Queen's Aims for More Than Just Jobs

Career Centre director David Edwards says beyond getting the MBAs hired, the school helps them develop lifelong career skills

David Edwards is the director of the Business Career Centre at the Queen's School of Business (No. 2 on BusinessWeek's 2002 ranking of non-U.S. schools) in Kingston, Ontario, in Canada. Edwards earned his MBA at Queen's in 1986. He spent years working in corporate and investment banking until returning to lead career services, which now offers an MBA for Science and Technology, vs. a more general MBA.

Edwards' goals are to help students make informed decisions, meet their employment targets, but also develop lifelong career-strategy skills. BusinessWeek Online project assistant Francesca Di Meglio recently interviewed Edwards. Here's an edited excerpt of their discussion:

Q: If you had your way, what would every student do before arriving at school?


First, [students would] pull together everything they know about themselves and...their skill sets. Set realistic expectations. Many MBAs look at the average salary and the placement stats at the B-schools and think they're at least [worth the] average [salary], if not better. But...about half of the graduates [earn] below that by the very nature of that statistic. When students look at the [salary] statistics, they [should] look at the range, not the average. Then they'll have a better idea of what they can expect to earn. They should also keep an open mind. If they spend the whole time worrying what's going to happen to them after they graduate, they'll probably get much less out of the program.

Q: What help does your office provide Queen's MBAs during their job search?


We focus heavily on the off-campus job search. Half to two-thirds of students find employment outside of the on-campus program...which is primarily targeted at a few core industry groups.

We hold Career Advantage Programs (CAP) or obligatory week-long courses that fall between semesters. Typically, we spend time with students going over benchmark data and giving them an idea of what they can expect from recruiters. Throughout the week we host workshops and panels that cover the basics. For example, someone from the English department will go over cover-letter writing. We organize Wine, Dine and Act Fine, at which students are given instruction on everything from how to juggle wine glasses and business cards to the proper way to effectively mingle.

We also have a session about PowerPoint presentations, because increasingly, through case competitions and second- or third-stage interviews, companies are requesting that potential employees prepare and present a case. We also run separate image-management classes for men and women about appropriate attire. Another CAP week will have similar kinds of content but is more focused on the independent job search and networking.

Q: What types of recruiters come to campus and which ones don't?


Investment banking, consulting, and finance [absorb] anywhere between 50% and two-thirds of all MBA graduates. We're fairly similar to that with one exception: A fairly high concentration of high-tech and telecom companies come here. That shouldn't be a surprise because one of the requirements for the program is that [students] have an undergrad degree in science and technology, engineering, or some related field. There are four or five large telecommunications companies -- Bell Canada, for instance -- that typically come annually. The top five Canadian banks are here every year, and a number of the consulting divisions from accounting firms come here fairly consistently. This past year, we saw the return of some of the other consulting firms that had taken leave for a year or so.

A number of years ago, we saw a drop in the number of bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies that were interested in our graduates, and we haven't really seen a return. About 3% of our students go into the bio/pharma sector, but I'd like to see more of those companies come back to look at MBAs more seriously.

Q: A large chunk of your non-Canadian students come from Asia. What sort of help do you give them?


We talk about international students as a group, but the fact is they're not. Some are international, but they've lived here for four or five years and have some relevant and recent domestic work experience. Then there's a group that arrives literally days before the program starts. In that group there are some who want to return to their place of origin and others who want to stay [in Canada]. Each group has to be treated differently, and that's one of the reasons our one-to-one counseling works.

International students...have the added obstacle of dealing with visa requirements and language barriers. We've added some language training for them. We also participate in three international job fairs, and we're planning on hosting one in Toronto with other local B-schools.

Q: In the last couple of years, we've seen a tougher job market. How did your MBAs fare, and what did your school do to help them overcome the obstacles?


We [publish our job] stats online, so you can always look at how our graduates have done. Typically, 85% to 90% of graduates are working and happy with their job six months out.

We can't get every potential recruiter to come on campus. As a result, we have changed our philosophy and now help students execute independent job searches rather than focusing all our efforts on on-campus recruiting. They'll carry these job-search skills to their [future] career moves.

We have also increased our marketing efforts. We're maintaining strong relationships with our core recruiters, who come back year after year. With companies that hire one or two graduates every few years, we're sending simple reminder brochures. If they have a need, they will probably give us a call. We're also actively calling those who haven't recruited here but recruit at other schools or have a strong alumni connection to [Queen's].

Q: Are certain types of MBAs having more success than others?


Not really. Those with fewer years work experience were hired through the on-campus recruitment program. Many of the companies that recruit on-campus are putting graduates into management-training roles so they can mold them to fit their corporate culture. Graduates who had more work experience were a much better target for the off-campus job search. Those MBAs were also attractive to the just-in-time recruiters, who came on campus late in the season and wanted somebody with real-life experience to start working right away.

Q: What kinds of career services do you offer to alumni?


In the last couple of weeks, we launched our new alumni Web site. We've contracted with a human resource management company, Knightsbridge Human Capital Management, which does executive search, outplacement, and career coaching. This company is located in most of the major centers in Canada, so they're not international, but they do represent the bulk of the Canadian urban market. Alumni can get Knightsbridge services at a reduced rate.

Q: How will the MBA job search change in the near future?


Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to plan a year or even 10 months out for their recruitment needs, especially with the markets being so volatile. As a result, just-in-time hiring will become more prevalent. Instead of posting a job with the school, companies are sending MBAs to a centralized site where they can fill out an application and recruiters can screen it. Companies get no value by running seven or eight different postings at different B-schools when they can centralize it on their own Web site. That's where our focus on training students to execute independent job searches will give them an advantage.

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