Berkeley-Haas Careers Q&A

UC-Berkeley's career services director, Abby Scott, discusses the services and direction offered to MBA students

Abby Scott has been executive director of MBA career services for the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley for eight years. As a veteran of Intel (INTC) and other tech companies, Scott knows how to use her experience to her department's advantage. She draws on her network of contacts in technology, financial services, and consumer products, and the school's reputation for innovation, to align like-minded students with the current tech boom. Scott also believes Haas's advantageous location—recruiters often don't mind traveling to California—and its students' reputations as creative thinkers and hard workers give it some insulation from the current economic downturn.

Scott says students are gravitating toward sunnier areas of the economy, including energy and tech—and the technology industry appears to be doing well in California—but other areas such as finance and consulting also draw a healthy number of Haas MBAs. Students are increasingly anxious about their job prospects, Scott reports, with some first-years contacting her in early June to get a head start on career preparation. But Scott says her department keeps a dialogue open with students and works to accommodate shifts in student interest and hiring patterns. Haas students also get a boost from one-on-one career coaching, and the 110-year-old school's well-established—and, in large part, local—network of alumni.

Scott recently talked with BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Levy about career opportunities for Haas students. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

How are things going, economy-wise, in California?

Really well, and that's a big draw for Haas. All business schools are a little bit regional, because of the class speakers who come through, and visits from companies—it spills over into the local economy. And we have an innovation ecosystem here. Technology and renewable energy are also taking off, and Berkeley's really at the center.

A year ago UC-Berkeley was given a $500 million grant with a handful of other schools to study alternative energy. And there has been an emergence of energy activity at Haas. The energy club has probably quadrupled in size. Students are smart. They know how to grab the trends. There's definitely a reason to come to Berkeley, because we've seen a healthy increase in job opportunities. Hiring right now is just as good as last May.

If the economic downturn affects California more in the next few years, will career services have to change direction?

We're not ignorant that nationally we may be in a recession. But at the MBA level, we find that companies are still interested in hiring problem solvers. There is huge attrition at the senior management level, because the baby boomers are leaving. And they look to newly minted MBAs to grow the next generation of talent. Even if there's a downturn, they need to bring in new talent and start grooming them. And the Berkeley brand has continued to grow. We have had good success in domestic rankings, and that attracts students—that's not the only thing, but it helps. And it helps that we're somewhat insulated from the rest of the economy.

But we are certainly preparing. Students are very savvy. New students are already contacting me to ask what they can do to hit the ground running. They're nervous.

Tell me about the one-on-one coaching you provide students.

Because we're a small program—only 240 students per class—we have really made an effort to get to know the students one-on-one. During the month of September, as soon as they land on campus, they're encouraged to make appointments with career services. After that we reach out to those who haven't made appointments, and we match everyone with an adviser who is their mentor. They check in a couple of times a semester to suggest alumni to speak to students, reach out, help with résumés, and things like that.

How do alumni help with career placement?

One of the great benefits of being in the Bay Area is that many graduates stay here. It's a great place to live. We engage alumni in career training, and there are multiple opportunities for them to come in and look at students' résumés, interface with students, and sit on panels. We have joint events with the local alumni chapters, like our regional Silicon Alley networking event.

Have you worked with Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networking Web sites?

LinkedIn did a workshop for us on how to use their site. My take is that it's a research tool. You have so many more names, but you have to work that much harder to stand out as someone serious about wanting to connect. Students use tools like Facebook to interact socially with each other, but as to formally meeting people, that hasn't changed. LinkedIn and Facebook have made networking so easy, but it's also more difficult now to cut through the clutter.

How do you recommend students cut through it?

These tools are very valuable for research. Say I have a meeting at McKinsey—I could search LinkedIn for "McKinsey," "New York," and "Haas," and get a list of alumni instantly, and it will be more current, probably, than what you could get from their own alumni database.

But then you have to figure out how to get through to these people. Because just sending a message is not enough. We recommend students don't do anything gimmicky—no dancing balloons—but are targeted about attending networking events. So, they might print out that list before they go, and zero in on five people they want to meet that night.

