Career Counseling, Darden Style

Says John Worth, the B-school's top adviser: Students get more personal attention than they might at another school

Until recently, John Worth was interim director of career development at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia (No. 12 on BusinessWeek's 2002 ranking of the best B-schools). Worth joined Darden in 2000 as director of career consulting, eventually managing four other career consultants. He was then asked to also serve as an interim director for the entire career development office. In July, the school named Everette Fortner as Worth's successor, leaving him responsible for the job he originally came to Darden for: counseling MBAs on their career paths.

Prior to joining Darden, Worth spent 10 years with Deloitte Consulting as an MBA recruiter, and prior to that was director of recruiting for the Boston office of Coopers & Lybrand. Before that, he started and ran a job-placement service for the Two/Ten Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Boston.

Worth earned a BA in English from Merrimack College and has completed graduate work in Educational Administration at the University of New Hampshire. Recently, he spoke with , BusinessWeek Online's reporter covering management education, about the current career environment for MBAs. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How did having an interim director of career development affect Darden MBAs?


I joined Darden in 2000 to be director of career consulting. Six months later, I was asked to also serve as interim director of career development. So the classes of 2003 and 2004 had a full-time member of the staff serving in an [additional] interim role. They felt reasonably comfortable with that. But the students and I preferred to have a full-time director.

Q: In mid-July, the school announced its new director of career services, Everette Fortner. How does the office stand to change?


The current economic slowdown requires business schools to focus more on external relations, marketing the school and the students and bringing in new companies. The major change is that we now have a fully staffed office, and we will be able to market Darden, solidify our relationships, and reach out to new companies to round out the portfolio of recruiters at Darden.

Q: How did Darden's 240 MBA graduates fare with their job hunts this year?


Currently, 80% of the class of 2003 has accepted a job, which is only a couple of points behind last year. Like the class of 2003 at other top MBA programs, when this year's grads applied to school they knew that the economy was bad, but I don't think they had any idea how bad, and how prolonged, it would be.

Everyone comes to B-school with a short- and a long-term goal. A lot of people assume they'll be in banking or consulting for a few years, to get them to their dream job. Recently, they've had to readjust their goals dramatically, as hiring in banking and consulting declined. Students have recognized that they need to be creative and flexible, and take positions that aren't exactly what they want but that fit with their three- to five-year goals. Many of our students are going into general management and management-development programs.Other [MBAs] say, "I didn't come to get a job. I came to get the job I want." Those students are waiting things out, and they probably have the financial resources to do that. We stay in contact with these graduates to see how they're doing. There are also a fair number of people who are saying that it has been a long two years and that they're taking time off, but will look for jobs when they're settled.

Q: How does Darden's location in rural Charlottesville, Va., affect students' job searches?


If I'm recruiting from a major metropolitan area, it's easier for me to get to the local business schools. But we find that companies go where they think the best students are, and we're not so far away that recruiters won't come. We haven't heard people say we're too hard to come to.

As for students, they may have to schedule meetings with companies during their holiday breaks or make other trips. No matter what school they go to, every company they're interested in isn't going to recruit at their school.

Q: This fall, 312 new MBAs will arrive on campus as the class of 2005. How is the career services office planning to help them?


We didn't increase the number of students in each MBA section, but instead added a new 60-person section. [Note: Darden places its MBAs into five class sections of 60 students during the first year of the MBA program.] We added a new career consultant last year so that students have the same [degree of] access to career advisers and the same amount of one-on-one attention as they did before the enrollment increase.

Q: In 2002, graduates left Darden with a median starting salary of $85,000, and median signing bonuses worth $20,000. How will salary results differ in 2003?


A lot of people assumed that companies would try to pay less this year. But the median starting salary is exactly the same as it was in 2002. What you may see are fewer $110,000 [salaries] from consulting firms, but more $85,000 or $90,000 salaries from pharmaceutical companies.

Companies aren't hiring MBAs for one job but to groom them for a long-term career. You don't get that by paying a lower salary. We did see some changes in signing bonuses, which are now between $12,000 and $15,000 as opposed to the $25,000 or so of a few years ago. That's one area where firms have decided they can cut costs.

Q: What's your outlook for Darden's first-year MBAs?


For the class of 2004, 98% received one or more internship offer.

Now, the question is what the job market will be like when they graduate. Will it turn around in next few months? That's where luck will come into play.

Q: Is there any change in internship compensation this year?


There is. Students are willing to take an internship that pays $1,000 a month less than they expect [or nothing at all] with a company that is likely to hire them full-time. MBAs see that as an investment worth making.

If you can work for less or for free, your long-term goals may be better served, and the contacts you make will serve you better. Fewer than 10 students are working for free, but three years ago it would have been close to zero.

Q: How damaging is it to a student's full-time job options when he or she hasn't completed an internship?


It's not helpful, since a lot of recruiters want to know what the student did [professionally] most recently, which is often during the [previous] summer. If you didn't do anything, and sat on a beach in the Bahamas, you've got a little bit of explaining to do.

If you did something to learn more about an industry, or you volunteered, or you bolstered your finance skills as a research assistant to a professor, it makes you a stronger candidate. You need to tell a recruiter that you've gained new skills and that you're more convinced about your job direction.

