Mixing Finance and Tech at Berkeley

New Director Thomas Devlin is improving the odds for B-school grads at UC Berkeley with a revitalized program that's attracting both traditional recruiters and some new faces

Thomas Devlin has been the director of the career center at the University of California, Berkeley for the past eight years. He leads the centralized operation that serves a broad range of students across the campus, including those studying undergraduate business. Internships have become an integral part of the undergraduate business experience, says Devlin, because they give students clarity about what they want to do, and increase job seekers value to future employers.

A veteran of career services, Devlin came to Berkeley after 17 years as the executive director of the Cornell University career center. Berkeley, a top-rated Bay Area institution, was seeking a director who would lead the revitalization of its career services program when they hired Devlin. He is focused on three central goals: providing first-class service, making partnerships with campus organizations, and employing technology to help students access information.

He recently spoke with BusinessWeek editorial assistant Megan Tucker. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

How does your office cater to the unique needs of undergraduate business students?

Although we have a centralized career office for the whole campus, we probably have one of the largest career staffs in the country, with over 40 employees. Our goal is to customize our services to each of our varied academic disciplines. In the case of our business students, we have counselors and staff focused specifically on their needs. We also have a strong working relationship with the director of the undergraduate business program, so we're able to respond to that community effectively.

What industries are most desirable to your students?

There's a good mix, with a heavy emphasis on finance and I-banks. This year, we've seen the return of the consulting firms. We're also observing a gradual but aggressive return of tech firms, particularly those that represent Silicon Valley and the West Coast. Our students are interested in jobs with both small startup firms, and giants like Yahoo! (YHOO), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT).

What are your impressions of the recent job market?

Last year, Berkeley students saw that the job market was improving, but the students who began their job searches this year were confident that the job market had indeed improved. This is significant because a student's level of confidence is one of the most important ingredients in a successful job search.

Do most of your graduates, many of whom are native Californians, stay in their home state for their first job?

Yes, 90% of the students who come to the Berkeley campus are from California. After graduation, about 85% stay on the West Coast, and 10% go to the East Coast.

What is a common misconception students have when they're applying for their first jobs?

Most students don't realize how difficult and how much work is involved in a job search. Whether they're looking for an internship or full-time employment, students have a reality check when they first begin the process.

What are the methods through which your students find their first full-time positions?

Our students tend to find their employment in three primary ways. About two-thirds of our students are employed through on-campus recruiting. The remaining students are divided between networking and our job-posting system. Career fairs are also an integral part of our program. For every career fair that we offer, at least three or four student organizations co-host the event with us. The organizations act as ambassadors to the employers visiting our campus.

How can business students make the most out of an on-campus career fair?

Before a fair, students should spend time gathering background information on companies, so they can ask focused questions. If students have enough time during the fair, they should start by meeting with the employers they're least interested in. This gives undergraduates an opportunity to build up confidence before speaking to the organizations they're most excited about. Also, fairs are typically most crowded during lunch, and less crowded early in the day, so students should plan accordingly.

How strong is the relationship between your office and recruiters?

We try to create an effective hiring process by accommodating the different needs of both students and employers. We operate within broad guidelines and maintain certain expectations of the employer and the student. We expect Berkeley students to have accurate and truthful resumes, and that both sides will adhere to agreed-upon deadlines. Also, we have an understanding that employers will be up front about their job opportunities and have a reasonable timetable for accepting a potential offer.

How does your office review its own work and make adjustments for the next year?

We use surveys to get feedback from our students. We also take into account the observations of our staff counselors and academic partners. To share this information we host an Employer Round Table at the end of each year. This is an opportunity for about 40 to 50 employers who recruit on our campus to learn about changes on the Berkeley campus and also to share their emerging needs. We've found this to be an extremely positive relationship-building experience.

What innovative programs have developed from feedback presented at the Employer Round Table?

The Early Bird Internship fair was one idea we introduced this year. It came about in response to employers who wanted to get a head start on cultivating relationships with Berkeley students for summer internships. We were anticipating the involvement of only 25 firms, but we ended up with 100 potential employers and a waiting list. It was very successful.

What are some of the ways your office uses technology to meet its goals?

I suspect we have one of the richest Web sites in the country. We use our Web site to cover the basics, such as facilitating on-campus recruiting, interviewing, and highlighting potential employers. We also have services like resume critiques, where students can sign up online to have their resume evaluated by an employer. You name it, we have it.

What percentage of the business students from the class of 2005 had jobs at graduation?

Eighty-seven percent of the class of 2005 had jobs at the time of their graduation.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.