From Classroom to Plum Job

Babson's head of undergraduate career development talks about why such a high percentage of students land good positions

Talk about success. By six months after graduation, 97.5% of Babson's 2005 undergraduate class had landed a job. Driven by high expectations and bolstered by an improving economy, recent graduates likely asked their employers some tough questions before signing on, says Megan Houlker, director of the Babson College Undergraduate Center for Career Development. Houlker says key concerns for Babson's graduates include knowing how they'll be mentored and whether there will be real opportunities to have a voice at their new company.

After five years working in recruiting for Bear Stearns (BSC), Houlker made the leap to higher education as the associate director of corporate relations and recruitment at Babson. Although she had worries about leaving the corporate world, Houlker quickly found her niche at a school that she says "breathes the business environment."

A little over four years later, Houlker was promoted to the top spot. The next day, she spoke to Business Week editorial assistant Megan Tucker. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

How do you attract recruiters to the Babson campus?

We rely on our alumni to get our foot in the door at top companies. If there are businesses we're looking to target, then the first phone call is to one of our alumni. Through our alumni, we can learn what we need to know about the different companies, such as who the important contacts are.

We try to be intentional in choosing which companies we pursue. By identifying companies ourselves, we attract those we believe would be a really good fit for the Babson student. We don't invite companies just to raise the number that recruit on our campus.

Which companies come to campus?

The list is huge, and all of the big names are represented, such as the KPMGs of the world. From the investment banks, we have large institutions like Citigroup (C), and some great smaller banks like Rothschild. Beyond that, we have companies, like Fidelity and Enterprise Rental Cars, that offer many different experiences to our graduates.

What fields are most popular right now for Babson graduates?

Financial services is the leader. Accounting has also been on the rise. That being said, after you look beyond those areas, our students have an interest in a broad range of industries -- from human resources and marketing to consulting. Real estate is also on the map right now for many students.

As you see a rise in some areas, what jobs become less popular for your students?

When there are more opportunities for our graduates in areas like business development, jobs that are strict sales positions tend to be less appealing to them.

Is there a forum for undergraduates to learn from the career experience of Babson's MBA students?

We have a program called Coaching for Teamwork & Leadership, conducted during students' freshman and junior years. Students complete tasks in teams, and each student is assigned a coach, who anonymously observes the student's work.

The group of coaches is comprised of a mix of MBA students, alumni, and other friends of Babson. When the tasks are completed, the coaches give the student direct feedback on what they've observed, such as the student's style of work, [his or her] attitude, and how [he or she is] perceived by others.

How does Babson's philosophy on undergraduate career management differ from the one for your MBA students?

When you're looking at an MBA student, you're looking at a person who knows what they want to do. And so your job is just to help them get there.

With our undergrads, I want to make sure that our students are learning how to do a job search, because they're likely going to have many different careers over their lifetime. We spend an exorbitant amount of time working on that skill development.

How does on-campus learning at Babson help students differentiate themselves in the real-world workplace?

Undergraduates start their business education from day one of freshman year. They participate in a program called Foundation Management Experience, where they run a business with a group for their first year on campus.

The students become very practical about their work. The curriculum is integrated, so they're not learning business disciplines in a vacuum. When they complete their first internships, I get amazing reviews from employers because Babson students have learned about business in a way that allows them to think more holistically about problems.

Are there any specific career services initiatives that complement Babson's highly-regarded entrepreneurship program?

Very often our students say that they'd like to learn from within a different company before launching their own. In fact, only about 5% of our graduates start a business immediately after graduation. Therefore, I think our role is to help the entrepreneurship students understand their options.

We help them communicate to potential employers the reasons why they should consider hiring an entrepreneur student. The major is not just about a startup. The students learn new business philosophies and how to wear many different hats within a company.

What are common mistakes you see undergraduates make when they're applying to their first internships?

The most frequent mistake is not understanding the use of the cover letter. Many students don't realize just how important it is to have a targeted letter that is not general whatsoever. Every single cover letter should be written to a specific company, and about a specific job description.

The other mistake is that they don't network quite as much as they could; they're still intimidated by the process. Some of the students network brilliantly, but for others, there's more of a learning curve. Younger students need to understand that talking to people about their careers and companies isn't "using" people.

How do you serve the needs of your international students?

Unfortunately, changes in visa regulations have made it more of a challenge for our international students to find U.S. employment. We've devoted much of our time and resources to ensure we identify opportunities and have a solid range of employers coming to campus who can accommodate them. We also connect the students with international student alumni who can share their firsthand knowledge about the hiring process.