Moving on from Madison

The head of the University of Wisconsin's Business Career Center talks about the services and advice the school offers undergrads

Steve Schroeder has been director of the Business Career Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the past year and a half. The center serves undergrad business students as well as students in the five-year professional accounting program and master's candidates in actuarial science and quantitative finance. The majority of Madison undergrads—78%—find jobs in the Midwest following graduation, with the top sectors being accounting, financial services, merchandising, investment banking, and real estate and appraisal.

Schroeder spoke to reporter Janie Ho. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:

Can you tell me a little bit about what career counseling is like at Wisconsin?

We admit [students] as juniors into the School of Business. They spend their first couple of years in the College of Letters & Science, which is the liberal arts college, and fill in a lot of their basic requirements that they need for graduation. Then, when they have 54 credits, they can apply to the School of Business, and so most of the students end up coming in the September of their junior year. What ends up happening is we, like most career centers, are heaviest the fall semester.

Our students get accepted in September. The middle of September, they're looking for a summer internship already. That's when our career fair is. So these students are in the School of Business for two weeks and are already looking for a summer internship.

Then our on-campus recruiting starts at the beginning of October. And so, by Thanksgiving and about the end of the calendar year, most of our students will have interviewed for an internship, many of them will have accepted already.

The same process happens for the seniors. In September, they're starting to look for those full-time positions.

When students are freshmen and sophomores and they are not yet in the business school, but they know that they want to go into business, do you have any suggestions for figuring out what type of area they want to go to or what company they would want to target?

Yes. We try to market our services to freshmen and sophomores. And we're open to freshmen and sophomores who think that they want to apply to the School of Business and so they can utilize all of our services. More and more companies are willing to interview students who are sophomores, so that summer between their sophomore and junior year, more and more companies are willing to offer summer internships to those students, vs. just that summer between their junior and senior year.

The students who would be interested in opportunities like that could come to the career center?

Exactly, and they'd come to our career fairs. But we have a couple of advisers, too. We work one-on-one with students, and we prefer if students came in as freshmen and sophomores. I think it's more beneficial for them, to help them decide which of the 10 majors within the School of Business they want to major in, and then, even with that, what do they want to do?

[For example], we have a finance, investment and banking major. There are a thousand things they can do with that, but it's not only determining the majors, it's determining what do I want to do with that? So we'd like them to come in and sit down with us and we can develop a comprehensive career development plan for them which would include helping them with their résumés, cover letters, interviewing skills, all of the things that are necessary for them to get that internship and then get the full-time offer that they'd like.

Are there any particular types of companies that are looking for the younger student?

A lot of them tend to be more sales-oriented. But again, I think what we're going to end up seeing as we often hear about the baby boomers retiring, again if the economy ends up getting stronger, I think we're going to see more and more companies who are willing to interview sophomores for summer internships.

Regarding on-campus recruiting, how many students would you say get jobs from that?

Of the students who are looking for a full-time position, which is obviously the majority of our students, I would say that upward of 85% end up getting their position through the business career center.

And then how do most of the rest of them get jobs?

Some of them are going to start their own business. Some students do go after what we call a direct job search. They want to move to Dallas, and we sit down with these students and we help them develop a plan to get a job in Dallas. We don't have too many companies who have positions in Dallas, who are coming to participate in our on-campus recruiting. But it doesn't mean that we're not involved with helping those students find positions.

We do that a lot. But the vast majority of our students are going to Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, around the Madison area, and so on.

I was looking at the list of the companies that come on to recruit, and it's a very diverse mix. What are the main areas of business that students go into?

Target (TGT) is big for us. They're our No. 1 company in terms of the number of graduates they hire. Most of those students are going to Target headquarters in Minneapolis. We do have some who go to the Target stores in terms of management, but the vast majority end up going to headquarters. Our big companies are Target, Kohl's (KSS) department stores, which is headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis., General Mills (GIS), Procter & Gamble (PG), Best Buy (BBY), Macy's North (M), and Philip Morris (MO).

Now we do have, of course, the Big Four accounting firms come here, and obviously they're interested in accounting students. Goldman Sachs (GS), Lehman Brothers (LEH): They tend to go more toward finance and accounting students. We have a very strong risk-management program, and so we have big insurance companies who hire risk-management majors as well as actuaries.

Are there any companies that you're targeting that are not on campus?

We're always looking. We're going to be working with students, faculty, staff, and the dean's office, and we're going to develop a list of targeted companies who want to come here. In some cases, the company may come here but we want another division within that company.

