Who's Wooing Who at Wisconsin

The Midwest is the main destination for most of the school's MBAs, and the school boasts a core of regional recruiters

The University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Business is just two hours from Chicago, an appealing draw for students who want to secure a job in the Windy City. Couple the location with the school's innovative MBA specialization program—where students pick a concentration before they enter school—and the school is an ideal fit for many driven students from the Midwest.

"Students don't have to know exactly what they want to do in life, but they need to be fairly sure how they want to start out," said Blair Sanford, director of career services.

The school has strong relationships with recruiters from companies such as General Electric (GE) and Procter & Gamble (PG), who hire students from a number of the school's 13 disciplines. On-campus recruiting was up 27% this fall and more recruiters are reaching out to evening and part-time students than ever before, Sanford said.

Sanford, who has been working in the Wisconsin career services office for about three and a half years, spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Janie Ho. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Your school has 13 different MBA specializations. Do you have a different area in your office for marketing as opposed to finance?

When you apply to Wisconsin, you not only apply to the MBA program, you apply immediately to a center of specialization. I've got directors or assistant directors in charge of each of these specializations who are involved in a dotted-line kind of way with me on the whole placement process. They're also very involved in the admissions process. So it's a very unique model that we have.

A lot of MBA students are career changers. How do they know what they want to do before they get there?

Choosing that specialization right away is restrictive in a sense, but it allows us to really start to focus in depth on their employment opportunities. We market our program as a program for those with clear career objectives. They don't have to know exactly what they want to do in life, but they need to be fairly sure how they want to start out.

How long has this model of having the career staff very involved with the admissions office been in place?

For four years. The way our model works is that our admissions director plays a more traditional role, but each of these specialization directors is involved in the admissions process. So they're reviewing files and giving the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on candidates as well.

What do you think is the most innovative or unique aspect or program of your career-services department that you've helped implement?

Probably the one thing that's very successful that I've helped implement is our jump-start program. It's our career-development foundational training program. It begins with our orientation program—we have a session during orientation—and then it continues for four to five weeks of intense career development. It's a very applied program. It's optional for students and yet we had 90% attendance of our first-year students. This particular jump-start program covers creating that business school résumé. It covers how to network within their field of interest...

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