What Sets Sloan MBAs Apart

Career Development Director Jacqueline Wilbur hails MIT's B-school grads for their intelligence and quirky individuality

Jacqueline Wilbur has been the Director of MBA Career Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge since May, 2000. She is a founding board member and past-president of the MBA Career Services Council, the leading professional association for MBA career services professionals.

Wilbur says the most important part of her job is preparing students to conduct an effective job search long after they earn the MBA. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What do you ask students to do before they get to campus?


We have an admit Web site, where the school loads different information for incoming students. We offer advice on many aspects of the program -- from recommended business attire to summer reading material. We have them fill out Meyers-Briggs and Career Leader self-assessment tests, and we review them in a day-long seminar during orientation [click here for more information].

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


Our Career Core model is designed to make sure that all Sloan graduates know how to conduct an effective job search on their own. Students are in an artificial market when they're here with us.

Career Core serves as part of the core curriculum. We work with our Communications faculty on written (resume, cover letters), oral (the 30-second elevator pitch), and other kinds (effective e-mails, structuring thank-you notes, and introducing yourself and your classmates) of communication. Our Organizational Processes faculty conducts sessions on hiring and promotion theories and salary negotiation. This year, we added a new session with the Strategy faculty to give the students exposure to strategic frameworks and problem-solving to help with interviewing.

Q: How do you set your MBAs apart from those at other B-schools?


I always start with their innate intelligence, which has allowed the vast majority to do some really interesting things in their lives. There is also a quirkiness and humility that is appealing to companies. I spend a lot of time with students on the personal section of their resume because that's where their personalities and interests come out. During a resume review, we had a student tell us that he had just returned from driving around the world. Everyone agreed that he needed to include such a fascinating experience on his resume.

Q: What's your philosophy on interviewing?


We encourage the students to be themselves, quirks and all. Our employers really value that aspect of them. We sometimes use the old comparison of an interview to deciding if you would want to be stuck in an airport with the person. Talking only about work experience won't cut it.

Q: How do you view work experience?


There's no minimum for admission, but our students average about five years. There are different places in the market for people with different levels of work experience. We try to help each student understand where they fit best. Some students recently started a club called Club 31, because that's the minimum age to join. They get together and develop job search techniques that are more appropriate for highly experienced MBAs.

Q: How do you serve international students differently?


We don't. Each student is an individual, so we treat them accordingly. We don't see visa issues as a big problem because we have developed good relationships with the various business sectors. We've done sessions with international students to help them decide whether to stay or go home. We find that it has a lot less to do with opportunities and salary than with what's best for their family.

Q: How do you help career changers?


About 85% of our students are here to change careers. It's much harder to change both function and industry than to change just one of those. However, we find that it can be easier to change into the consulting industry than others. Very strong academic preparation, along with innate intellectual curiosity and strong interpersonal skills can help make that transition.

Q: What types of recruiters do you attract to campus?


We have found historically that our top recruiting companies fall into five different sectors -- investment banking, consulting, commercial technology, consumer technology, and the pharmaceutical and biotech sector. In biotech, we place students at Merck (MRK ), Pfizer (PFE ), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ ). From the other sectors, our best relationships are with Bain, McKinsey, DCG, IBM (IBM ), Yahoo! (YHOO ), Microsoft (MSFT ), and Dell (DELL ), as well as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and others.

Q: What is the average starting salary for your graduates?


Last year, the median was around $95,000 for base salary, up substantially from where it was during the downturn [click here for more information]. This year, we expect another increase.

Q: What is your placement percentage?


Last year, 96% had a job offer by three months after graduation, and 91% had accepted one. We hope that this will hold steady.