Being really concise and verbal in written communication is also key. People tend to meet somebody and move on, and people forget that you have to nurture and maintain that relationship. The best networking contact is not a new one. And students may forget the great contacts they have on campus—their classmates.

Is Haas very competitive, or are classmates willing to help each other and share contacts?

Sometimes it surprises me how collaborative they are. In addition to our 240 full-time students, we have 240 who are taking classes at night, who already have jobs where they want to be. Often the part-time students are more than happy to help the full-time students. That's a nice potential relationship that sometimes goes untapped. But the most important thing about networking is to get out of the building—that's where you'll have the most impact.

How do you reach out to alumni?

We are one of the oldest business schools, so we have a lot of alumni. We offer them career advising through adjunct advisers. And our team touches base with alums and helps connect them to someone in our extended network. We have our Experienced Hire Résumé Database, where alums can put their résumé in a virtual résumé book. That's very attractive to companies looking for senior management. That's a brand-new offering that's very successful.

We did an alumni salary survey targeting grads 4 to 10 years out, to find out how they are doing, relative to their peers. Our jobs database is fabulous—we add about 50 new jobs per week, all over and at all different levels.

What industries do Haas students lean toward?

Well, the interesting thing about Haas is the diversity. So we end up with not more than 30% sent in any one direction. So technology and finance get a lot, consulting is also always way up there. There are some amazing tech jobs. General management is a source of academic and extracurricular interest, and creates a lot of job opportunities. Our students also go into health care, real estate, corporate social responsibility, and renewable energy.

They'll get a strong management degree, but there are still these little pockets which are very strong. Entrepreneurialism is alive, but it's not what they do right when they graduate. They'll go to a company for a few years—and they have that entrepreneurial spirit that companies like—then after a time, with more general management experience, they'll go out on their own.

Who recruits at Haas?

The top recruiters are Google (GOOG), McKinsey, Bain & Co., Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN)—a lot of different types of companies. In the financial sector there is Wells Fargo (WFC), and PG&E (PCG) is a big one. Deloitte, the Boston Consulting Group and Yahoo! (YHOO) round out the list of our top 10 employers for the year.

How do you position Haas students when talking to recruiters?

There are three things recruiters come to Berkeley for. One is innovation. They want creative thinkers and problem-solving, just what you'd expect at Berkeley. The second is collaboration, a team-based environment. That works very well in companies. We attract those students, and they're very successful. The third thing is hard to capture—I might call it confidence without attitude. It's a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to get the job done.

Our career staff was rated the worst in the country by BusinessWeek 10 years ago—and that was ammunition to add and build resources. Now we have people with real business backgrounds in our career staff. We make it easy for companies to recruit there. If my team is an extension of the company's own internal recruiting staff, they will want to work with us. And fortunately, people like coming to California.

What about recruiters who don't visit campus—how do you get students in touch with them?

There are a far greater number of opportunities than there are students, but this is where the one-on-one coaching comes in. Students can really stand out if they're applying outside of the formal process, and if they really do their homework. The person who gets the job is one who knows the most about the company and the opportunity. It doesn't matter how they came to it, they rise to the top. The misperception is that schools have a binder of jobs students can thumb through and choose. It's very competitive and student-driven. They've got to do a lot of research.

What else does your department do?

Something that we do in the fall that's unique is we have two days of no classes in October for a career management conference. Alumni swarm the school to help with this initiative. We do panels and workshops—it's a chance to set aside academics for two days and just focus on the job search. They nail down what they want to do, their résumé and cover letter, their elevator pitch, and they target a list of companies so they can start to really focus. They work on academics in the fall, but for two days they can tune in and be really successful.

Do you have any advice for future MBAs who are thinking about career options?

Take a long-term approach and try to figure out what you really want to do. Short-term, there will be trends that will lead to jobs and stepping stones, but uncovering what you really will be successful doing over the long run should be a goal of business school.

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