At Rotman, a Job Is in the Script

Play-acted interviews and an emphasis on personal focus help MBAs find real-world jobs, says career-services director Karen Theriault

Karen Theriault is the director of the Corporate Connections Centre at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management (No. 5 in BusinessWeek's 2002 rankings of non-U.S. B-schools) at the University of Toronto. Theriault, who joined Rotman in 1998 after working with both private and nonprofit companies, says her goals as head of the center are simple: "We put every effort into ensuring that our students feel as though we're partnering with them, that we're on their side. Theriault recently spoke with Francesca DiMeglio, BusinessWeek Online's B-school project assistant. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: If you had it your way, what are three things new MBAs would do before arriving at school?


I don't think it's rocket science: Develop your focus, and figure out how you can differentiate yourself from the MBAs around the world by finding your competitive advantage in the marketplace. Give some thought to what your next steps will be to connect with those who can help you get that job.

Q: How do you help students with their job search?


We're encouraging students to reach out on their own for jobs. That doesn't mean we don't have on-campus recruiting, of course. But we're lucky to be in Toronto, the capital of Canada's business and financial sector. We give students opportunities to do mock networking sessions to get their confidence up so they can focus on their job activity, and ask [potential employers] for what they want.

Q: How did the school help students overcome the inevitable obstacles that came with the recent economic downturn?


We had every student organization, the faculty, and administration actively seeking jobs for our students, especially for summer internships. We put the students' names and pictures on a large board. As they got their jobs or internships, we put the logo of the company beside their name. It gave everyone who came into the building a good idea of where everyone was going. Faculty could say, "This fellow is still looking, and I might be able to find something for him." We hired three MBA students this year to play a sales role for six weeks, after they finished their first year. The idea was to have them create awareness about the school and to get more job posts. We ended up with 40% more job postings this year than we had last year.

Q: How did 2004 graduates fare in the job market?


As of July 1, unofficially, about 76% of students had jobs. We're in the proces of...tracking down every single student who graduated to determine the exact figure. Our goal is to hit about 85% this year. It's definitely an improvement from last year.

Q: Are certain MBAs more successful than others? If so, who and why?


If you focus strictly on the technical skills, and [you] don't have the personality traits or training that's going to allow you talk yourself into a job and get out there and sell yourself in the marketplace, you're going to be at a distinct disadvantage. Also, students who have a background in the field that they want to go into have an advantage. Those who are trying to change both their industry and their function have difficulty.

Q: Is it possible, despite this tougher market, to change careers with flexibility?


If students can stay in the same function or have some readily transferable skills, then it's possible. There are, of course, companies looking for the basic MBA skills of strategic-thinking, decision-making, and risk-taking. Those companies are more amenable to taking people [who lack] previous on-the-job experience. But those [companies] are few and far between.

Q: What's the average starting salary for graduates?


Our starting salary, in Canadian dollars, is somewhere between $88,000 [$67,609 in U.S. dollars] and $90,000.

Q: Is there room for salary negotiation?


Students don't have nearly as strong a position in their negotiations as they [once] did. They're recognizing that they have to be more realistic in their expectations, and they're willing to take that first step with a little less consideration about salary than they used to. They're looking at this as a long-term, rather than a short-term, investment.

Q: How do you serve the school's part-time MBA students? How is it different from what you do for the full-timers?


The part-timers have access to all the online resources, training sessions, and job postings. They're not able to avail themselves of the training that goes on during the I try to fit into their hours. I go into the classroom a couple of times a year offering to assist them on an individual basis.

Q: Do you do anything special for international students?


Before the program starts, we try to get international students familiar with the Canadian business environment and the cultural differences. We bring them downtown to [Toronto's] financial center, give them a tour, and offer opportunities to speak with potential employers. We offer all our students multicultural and English training.

This year, I traveled to China a couple of times. It's important to know more about the environments from which our students are coming so that I can readily help them.

Q: You've had an increase of students from China, right?


Yes. In the past couple of years, there has been an increase. But this year, our applications from China were down substantially.

Q: Are your MBAs facing visa problems?


There aren't nearly as many visa problems as there are in the U.S. Many of our students with international passports come with the intention of living here, and they gain residency status before they graduate, which allows them to compete in the job market more readily. However, students who don't have North American work experience find it more difficult to get jobs.

Q: You've mentioned that you're trying to get more marketing recruiters to visit campus. Do you have a plan to accomplish this goal?


This year, we hired a business-development specialist, who will put together a strategy for targeting industry sectors and will actively look for companies that are hiring in the marketing functions.

Q: Do you offer recruiters any perks?


We're trying and succeeding at giving the ultimate customer service to our recruiters, from the first phone call to the moment they walk out the door after interviewing a student. We want them to feel that that the Rotman school will bend over backward to give them everything they require to make their recruiting easy and effective. We have relationship managers, so each on-campus recruiter deals with one person who gets to know his needs well.

Q: When pitching to recruiters, how do you distinguish your MBAs from those at other B-schools?


Our school builds its reputation on integrative thinking. Our students are trained to look across disciplines to make business and strategic decisions. For the last two years, our students have participated in a simulated management challenge. Each simulated company has a real board of directors to whom our students present their findings on a particular problem or situation. In this slightly intimidating environment, they make presentations...and find a comfort level for selling themselves in the marketplace. It gives them a head start when they get out in the workplace. In addition, Toronto is a very multicultural city, and we have students who speak many languages and come from many different backgrounds.

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