UCLA's Career "Tools" for MBAs

Equipping grads for a lifetime of changes is Erik Mokover's mission at the Anderson School of Management

Eric Mokover is associate dean of Career Initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles (No. 14 on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top B-schools ).

Mokover has been associated with UCLA's B-school for more than 20 years. In fact, he earned his MBA at UCLA before joining the Disney division that branched into home-video production and cable TV. On his return to UCLA, he first ran admissions and later the MBA program.

A little more than a year ago, he took over career services. In 2004, 91% of Anderson's MBA grads had found a job three months after graduation. Mokover recently spoke to BusinessWeek Online reporter Francesca DiMeglio. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:

Q: Is an MBA still worth it?


I think the data say, "Yes." Before [entering] an MBA [program], people are making $65,000 or so. When they leave B-school, they are making about $100,000.

Q: What are some things MBAs should do before arriving at campus?


We ask students to do online career-assessment tests before coming here, so they can begin developing goals. We want MBAs to realize that they are responsible for their own careers. We're here to assist, support, and coach them. We'll stand on our heads for them, but ultimately, it's in their hands.

Q: What's your philosophy on building a career?


The first job out of the MBA program is the first step in a long, productive career. Statistics show that people change careers several times, and [change] jobs even more often. The best thing we can do is provide the tools for this lifetime of changes.

Q: Can MBAs still change careers with flexibility?


It's always a challenge, but that's what we're here for. Most people get an MBA because they want to change careers. We teach students how to market themselves for a new path. At the same time, you have to focus on your career goals pretty quickly.

Q: Do you provide any unique programs at career services


About 98% of our students are participating in Anderson Career Teams (ACT), which are teams of about 15 people with similar career aspirations. This year, we have trained 41 second-year students to serve as career coaches in these groups. They talk about everything from networking to pre-interview research. They also hold each other accountable for sending out résumés and making phone calls, which is motivating.

Q: What's the biggest change in the MBA job search in recent years?


You can't ask a stupid question anymore. You have to do your homework before the recruiters arrive.

Q: What have you learned about gaining career satisfaction?


You have to know yourself well. Spending hours looking at the softer side of life and your assessment tests is critically important. The summer internship is important, too. Some students felt like failures because they didn't like their internship. But deciding after 10 weeks is a lot better than committing to a postgraduation job you end up hating.

Also you have to realize that this is a relationships game. The better you are at playing, the more likely you are to succeed. I have firsthand experience with this. On my first day in career services, I noticed the sign in the office: "The John E. Parker Career Management Center." The first thing I did was write [Parker] a letter to say I was delighted to be taking on the new job. He eventually spent the day with our staff. He has turned into a mentor for several of us, and he gave UCLA another $1 million.

Q: What services do you offer for international students?


Nearly 30% of our students are international, and many of them want to work in the U.S. It's hard but not impossible [to get a job in the U.S.]. One of the full-time career coaches we hired is a former international MBA. He has gone through this process and has real experiences that he can share.

We're doing a workshop for international students about getting a job in the U.S. Employers are often willing to overlook your international status if you have a skill set they need. We also bring in attorneys to make sure people understand the visa laws.

Q: What's the most important message you want to send to all your MBAs?


One of our initiatives is improving the level of service for alumni because we're serious about this lifelong relationship. We want them to know that when they walk out the door with an MBA, the Anderson network is here for them, and it's a compelling community.

Q: What sort of recruiters are you attracting?


Like most major business schools, investment-banking, consulting, and marketing [careers] are most popular. We've had a tremendous boost in real estate and biotech in the last two years. If you want a career in entertainment, you're crazy to think of going anywhere but UCLA. We're connected with every major entertainment firm in Hollywood. But we need to have much more outreach to the middle-market firms that are abundant in Los Angeles.

Q: Do you think that the various rankings help UCLA?


Recruiters can use rankings as a crutch, so they don't have to get to know a particular school. Also, international students really rely on these rankings and sometimes don't do a good enough job researching the culture of different programs.

Q: Do recruiters have any say in the curriculum?


We have just made some relatively significant changes to the curriculum. A lot of that was based on feedback from recruiters when Dean Bruce Willison did his tour [to numerous companies] two years ago. Now, students take a marketing and finance course in the fall and winter, so when they go to their internship interviews they already have a solid knowledge base. Also, students have five courses in the first quarter and three in the second, when they need more time to prepare for internship interviews.

Q: How do you market your MBAs?


Entrepreneurship is a big part of our culture. Our students tend to take more risks than others. Most of our students have gotten into the very best business schools in the country, some of which are ranked much higher than Anderson. It takes some guts for someone from the East Coast, who got into Wharton, to come to UCLA. It doesn't have quite the same cachet on the cocktail circuit.

Q: What are your job predictions for the future?


Our current students are going to have more opportunities. The finance and blue-chip marketing companies are making a comeback. I don't see it returning to the level of the glory days. But I do see more diversity among the companies looking to hire MBAs, and that plays into a lot of our strengths.

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