list of students you've accepted into the program before the students even got on board. This group of students had a challenge getting their internships, so they've worked hard for their opportunities once before. I think they're realistic.

The other part is, I don't want somebody to start that first job not on a high. We have to work with them real closely to make sure that it's a good fit, and it's the kind of thing where they can use the skills they've developed over the last two years.

In that first job, you don't want to put that kind of thing on hold. You don't want to do something temporarily and not do it well. If you do something well, then the next opportunity comes a lot easier.

Q: So would you advise students to wait a few months, or to be choosy about jobs -- even if they don't have something lined up at graduation?


I would say, "Let's be realistic about it." If they're taking a temporary opportunity, I think they have to take it and not feel like they are just biding time, because people biding time don't do a great job. And you never get a good [second] job from an also-ran kind of job.

Q: What's the on-campus hiring scene like?


Companies coming to make on-campus hires were down. But we're finding, at this point, that job notices are up this year.

Q: In what form do those job notices appear?


We put them out on our Web site. We did a major marketing campaign called Hire Up, which you can see on our Web page. There, you'll see what we sent out to major companies. It was a pure marketing effort to say to companies: "We want you to know who we are. We want you to know all about Duke and our students and what they have to offer."

We registered companies, asked them if they wanted more information, and sent them a CD with résumés of current students and alumni on it. Then we asked them to generate jobs. Right now, we're up about 50% in terms of jobs over where we were last year at this time. This year, the difference is that you're going to see a lot of just-in-time hiring.

Q: Have you had to be more accommodating to corporate recruiters?


We had a company in on Friday recruiting for second-years. They recruited in the morning for second-years and in the afternoon for undergrads. We're being real flexible about that kind of thing. We're talking to an employer if they're coming to hire undergraduates.

For the first time this year, we held a North Carolina career fair, with UNC Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and NC State. We ended up with 16 companies that came to our career fair.

The other thing we participated in was an online career fair with 12 schools. There were 10 European schools and our school and one other U.S. school. There were 27 companies -- mostly European companies -- and 97 students signed up to participate.

Q: What other outreach efforts, if any, are you doing with companies?


Even if companies don't participate in résumé drops [in which the B-school collects student résumés for the employer], I've got my account managers following up to see if the company got enough résumés and what else we can do.

Most of us are trying to be more aggressive that way. We're running some job clubs, and those are helping us, too. We call them career networks, divided by functional area. For example, I've got a technology group I'm working with, and we've got a marketing group and a finance group. We meet with the students on a weekly basis and give them assignments. We're trying to do everything possible to support people through this.

We did the Hire Up campaign with alumni, and they're helping us. And we're trying to be real aggressive in sending out jobs directly to students -- into their mailboxes.

Q: What are the crucial job skills that companies are looking for nowadays?


Team ability. Being a leader, as well being a follower. Also, in this economy, companies are looking to get somebody with prior experience in the field.

That has been a challenge for career changers. They often have to either look to do something in their former field -- use their new skills that way -- or take their former experience and make it in a new field.

Because there are so many people available, employers are being able to set more specific criteria than they may in a different kind of economy. They're looking for proven potential.

Q: How is hiring holding up in the marketing industry?


I think our students are disappointed that they don't have more options in that area. But our marketing numbers seem to be similar over the last couple of years. When I say that, I mean our students probably aren't coming out with four or five offers in marketing, like they would have before.

Q: Is hiring down broadly, or are there particular segments of the marketing industry that are hiring?


We're more of a consumer-marketing kind of organization, so we're still seeing jobs there.

What's also happening is that the internship is becoming more important, so that a company may be saying, "If we make you an offer for an internship, you'd better take it, or we're not going to come back for full-time recruiting in the fall."

We're seeing some of that happening, even though we're just starting to register companies for recruiting in the fall. But some of the companies we thought weren't going to be back for fall recruiting at least have registered for a fall date.

We're finding that offers aren't being spread across numbers of people. So certain people are getting lots of offers, and others aren't getting offers. In other years, you would find a broader spectrum of people getting offers.

For instance, when the investment banks come, they all tend to interview the same group of people. So, if I'm "I-banking Joe," I get four offers, but if I'm trying to break into investment banking, I don't get any.

Q: How is hiring in the investment banking and consulting industries?


Those are two areas that are extremely challenging at this point. We're finding students at times more willing to go into corporate finance. We had more interest this year, I think we would say, in corporate finance than we've had before.

Q: How are you managing relationships with recruiting companies?


My concept is to look at whom I have good relationships with, and make sure that I'm getting them to think of me across the board. I don't want you to come in and just think of me as a marketing school.

We'll be spending our time saying to companies: "O.K., I know you've got a nice finance-development program, could we look at this? Is there a way we can build a relationship? If you're not going to come on campus for that, then how else can we put our students in front of you in the year to come?" One basic premise of marketing is that it's easier to keep a customer than to get a new customer.

It can be challenging now that companies are making offers to fewer people. If a company comes away from here dry, then they're could say: "If we're going to cut a school, I might cut this school because we didn't get anybody to accept offers this year."

Q: Have you heard from companies about what the next couple of years are going to look like?


You know, from the investment-banking people, I'm not hearing that things are going to broaden. Some of the marketing firms feel good -- at least, they're holding stable.

I'm not hearing the cuts I might expect in consulting. It depends on the different companies. But we all know that consulting is still soft, because nobody has extra money to spend, right?

Q: If you're a career changer, is now the right time to get your MBA?


I think sometimes the media makes the job market woes more sensational than they are. We still have people getting great opportunities. A career changer has to think about what they're walking away from vs. what they're walking toward. Sometimes, the way you learn that is by getting an education.

If they can start thinking about how additional education is going to get them to something new, I still don't think it's a bad option for people. In fact, I think at most schools about 75% to 80% of the student body are career changers.

Investment banking -- that might be the most precarious option. But, you know, I'm never going to say to somebody: "You can't do that," because as soon you say that, they go do it.

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