Q: Do you have an indication of how on-campus recruiting will be this fall?


Based on what [recruiters] told us they're going to do, we're a little ahead of last year. The danger is that companies reserve interview dates but sometimes cancel a schedule -- or perhaps add to the number of interviews they do. All we're seeing now are companies' initial plans. Things can change in the next two or three months.

Q: Which MBAs are struggling to find jobs?


One subset that has had it more difficult than the norm is international MBAs. The job market is very different from what they thought they were getting into when they decided to enroll at a U.S. school [in early 2001], when both investment banks and consulting firms wanted international graduates.

A lot of MBAs thought they would go to the U.S. to get hired by these companies, but when those industries got hit and companies started to cut their budgets, they reassessed whether to sponsor international students. Suddenly, a lot of international MBAs are looking at Plan B, which may be corporate finance, for instance. But the pool of companies that hire in corporate finance, historically, has never been active in hiring international students. The rug was pulled out from under these MBAs.

Q: About 30% of Darden's students aren't U.S. citizens and can't work in the U.S. without the appropriate work visa. What are their options?


A second-year student once asked, as he was coming out of a financial reporting class, "There are 4 million companies that filed taxes in the U.S., so why limit ourselves to the 85 companies coming to campus to recruit?"

Some companies may not be used to recruiting international MBAs, but we still want the international MBAs to go after jobs at those companies. And a lot of international students, after a lot of work and networking, have landed some wonderful positions at companies that don't come to business schools to recruit MBAs.

Q: What is the philosophy behind Darden's Career Discovery Program and its 12-part Professional Development Series?


The CDP is a very cool program that has been going on for five years and is aimed at giving the MBAs a sense of what kinds of jobs are available, and whether the MBA is cut out for those jobs. It's a one-day immersion course at the end of the second week of classes. There's a keynote speaker to get people wrapped around the idea of playing close attention to what [they] like doing and where [they] work best, followed by a series of panels on investment banking, private client services, corporate finance, marketing, general management, and entrepreneurship.

The Professional Development Series isn't required, but it's "very strongly suggested" that students attend the 12-part series in their first year, and about 95% of students attend. Nine out of 12 sessions take place from the second week of classes until the beginning of first-year internship interviews in late January. The series begins by helping MBAs plan their job search by showing them how to use the Career Development Center's intranet and how to research companies, network with alumni, and write cover letters.

Q: Most B-schools offer career-guidance programs. How are Darden's programs different?


The Professional Development Series is unique to our school. Every school does workshops on interview techniques and résumé writing, but we're the only one with so thorough a program and one that's so connected to the curriculum. Students spend 18 hours during the year in Professional Development sessions -- more than at other schools. In addition, we offer myriad workshops.

Something I noticed as a recruiter coming to Darden was the access that students have to career counselors. The MBAs are assigned to sections, and the section format mirrors what we do in career placement. There is one career consultant for each group, which means the counselor will have a meeting with each student, will review the résumé, e-mails, and cover letters the student is sending, and will do mock interviews with them.

It's not to say our advice is better, but it is more available. We have a structure in place so that a student could meet with his or her consultant five or six times in the first year. Students get more personal attention than they might at another school.

Also, as interim director I sent an e-mail to every interviewer who came to Darden, thanking them for coming, ensuring that they had a good day, and, of course, reminding them to hire our students. I also asked them for feedback. I got a lot of compliments -- recruiters tell us that Darden MBAs have a phenomenal work ethic and that they're not afraid of anything. Some advice we got was that the students need to be better at offering a concise and clear example of a time when their leadership skills surfaced.

They need to be better at answering questions such as, "What did you do as a leader that might have been done differently by another leader? What's an example of a time when your leadership skills and styles made a difference to the outcome of a project you were working on? If someone else had been leading the project, why wouldn't it have come out as well as it did?"

When you think of leadership skills and styles, think about what you did as a leader and how you did it successfully. The more concise your answer is the better. I sent weekly e-mails to our first-years telling them about the feedback we got.

Q: Where else do Darden MBAs need improvement?


Darden students don't necessarily recognize that while they get a good base [of knowledge] as a general manager, they're also getting a grounding in skills that make them technically proficient in all of the areas that recruiters are looking for.

Q: What advice can you offer to people who are thinking about attending B-school this fall?


Give some thought to what you want to do with your MBA.

Talk to people who know you, and ask them what they think you're best at. Ask your boss before you leave: "What were my strengths, what kind of areas would you point me toward if you were putting me on a growth track at this company?"

Ask yourself, "Where do I want to end up?" Do I have family in Chicago and know that I want to go there no matter what? As you begin thinking about what you want to do, think about where you want to do it. Make a list of 15 to 20 companies you want to work for. That would help you immensely.

One thing that very few people do well is networking. Students are good at asking for something, and maybe they're good at saying thank you, but what they're never good at is staying in touch. If you talk to an alumnus who gives you three names at her company, let her know how your conversations with those people went. Thank each person as you talk to them. If you ultimately take a position, go back and thank those people again. Let them know where you're going, and how you're doing.

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