Chicago Gets MBAs to Focus First

Chicago B-School's associate dean of MBA career services tells students to embrace their pasts, and focus on their transferable skills

Our guest on May 20 was Julie T. Morton, associate dean for MBA Career Services at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business (No. 2 in BusinessWeek's latest B-School rankings). Before stepping up to her current position in July 2002, Morton spent two years as senior associate director of the office. Prior to joining the B-school, she was an executive search consultant specializing in consumer services industries, and a member of the management consulting group at Bankers' Trust, which was merged into Deutsche Bank. Morton has worked abroad in Slovakia and in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has served as director of admissions at Mount Holyoke College. Her MBA is from Dartmouth College, and her undergraduate degree in international studies is from Johns Hopkins University. Morton spoke with Mica Schneider, BusinessWeek Online's management education reporter. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: The last time BusinessWeek Online checked in with the career services office at Chicago Graduate School of Business (GSB), the office's biggest issue was that recruiters were leaving campus empty-handed because graduates were fielding numerous job offers. How would you paint the recruiting picture at Chicago this year?


It has been a tough market -- a tough slog for our students. We had [slightly] fewer companies come to campus, and those companies made fewer job offers than in the past. On the positive side, we've seen a small uptick in recruiting very recently. We've seen students stay remarkably positive and focused about their job search.

My gut says that we're on par with last year. And in 2002, three months after graduation, 82% of the class had offers in hand or had accepted offers. But the jury is still out.

Q: Where have you noted this uptick?


A couple of consulting firms have asked if there are still students seeking jobs. We've seen more job opportunities from corporations than from the service industries, such as investment banks and consulting firms. The major functions that the "corporates" are hiring for are finance, marketing, and strategy. It's a small uptick.

We've also been doing a lot of outreach to companies through our faculty, alumni, [participants in our] executive education and part-time programs, and via our council, the Council on the Graduate School of Business, which is like a corporate advisory board.

We've gone out to current students in our executive programs, and graduates of those programs, saying, 'We have students looking for jobs who have the same kind of training that you got while you were here. If you're interested, here's how to reach those students.' And it has been quite successful.

From September to May 1, our correspondence opportunities -- or companies posting jobs online with us but not coming to campus -- have been up 40% over last year.

Q: Chicago's full-time MBA program was ranked No. 2 by BusinessWeek in 2002. Does a B-school's ranking make a difference to recruiters when they choose schools to visit?


Frankly, I don't know. The GSB hasn't changed what it stands for. It has always been strong academically, and employers have always come here to seek that kind of academic rigor. They come here for the quality of teaching, and the quality of the students.

Q: Are job search trips, such as Chicago's West Quest, Bank Week, Euro Quest, Power Quest and the Media and Entertainment trip, an entry into a soft job market? Or are students turning up in Silicon Valley only to find themselves with more free time on their hands than business meetings?


These trips are organized by the students. They've gone to London, to the West coast, and there's a group that goes to the investment banks on Wall Street in December. We've seen a broadening in treks, or quests. In the past year, they had a brand week in New York City, where they visited consumer packaging companies. The Latin American student group went to Sao Paolo. And at West Quest they didn't target just high-tech companies, as they might have a couple of years ago, but also visited an investment management firm and a consulting firm.

Q: When BusinessWeek surveyed Chicago's grads in 2002, about 35% said that they found their full-time job through their summer internships. How strong is recruiting for summer interns this year? Is there any indication that an improved job market will reward Chicago's class of 2004?


Our first-years are in good shape regarding summer internships. Classes here don't finish until early June, and we're ahead of where we were last year in terms of internship offers. Last year, 98% of those students who sought an internship landed one.

Typically, the number of students who get offers from their summer internships has hovered around 35%. That percentage is a reflection of the companies that make offers to students after internships. By and large, those are the companies recruiting on campus, many of which are management consulting firms and investment banks. So it doesn't surprise me that that number hasn't shifted dramatically.

However, the number of students accepting a job offer from their internship firm has shifted from 25% four years ago, to 50% in 2002, to 95% this year.

Q: What attitudes among the students does that reflect?


It's a direct reflection of economic uncertainty. If I had a good summer experience, and I got a job offer, then I'm going to jump on it.

Q: What's your outlook for next fall?


We're on target for where we were at this time last year with the companies that have booked to be on campus in the fall.

