Coming on Strong at Babson

Don't hesitate to let recruiters know about the challenges you have met and vanquished, says career-development director David Fetherston

Students who communicate their strengths and experiences of overcoming adversity are more likely to find a job with the right fit. So says David Fetherston, the director of the MBA Center for Career Development at the Franklin W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College (No. 26 on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top MBA programs). Before joining Babson, Fetherston worked for 20 years in new business development and relationship management in the health-care and financial-services industries. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Babson is consistently ranked among the top five for entrepreneurship. Do a lot of career-changers come to Babson for the entrepreneurship program?


Yes. Traditionally, there are two types of entrepreneurs. There are those who wish to start their own business or acquire a small business and take it to the next level, and those who use their entrepreneurial motivation within a corporate context. Companies always need innovators and broad thinkers, and we screen for people who wish to develop the skill sets to make either one possible.

Q: How do you communicate those types of skills in the résumé or an interview?


I teach career education in the classroom, and I ask students to fill out a career profile. It identifies and isolates skills like project-management experience, financial responsibility, sales and customer-relationship management, people management, and leadership skills. It helps students begin to know themselves and the lessons that they've learned through failure. Ultimately, when talking to an employer, it's critical that they be able to communicate these things verbally, as well as in a résumé or cover letter.

Q: What advice do you have about interviews?


It's very easy to tell the difference between someone who is extremely practiced and someone who is genuine and real. Finding a job should be about fit, because if a company and an individual aren't the right fit for each other, then both sides end up unhappy, and performance suffers as a result.

It's good practice to tell the person on the other side of the table about an experience where you failed but learned something. Students need to recognize that the person across the table interviewing them has had similar experiences, and experience in recovering from adversity often makes a better employee and leader.

Q: How much personal attention does each student receive?


We are now set up with a relationship-management model. We have four relationship managers who come from different corporate backgrounds and focus on a given industry. Our relationship managers specialize in financial services, consumer products, technology and life sciences, and consulting and professional services.

With respect to entrepreneurship, we have a team of executives-in-residence, who have lived the entrepreneurial dream and can share their experiences with students. Students get personalized attention and the benefit of more direct marketing to their field or industry of choice.

Q: What innovative techniques do you use to market students? A: We are doing a corporate outreach, where we send out a direct mailer to about 700 recruiting companies. In the mailer, we include our résumé book in electronic form, sorted by industry to make it easier for recruiters to access the students they might be interested in hiring. The message, essentially, is that Babson is the leader in innovation.

Recruiters are often overwhelmed by the volume of résumés and the enormity of the recruiting process. They've told us over and over again that if we make it simple for them and acknowledge their needs, then they'll be more likely to work with us on a long-term partnership. That's why we built the model the way we did.

Q: Which recruiters do you attract?


Some of our big partners include Fidelity Investments, Staples (SPLS ), IBM (IBM ), Irving Oil, General Electric (GE ), McKinsey and Co., Hasbro (HAS ), and Ocean Spray. We hope to attract a lot more through our direct-outreach initiative.

Q: Are there trends you see coming in the job market?


I see more MBA opportunities becoming rotational in nature. Companies have been developing leadership-training programs that put an MBA through a two- or three-year program, where they spend a set amount of time in several different company sectors. This is also becoming a part of many internships. The best part is that during an internship a student can see many sides of the company, and the company can see how the student performs in different areas.

Q: How have you adapted your strategy to help international students find work?


Many individuals have come [to Babson's program] to gain valuable business experience to bring it back to a family business at home, but some are looking for opportunities here. Companies like Deloitte & Touche and Irving Oil have been willing to support certain highly skilled graduates in the visa process, and we're constantly looking for partners such as these (ones).

Q: What has your job placement percentage been recently?


Last year, 82% to 83% of the class of 2005 had a job offer three months after graduation. I am expecting the number to be higher this year because of our direct-marketing efforts to recruiters.

Q: What is the usual starting salary?


The median starting salary for our graduates last year was about $75,000.

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