Pounding the Pavement for USC MBAs

Career-services Director Missy Bailey puts in serious hours with recruiters and companies to help grads land their dream job

Since March, 2004, Missy Bailey has been the director of the MBA Career Resource Center at University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business (No. 17 on BusinessWeek's lastest top-30 list of B-schools). Before joining the Marshall School four years ago, she worked in the career-services office at the University of Chicago's B-school.

Bailey says a key part of placing MBAs in their dream jobs is to make herself available to students and current and potential recruiters. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online project assistant Francesca Di Meglio. Here's an edited excerpt of their conversation:

Q: What sort of job help do you offer MBAs?

A:

We have five full-time career advisers and three marketers. Every year, they provide about 80 hours of career-management workshops for our first-year [MBAs], 15 hours for second years, and another 50 hours for executive and part-time MBAs. We also provide about 15 to 20 hours of general tech training, such as how to access our databases...or upload résumé.

We try to teach students how to properly post for a job through a Web site because that can be a real adventure. Our advisers also spend about four to five hours a day in one-on-one meetings with students.

Q: You mentioned that you provide services for executive MBAs and part-timers. What are some of the differences in ways that you help them?

A:

We have a staff that can organize itself around a population that works during the day. Last weekend, after we had a very successful football game at USC, we had 175 part-time MBAs in our conference center talking about résumé and cover-letter writing and networking. They tend to be career enhancers instead of career shifters, so they're looking for different services. They're worried less about showing transferability of skills and more about how you show [progress] within a career.

Q: Are a lot of these people being sponsored by their company? If so, are they allowed to take advantage of career services?

A:

We ask students to let us know if they're being sponsored and to what extent. They can always go to the career-management workshops, but they can't necessarily do on-campus recruiting, depending on the level of sponsorship.

Q: How did the full-time Class of 2005 fare in summer-internship placements?

A:

Phenomenally well. The data will probably show that the salary and placement numbers are a big improvement from last year. And more of our students are getting their first picks.

Q: The MBA job market has had a tough couple of years. How did your MBAs fare, and did you do anything unique to help them overcome the obstacles?

A:

Many of our students want to stay in Southern California, and Los Angeles and San Diego are middle-market cities. Our students tend to be hired one-by-one, or two-by-two, by either larger firms that have a smaller presence here on the West Coast, or by smaller firms that are domiciled here.

We prepare students for the differences between getting recruited by a small boutique vs. a large investment bank. There are different expectations and skills required. We try to teach students lifelong career-management skills, so it's not just about how you get the first job when you [graduate], it's about how you manage a career, which...is going to last for the next 30, sometimes 40, years.

Q: What services do you offer alumni?

A:

If an alum comes to us, this person either lost his job and needs a new one, is on the right career path but wants to enhance it, or is going back to the very beginning. For those starting from scratch, we try to get them back in the office. We give all alumni full access to our database, contacts, and online services.

Occasionally, in coordination with our alumni office, we'll put on career-management seminars like, "It has been 10 years, what's next?" The only thing we don't do is allow alums to participate in on-campus recruiting or corporate receptions.

Q: What do you tell recruiters about your MBAs? How do you set them apart from those at other B-schools?

A:

A lot of our students are really big career shifters. We talk a lot to recruiters about how they're getting a diamond in the rough when they hire a USC MBA. What they get in the long haul is someone who truly ends up having a general understanding of business.

Q: So, you're saying that students still have the opportunity to find themselves at B-school?

A:

If you truly know what you want to do, you're at an advantage. But I'm well into my 40s, and I'm still figuring out some of this stuff. If you don't use the MBA experience to find out about yourself, then you've missed an opportunity.

Q: Which recruiters do you want to get on campus?

A:

If you asked where I want to see greater penetration, I'd say that we have a growing student interest in investment management -- from working for an entrepreneur who sits on the beach in Malibu and has a lot of money to invest, to the traditional, established Boston market.

Q: Has BusinessWeek's rankings helped attract more recruiters?

A:

The rankings have attracted a different population of student with different skills and geographic diversity. That has attracted more recruiters. Also, there are plenty of recruiters who screen schools based on how we're ranked -- no doubt about that. The higher your rank, the more appealing you become.

Q: Do you offer the recruiters any perks?

A:

The nicest perk is the Southern California weather. Every recruiter who comes to campus is offered the opportunity to go to the University Club for lunch with someone in the career-services office.

We have an ulterior motive. We like to ask a couple of questions about how things are going. We don't want to vet individual students because that's not fair. But we do ask recruiters to give us the good, the bad, and the ugly -- what trends they're seeing, how do they feel about the students as a group.

Recruiters are generally very happy to share that information. We can also try to get them USC football tickets if they're interested.

Q: What kinds of things are you doing to get more recruiters to pay attention to your program and students?

A:

We spend an inordinate amount of time in pretty much any venue you can find putting ourselves in front of people. I carry a backpack with me because I never go anywhere without a couple of CDs of our résumé book, recruiting brochures, and our employment report. You never know where you are going to find someone.

I was on a plane heading up to Seattle and sat next to a gentleman who works for a private-equity firm, and he has agreed to come to campus and talk to students. We go to all the conferences that we can. We are there to help students prepare for case competitions or the career fair. But we walk the aisles. When we go to these career fairs, I probably put more miles on my feet than most of the students do.