Two telling pieces of news are that 90% of the companies that made offers to students this year have already booked to return -- which means that our largest hirers are returning -- and four new companies have signed up for on-campus recruiting. Four might not sound like a lot, but to have four companies in May say that they want to come interview next fall is really exciting. The companies include two investment management companies, one investment bank, and one retail company. The retail company is a relatively new spin for us, since it's not a company that typically would come to recruit.

Q: Investment banking and consulting are both large industries. Are certain parts of these industries hiring more than others?


This past year, we didn't see a significant downturn at all in major consulting firms' hiring. So the big brand name consulting firms were still very active in hiring, as many of them are seeing increases in their business.

The other area of significant increase is financial roles within corporations, rather than service industries. Analytical or treasury work in such companies has jumped enormously to 11% [of Chicago placements] in 2002, up from 4% in 2001.

Q: How do Chicago MBAs fare when they're interested in non-finance job functions, or in industries aside from investment banking and consulting?


Finance has been our traditional strength. And a lot of students have come here for that. But more and more students are pursuing non-finance jobs, and finding them. Just shy of 10% of last year's class went into marketing, up substantially from the year before.

Analytical rigor is a Chicago theme, and it resonates well with companies when applied to a marketing, strategy, or operational problem.

We also saw, for the class of 2002, a much greater diversity of jobs. In 2001, the top five functions drew 75% of student body. In the class of 2002, it was about two-thirds.

Q: Other placement directors have said that in this job market, it's not ideal to try to switch both your job function and the industry you work in. What's your take?


It's tough. I'd venture to say that three-quarters of our students are career changers, and they're making fairly dramatic career shifts. In this economy, that's really tough. There are three levers in a job search -- industry, function, and geography -- and pulling all three is really hard, so we talk very frankly with students about that.

Also, we get students to focus on their transferable skills: 'Think about what you did in your pre-MBA life. Now think about that in the context of what you want to do.' Someone who used to be an engineer should think about how he or she can use that experience as a consultant.

Q: Which MBA skills are selling best this year?


Students who have been successful have been really focused on what they want, more than on a specific function. In this economy, that feels counter-intuitive. Students' gut instinct is to think: 'The economy is lousy; therefore, I should apply for 10 kinds of jobs, rather than focusing on one.' Students have done better by saying, 'I really want to do x,' and then throwing their heart and soul into getting x.

Q: Which MBAs will struggle?


The student who is incredibly unfocused. And quite honestly, it has been a tough year for international students, who aren't authorized to work in the U.S., but want to work here. Companies are really scrutinizing who they'll offer jobs to and who they'll sponsor.

Q: What are the options for foreign students?


One is to go back to their countries and work in a multinational company that might provide them a way to return to the U.S. someday. Another option is to leverage their skills to find a job they want in the U.S. For instance, if the student is from Latin America, and is interested in banking, I'd suggest focusing on jobs in Miami vs. New York.

Q: In a down economy, are companies using new ways to evaluate MBAs?


I don't know for sure, but based on my conversations with companies I don't get a sense that they're adding to their criteria. And evaluating a student on their grades isn't an option, since student have voted in recent years not to release their grades to recruiters.

Q: How early does your office begin coaching new classes of MBAs?


One of the programmatic changes we made in 2002 is to start working with incoming students in the middle of June. We have a three part series of online workshops that we conduct with students throughout the summer. So during orientation, we don't start at ground zero, but at a [higher] level of career planning. In the summer we cover self assessment, networking, and we start them working on their first MBA resume.

Our office's goal is to facilitate job opportunities, and the other part of our mission is getting students ready to take advantage of these opportunities. In 2002, we began running myriad spring programs to teach students to talk their way into an offer, and to generate a lead. We also teach them how to leave a good voice mail, and getting past the gatekeeper when you want to talk to a contact but consistently reach an assistant. We also help students develop a targeted target list of companies they want to work for, in addition to giving them suggestions for resume writing and interview training.

Q: Your office doesn't work with the evening or weekend MBAs. Instead, they have their own career center, the Career Development Office. Can you tell us a little about the help part-time MBAs can expect from Chicago GSB?


The Career Development Office is for the part-time and evening MBAs. It's in our downtown Gleacher Center. It has a dedicated career services staff that can devote more effort and resources to those students than my office can.

Many of their career concerns are different than the full-time students' concerns. The part-time and evening MBAs often have more work experience, so they aren't looking at the same jobs as freshly-minted MBAs.

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