Capital Ties

Maryland's location near Washington means opportunities for government consulting abound. But students are offered other career options in the career counseling process

Attending college near the nation's capital has its advantages, especially for students interested in consulting services. Just ask undergraduates at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

"The government is in town and there's a lot of government consulting that goes on," says Peter Brown, director of Smith's office of career management. Top recruiting firms include Accenture (CAN), KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte Consulting (see, 8/13/06, "Accounting With Major Mobility").

Future consultants make up the largest portion of Maryland undergrads, says Brown. However, the university also brings several accounting firms and banks to on-campus recruiting sessions, allowing students to explore other options.

Brown, a 1993 graduate of the Smith MBA program, plays an instrumental role in the career development process. He manages relationships with recruiting organizations and oversees support services. He recently chatted with reporter Julie Gordon. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Can you describe the career coaching program?

Every student is provided with a career coach that they can come and see as often as they like to talk about their job search strategies, résumés and cover letters, what the companies are targeting, etc.

How many coaches are there?

Three. Now, it is incumbent upon the students [to seek them out]. We have a Web site. We put signs in the atrium. We put all types of publicity across campus that our services exist for our business students. All three coaches are filled just about every day.

Does each coach specialize in a field or are they general advisers?

On the undergraduate side, they are general career coaches. We don't do it by functional area. So they get whoever is available. And what may happen is that for whatever reason, [students] may develop a good relationship with someone in a particular functional area and recommend their friends to that person, but I don't have it organized in functional area at the undergraduate level. I do at the graduate level.

Is that because of resources?

Yes, resources and the focus of the undergraduates. When they're freshmen and sophomores they might not know a major yet. And that's even true in many cases for juniors and seniors that need to find themselves. So I keep it so that the career coaches are well established to talk about whatever the student would like to look into.

How often should a student meet with a coach?

I think every student should meet at least once to do an initial one-on-one to go over the career objectives and to make sure they match with the résumé and the background. But three times a semester is probably a minimum for the ones that are serious about getting employed and serious about their careers.

What goes on during meetings?

On the initial uptake, we have a basic form that gets filled out that talks about major and career aspirations. They talk about the student's network, whether it's through parents or friends or other students, so we assess that and get a picture for who the student is.

When they come back, career coaches put them in touch with our employer-development managers who have relationships with companies where the student may want to work. Once they know that and they come over to employer-development managers, we can [perform] outreach on their behalf.

There was a time before I got here where I believe anyway that the names of recruiters might have been given out a little bit more freely because they wanted to develop a relationship with the students. But over time we found that that can be risky. Not all students are going to be as polished as we'd like and so what we do if we are making an outreach to a company on behalf of the office of career management, we like to make sure that student is properly prepped.

How can you represent a student who has a low grade-point average (GPA), isn't polished, or somehow doesn't best show off Smith?

Well, we can't control the GPAs. It's one of many measures that an employer will use to screen for a job. If a student's GPA is extremely low, that is a challenge for us. But the student might be in a fraternity or a sorority, in the student government, or hold another leadership position, or maybe they're working part time to help pay for college. What we look for are strong points even outside of their GPA. There are a lot of other measures that can make that student marketable.

How many companies come to campus each year?

Last year we had about 450 that came to campus. This year we're on pace for 500, maybe 525. About 70% of those companies that come are looking for undergraduates.

How many jobs are posted on your online board?

We'll probably be close to 3,000 [jobs] by the time this year's over.

How can students use Smith's required career course to their advantage?

It requires the development of a résumé, a cover letter, a job search plan, and we use that as a vehicle to introduce myself and the [office of career management]. It's also an opportunity to get employers in front of the students. We often advise an employer to give a presentation on their particular functional area which they really like. And it's actually taught by our recruiters.

Why is it important to have a required class that focuses on careers?

When people go to college, particularly in the business field, you begin with the end in mind, and the end in mind is to get a job or get a better job. Toward that end, this course has proven very, very valuable. We have about 2,100 out of 2,800 students registered in our online job posting board, which is part of the class.

Why are business students so job-focused compared with many other majors?

It's just the nature of the beast. Students that major in business want to be in business and want to succeed.

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