I'll give you an example. Kohl's. They started looking at our real estate students because Kohl's was building 100 new stores a year and they needed to determine where to put these stores. You don't really think about a real estate major working for a big department store.

Are there any programs or services that you offer that you think really stand out?

In terms of the programming, the advising, the on-campus recruiting program. What I've always thought is it's not what we do, it's how we do it. And so it's the customer service piece that we really focus on here with our two major stakeholders: the students and the employers.

Some of the things we do, we have a mock interview program, and last year instead of just having students participate in mock, we bring in employers to conduct those for us. We changed it to mock by majors. It used to be, if I was an actuarial science major, I might be interviewing with somebody from Kimberly-Clark (KMB) who knows nothing about actuarial science. Now what we do is, students sign up for mocks based on their major, and we'll bring in an actuary who'll interview the actuarial science majors. And so we try to tailor that to give the student a more real-life interview experience.

And are they prepped before the mock interview? Or do they just go in?

They can. We do mock interviews with the students, one-on-one as advisers. We also have a program called "interview stream," which a lot of career centers subscribe to, where the mock interview program is done over the computer to help the student practice.

What are some of the mistakes that students make during an interview?

I think the two biggest mistakes are a student will talk way too long in terms of answering a question. And the other one is they won't answer the question. The worst is when they're talking and talking and talking, and they're not answering the question. Most of our interviews are only 30 minutes. And so after the employer meets the student, takes them to the interview room, there's not a whole lot of time left, and 30 minutes goes pretty quickly, and so we try to work with our students and help them to provide a very clear yet concise response.

What if the student doesn't know the answer to the question that's being asked or really can't figure out a way to answer it? And I guess that's why they're blabbing on?

What I would advise a student to do is if somebody asks you a question and you just draw a blank, I would say, "Could you give me just a moment to come up with a good example for you?" And the employer will back off and they'll give the student a little while. Or, "I'm just not able to come up with a great example. Could we please come back to that question at the end?"

I saw online that there was a section on body language. How can students use their body language to their advantage?

I think by doing things right, by going in, first of all, a firm handshake. We talk about that a lot in career services but it's important. Going into the interview room, sitting straight up, good posture, keeping either your hands on the table or your hands folded. But all of that is, of course, part of that first impression piece, that's so important.

So I think doing those things and first of all being conscious of it, that's where going back to mock interviews, that's so helpful. Because it's having somebody in a safe environment point out some things to you that you're not even aware of.

And is there anything that students should bring to an interview, like a portfolio or business plan or anything they did in class?

We suggest that students bring portfolios, and we check them out here for students who don't have them, and they can check them out for the interview. In that, I would have extra copies of my résumé, I would have my references.

Now if they say, could you send me your references, you could say sure, I'll e-mail them to you, or you could say, I have them right here, and you open up your portfolio, pull out your list of references. To me that's impressive. What does that show? It shows that you're on the ball. And it shows that you took the initiative to plan ahead, to bring those references with you. I would bring a pen or a pencil because sometimes it is O.K. to take notes during an interview as long as you're not writing down every single word that the interviewer is saying.

And especially for, let's say a marketing student or a communication student, an advertising student, I think it's O.K. to bring samples of your work. This is a marketing project I did last semester in my class, and I just wanted to share it with you. To give that employer a sense of the quality of work that you've done.

Students will obviously prepare some questions in advance. Do you think they should bring those on a piece of paper or just memorize them?

I think it's fine to bring them—to write notes to yourself. Again, so long as you don't open your portfolio and you're just reading what you've written. I think what happens is, and again I can speak from personal experience, you end up getting nervous and you end up forgetting your questions and that's not a very good impression. A good interviewee always has questions to ask an interviewer. It shows that you're interested, it shows that you've done your research on the company, and so on. So I think it's fine to write some of those down ahead of time, and that's what we suggest to students that they do.

Regarding dress code, obviously, a position at an accounting firm might be different from a position at a Macy's or a Kohl's. Do you think students should always wear suits these days?

Always. Yes. To me, that's a point that should not be debated. I think a student to an interview, regardless of what the position is, and I'm talking about professional positions here, that either internships or full-time positions, a suit always. A tie for a man. A belt. Shined shoes. Socks that match your suit. The shirt is ironed. Your suit is ironed. It's freshly pressed.

For a female, a suit, no gaudy earrings. For men and women, minimal perfume. Our interview rooms—we have 21 of them—tend to be quite small, and so we recommend not putting on a whole lot of perfume.

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