Building Better Bridges for Yale MBAs

With its career services under fire in a survey, the division's chief, Coleen Singer, discusses the improvements the B-school has made

Coleen Singer is the director of career development at the Yale School of Management. Prior to arriving at Yale's New Haven campus, Singer was president of C. Singer Associates, a career-consulting and training firm. She earned her MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and has also worked in the investment-banking, technology, and energy industries.

Yale plunged from No. 14 to No. 22 in the 2004 BusinessWeek rankings of MBA programs, and its career-services program was panned by graduates and recruiters as the fourth-worst among the top 30 schools.

But Singer says she's confident that her staff will be able to improve customer satisfaction. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online project assistant Francesca Di Meglio. Here's an edited excerpt of their conversation:

Q: Why do you think students gave career services lower marks?


Surveys offer a snapshot of what people are thinking and feeling at a particular moment. The BusinessWeek student survey was done right around graduation. At that time, 72% of graduating students were placed, and many of the others may have been frustrated. But over the next three months, our placement jumped to 86%.

Q: What are you doing to respond to concerns?


We've already taken steps to strengthen career placement. We've expanded career counseling. We've reorganized our office along industry lines for more clarity and better service to students. We've added new job fairs on the West Coast and in London. We've added a new communications program to enhance students' presentation skills. We're further diversifying our relationships beyond the big traditional firms in investment banking and consulting. We've strengthened our alumni office to build broader relationships.

Q: Does the small size of the program cause more obstacles for you?


Size can be a challenge when you're thinking about how many alumni you have. Our alumni do extraordinarily well, but the quantity isn't there. Our alumni also hold junior positions because it's a young program. Close to 50% of our alumni have graduated within the last 10 years.

But the small size does have its benefits. The students get to know the faculty, staff, and each other well. Recruiters also find that instead of having to get to know 700 people, they only have to get to know 240, which is more manageable.

Q: If you had it your way, what would MBAs do even before they set foot on campus?


Understanding what options are available for MBAs is the biggest challenge for students and is really helpful for one who wants a change. This summer we sent an e-mail to incoming students advising them to start networking with alumni from their undergraduate university and people within their organizations.

Q: What are the most distinctive career services you offer to MBAs?


This year we initiated Career Kick Off, an intensive, two-day program for first-year students at orientation. We review résumés, cover letters, and networking. We also bring in outside consultants. It really helped the first-years think about what they're going to have to do over the next couple of years.

We also work with student groups to host conferences throughout the year and have a mandatory mock-interview program for first-years. In addition, we have a speaker series where we bring in folks who have an MBA but aren't following the traditional MBA career path. In other words, instead of pursuing investment banking or consulting, the speakers might be working in public relations or at a law firm.

Q: What sort of recruiters are you attracting? What sort would you like to get onto campus?


We already attract the top consulting firms, investment banks, and health-care organizations. We can have fewer companies recruiting at SOM but more divisions of the same organization hiring our students. Now, we're trying to get introduced to more investment-management firms and biotech and pharmaceutical organizations.

[Editor's note: According to BusinessWeek Online's school-reported data, 47% of graduates in 2004 found jobs in finance/accounting, 13% landed marketing/sales jobs, 10% took general-management positions, and 8% went into consulting. Graduates reported median starting base salaries of $85,000.]

Q: How do you market Yale MBAs to recruiters?


The School of Management is known as being strong in finance, marketing, and strategy. [MBAs also] have a high [average] GMAT score [of 696]. Our students are team players. They're appealing to organizations that are looking for strong leaders interested in corporate social responsibility.

Q: Do you do anything special to get more recruiters to pay attention to your students?


I think everything we do is special. Each relationship manager on our staff specializes in a particular industry and develops a rapport with companies and students interested in those sectors.

Q: Do you offer any perks to recruiters?


We work with recruiters. If they can't come to campus to interview, we'll collect résumés for them. We'll market on behalf of them. We also have videoconferencing available, so companies that can't make it to New Haven can still interview our students.

Q: Would you say that rankings have helped to attract recruiters?


I think there are some companies that definitely look at rankings, and that's how they make their selection. But if a company has a strong performer from a certain school, then it wants to continue to support that school and therefore will recruit there. If that school happens to be in the top 25, then terrific.

Q: What do you do to serve international students?


When admitting international students, the message is fairly clear. Right now, international students at all business schools will have a challenge finding a job in the U.S. We make sure international students have a great understanding of visa issues. We hook up our international students with international alumni who have been through the program and have experienced similar challenges. We're also working with our international students to organize job fairs in London with some other schools.

Q: Burgeoning job markets in places such as India and China have lured domestic and international graduates to work abroad. Have you had to change your strategy to meet the needs of students who now want to work abroad?


Our strategy is always the same. We're committed to building the bridge between students and employers. Each year, our [strategy for] student, alumni, and recruiting needs to change. We try to understand current student needs, and we work with them to get introduced to companies of their choice.

Q: What's the one thing you hope your students learn about the job search before they graduate?


You're going to get a job by talking to people, not by searching the Internet. You have to tell employers what you have to offer. But if you don't know what you're selling, then it's your job to find out. It comes down to how comfortable you are talking about yourself. It doesn't have to be intimidating. It can be really fun.

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