A Reality Check at Mays School

Students need to learn how to manage their career, says Jim Dixey of Texas A&M's B-school, now and forever

Jim Dixey has been the Graduate Business Career Services director at Texas A&M's Mays School of Business since August, 2003. Dixey has more than 30 years of management experience in operations, administration, customer service, and human resources. He has worked with Pan Am, Northwest Airlines, and Perry Group, an aerospace and aviation consulting firm. Dixey was also a management professor at Purdue University and assistant dean for career services at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in organizational development.

Dixey says his job is to help students manage their own careers and teach them the vital skill of networking. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How does your career-services process begin?


We meet prospective students, and I look at their employability. I try to assess the realism of their goals. Then I use what I call the reality check. Do they have a good fundamental understanding of why they're coming back to school?

Once they're admitted, they receive a package and a Web site where they do the online assessment test. We also have a standard format for all of our résumés. Then, when they arrive, we meet with them during their first week in a general session with all the students. We schedule them for a one-on-one meeting. We tell them that career management is their job, now and forever.

Q: What are you looking at when you talk about employability?


It's subjective, based on experience. It's based on what employers tell us. People can change careers, they do it all the time. Someone who comes in with three or four years experience as an engineer, and he tells me that he doesn't like engineering and expects to be a powerful businessman right out of B-school is unrealistic.

I want to know what they think the MBA is going to do for them. I'm looking for students who want to go out and be able to prove themselves in the world -- and who don't expect everything to be handed to them.

Q: What's the next stage of the job search?


Students are assigned an intake, a mandatory one-on-one, where we review their résumé, their self-assessment, and their goals. Once again, we tell them that they need to have three plans. They need to have their ideal job, they need to have a backup, and they need to have plan C. We lay out what they need to do between now and November, which is the end of their second term. We tell them the events they'll need to attend, as well as the networking sessions they need to conduct.

Q: How important is networking?


In terms of employment, networking is probably the single most important thing you can do. When they arrive here, students need to find out the players in their fields of interest, as well as the alumni that are in those industries. Some specific lessons include finding the people who hire and the decision-makers within a company.

You learn how to follow up and what to ask. You shouldn't ever conclude a conversation or network meeting and walk away. You ask if there are two people with whom they can put you in touch. Also, physical appearance is very important. Students have to dress like they belong. We also coach students in their communication skills, particularly in terms of writing effective follow-up e-mails.

Q: What are some tips you have for interviewing?


The first thing an interviewer sees is how they're dressed, so they need to be clean-shaven, etc. If you go into an interview and think you're going to land the job just because of the school you went to, then that's nuts.

Second, we teach them how to introduce themselves. Next, we teach them how to think on their feet. We tell students that they have to be positive. Also, they have to be able to sell themselves. Don't go in there and tell them what you want, but instead tell them how you can help the company. You have to appear as though promotion is in your future.

Q: How effective are career trips?


We have several trips that we do. One of the professors leads students to New York in a program called "Aggies on Wall Street." We share some of the expenses and reimburse for other parts. I'm not entirely sure how many placements we make through these, but we feel they offer good exposure to other industries and geographies outside of Texas.

Q: What are the most popular industries?


In 2004, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and government were the most popular. We place some students on Wall Street. I'm not in favor of the program focusing the vast majority of its interests in consulting and investment banking. I like to keep a good cross-section. When you look at the data, half of our students work outside of Texas.

Q: Who are the main recruiters you see on campus?


We have the best relationships with energy companies, Ford, Boeing, General Electric, Bank of America, and Citigroup, just to name a few. Health services has picked up a bit. Also, MBAs with IT backgrounds get the usual list of suspects: Dell, Compaq, HP, and Cisco. We're not trying to wow anyone with how many recruiters we have on campus. We're interested in getting opportunities for out students in whatever way we can.

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