GW Invests in Undergrad Careers

Associate dean Mary Gowan talks about George Washington University's new career counseling center and interview etiquette

As one of her first new responsibilities as associate dean for undergraduate programs at The George Washington University, Mary Gowan was charged with spearheading the development of a career center designed specifically for undergraduates at the School of Business in 2005. The school is partnering with Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career management firm, to begin providing specialized undergraduate services while Gowan and her team develop and staff their new center. And this year, GW will open a new business school complex that will include a suite of interview offices for recruiters to use when meeting undergraduate candidates (previously, they had to scout for empty classrooms).

Gowan first arrived at GW four years ago, after leaving her position as a professor at the University of Central Florida, to teach management. Three years later, her background in counseling and career placement led her to be nominated for a dean's position at the B-school. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek editorial assistant Megan Tucker. Here are excerpts of their conversation:

What sparked the development of an undergraduate career services center at GW's business school?

Our board of advisers was committed to examining how we could continue to provide quality programs for our students, and they saw the need for a career center just for undergraduate business students.

It was also driven by a feeling from our students that they weren't getting the specific type of services they needed from the university career center. Our undergraduate B-school size has almost doubled since 1995, and the average SAT score has gone up considerably as well. We have a different population of students now than we did 10 years ago. The school realized that we needed to be much more focused to attract the kind of recruiters that our students expect to work for.

What will be the central focus of your undergraduate career services?

GW's undergraduate students tend to have lots of internship experience, but they haven't been in the workplace full time. We'll focus on preparing our students to be true professionals in the workplace. This will include services like helping them to write their first professional resume and develop networking skills. We already have in place the First Year Development Program, which is meant to introduce students to their first job search.

How do GW alumni help with undergraduate career development?

Alumni often come to campus to speak about topics like their careers and professionalism. Our alumni have also initiated the recruitment of GW students for positions at companies, like Bear Stearns (BSC) and Goldman Sachs (GS), that aren't necessarily on our official recruiting list.

This is one of the first years that those companies have come to campus through our alumni's initiative, so it has been pretty exciting to have a number of students placed in those internships for the summer.

What's a common mistake you see undergraduates make in their internship searches?

Students sometimes aren't targeted enough about where they would like to do their internship and what they want to gain from that experience. I think some students can do a better job of identifying where they truly want to work, and target those organizations for opportunities.

What are some of the most sought-after leadership positions on campus?

We have "class managers" who coordinate activities for their classmates. Students can apply individually for the positions, and we nominate others. The nominees are typically excelling academically and possess good leadership skills.

From this pool of applicants, we select a student from each class to be a class manager.

The officer positions in our undergraduate business fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, also seem to be particularly desirable.

Will you have any career-development initiatives focused on women?

We currently have the Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. It's housed within our B-school and focuses on encouraging women in entrepreneurial endeavors. Our last entering class was 39.6% female, so I very much expect that we will develop some partnerships between the career center and the women's programs already on campus.

What are the top ways that freshmen can get their career development off to a great start at GW?

Students should keep their mind open to different possibilities and career paths, even within a field like finance. They should get to know the faculty members by taking the initiative to make an appointment, sit down, and have a conversation. Our professors have fantastic connections in the greater world, and students shouldn't let opportunities to network pass them by.

Undergraduates should also use the resources available through the career-advising staff. Finally, they should come to the center early to start working on their resumes.

What advice do you give students about their resumes?

It's important that students don't assume that they know how to create a resume, or even that their parents know how to help them. Instead, they should seek help from professionals in the career center.

Another common mistake is that many graduating students feel inclined to include high school experiences on their resumes. Although most undergrads had significant accomplishments in high school, the great majority of those experiences should no longer be listed.

Students should take time to identify the most impressive contributions they made in their past positions. By listing buzz words such as research, writing, or critical thinking skills, job seekers increase their chances of a recruiter flagging their resume for an interview.

What's an area that students often overlook in preparing for their interviews?

Students should research how to dress professionally for an interview. I recommend that they seek advice from current employees about what's considered acceptable for a particular company.

For many large organizations, students should consider dressing more conservatively than they might expect. For men, throwing on a tie and jacket often isn't enough. Both men and women should think about investing in a suit. In fall 2007, our career center is hosting an event with a professional tailor and an etiquette expert to advise our students on how to dress and behave during an interview.

How should students follow up with a company after an interview?

It's important that students always send a thank-you note immediately following an interview. However, they should be extremely careful that their thank-you note is error free. They should double-check critical parts, like having the company name spelled and punctuated correctly. After a couple of weeks, if they haven't heard any results from their interview, students should follow up with an e-mail or phone call.

What's the typical starting salary for your graduates?

The average starting salary for our 2005 graduates was $42,377, the median was $42,750, and the mode was $50,000.

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