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Clear Admit Career Services Director Q&A: J.J. Cutler of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania


Next up in our Career Services Director Q&A Series, we turn to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Here we reconnected with J.J. Cutler, who we first interviewed for our Admissions Director Q&A Series in February 2009. Since that interview, Cutler has been appointed deputy vice dean of admissions, financial aid and career management for Wharton, with direct oversight of the MBA Career Management Center. So it made sense to speak to him again in his new role for this series.

A lifelong Philadelphia resident, Cutler has deep ties to the University of Pennsylvania, where he got both his undergraduate degree and his MBA. After receiving his MBA in 1997 from Wharton, he worked for a number of years in healthcare consumer goods and marketing, including time at ARAMARK as senior VP of marketing, seven years at Johnson & Johnson and most recently as the president of Lindi Skin, a start-up offering skin care products specifically designed for people with cancer.

Thrilled to return to Wharton in 2009 as director of MBA admissions and financial aid, he was even more enthusiastic to step into his current role last May. “I was excited about tackling such a unique and challenging role of overseeing almost the entire life cycle of a Wharton MBA student, from reading their applications articulating their aspirations to supporting them in finding and selecting the right next professional opportunity,” he says. “Next year, I suppose I’ll start interacting with the new alums as they return to campus to recruit for their firms,” he added, at which point he really can claim to oversee the entire life cycle of the Wharton MBA.

Beyond his allegiance to Wharton, Cutler also professes to being a passionate proponent of Philadelphia and all that it has to offer. “It’s important to me to be active in the Philadelphia community and I am proud to be serving on the board of the Independence Visitor Center Corp,” he told us.

Read on to learn more about how his new role gives him a clear view of career services at Wharton, what he sees and how he hopes to shape the school’s offerings in the future.

Clear Admit: How do you view your deputy vice dean role as it relates to career services at Wharton? Is it to administer workshops? Counsel students? Counsel companies? Manage the entire office and oversee its various functions? All of the above?

J.J. Cutler: I certainly find myself wearing many hats in my role which range from managing the strategic direction and operations of the office to representing the office to constituency groups like employers, student groups and alumni to working directly with students to advise them on their career direction. I am fortunate to have a talented and dedicated team that is continually innovating and improving how we serve both our student and employer populations.

Broadly, how we think about our role in serving students is reflected in our Mission Statement, which is:

• Help students explore and refine their career aspirations
• Teach career management skills and strengthen students as potential candidates
• Support students through the career search process
• Market Wharton talent to employers and strengthen the Wharton brand

For students, our aim is to help them define their goals and to enable them to meet their career objectives. We believe that the set of skills the students learn through their current job search will serve them well in their life-long career management process.

CA: Now, about your team. How many placement professionals do you have? Is this a relatively constant figure? If not, how has it changed in recent years? How might it change in the near future?

JC: Our office follows a model where we are organized by function into teams by industry. Each member of the office is dedicated to either student or employer needs.

We have a team of career advisors who focus predominately on working with students on the full range of career management needs. Advisors are aligned by industry and work one-on-one with students interested in pursuing a career in that industry.

On the employer side, our Employer Services Team plays a two-fold role: 1) actively identifying attractive opportunities for Wharton talent and 2) working with employers to identify the best ways for them to reach our students to meet their recruiting needs.

The industry teams are comprised of the aligned Career Advisor and their counterpart on the Employer Services Team, who work closely together to provide seamless information and services to students and employers. We have industry teams that cover 12 major industries (such as consulting, investment banking, private equity, media & entertainment and energy).

We have a Career Management team of about 25 professionals. The size of our office has been relatively constant over the past few years; however, we have recently added additional staff to increase our business development capacity and to support students who want to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. We have also recently added a career advisor who is dedicated to supporting our alumni population.

As student career interests change and as professional opportunities expand into new industries and geographies, I expect that our office will continue to evolve to serve our ever-changing constituencies with excellence and impact.

CA: Can you provide prospective applicants with an overview of the recruitment process at Wharton? When does it start? How does it unfold?

JC: I would say that the career management process begins when you make the choice to apply to business school and go through the self-inquiry necessary to answer the question of “what do you want to do?” Once you are in the program, the recruiting process and timeline is really dependent upon the industry in which you are recruiting.

When first-year students arrive on campus in early August, we provide an “Introduction to Career Management,” a set of self-assessment tools and informational panels on opportunities and recruiting processes in various industries.

Beyond that introduction, the recruiting timeline begins following tracks dependent upon each industry. We have begun thinking about recruiting in two different streams: “Mature” and “Enterprise.” We’re still refining the language, but Mature recruiting is made up of employers with defined needs and demand for MBA talent, and the recruiting process tends to be very structured, usually on campus and usually earlier in the year. Examples of these opportunities include many consulting, investment banking, health care and CPG firms. Enterprise recruiting includes much of private equity, energy, social impact and entrepreneurial opportunities. These positions are usually identified through research and networking, and offers tend to be made later in the year.

Formal recruiting activity for first-year students kicks off in the end of October with company information sessions. (We require companies to hold off until then so students can focus solely on academics and extracurriculars.) On-campus interviews take place in the winter and begin with our Dedicated Interview Period (a week dedicated to recruiting where most first-year classes are not held). All throughout the fall and the rest of the year, students are networking with companies, attending events and conducting informational meetings and coffee chats. During the second year, recruiting begins early with on-campus activity starting in September with a set of networking events with employers. On-campus interviews begin in October for full-time positions.

Both students and alumni have access to jobs on our exclusive “job board” year-round. This job board received more than 5,500 job postings from more than 1,900 companies last year.

CA: How has the economy impacted recruitment at Wharton? How have you and your staff remained flexible or adapted in order to help students navigate a more challenging job market? Have you encouraged flexibility on the part of students themselves?

JC: Last year was tough, but Wharton students rose to the occasion, tackled the challenge and continued to be successful. Of the students seeking positions last academic year (2009-2010), 88 percent of graduating students had received full-time offers by the end of September and 99 percent of the first-years received internship offers. Not surprisingly, there has been a drop off in students moving into finance after graduation the last few years, but we are seeing a resurgence in hiring interest from the banks.

Whether or not it’s connected to the economy, we are seeing an increasing trend of students being interested in “enterprise” opportunities. We are responding accordingly with additional focus, support and outreach on these areas of interest.

We certainly encourage students to remain flexible and think of their long-term career goals and the steps they need to take to get where they ultimately want to go. Our job is not to tell students where to go or what to do, but rather to work with them to create a strategy depending on their objectives and interests, their past experience and skills, and tolerance in taking risks to reach their goals. Sometimes getting to one’s goal is not immediate, particularly in a weaker economy. Depending on your background and how competitive a field is, it can take an interim step to develop the appropriate skills to be positioned for your desired job. We work with the students to help them chart the path to where they want to go.

CA: How does your team counsel students regarding the interview? Is there a formal mock interview process? How are interview schedules administered? Is there an established policy regarding how closed and open interviews should be conducted? What facilities are available for interviews?

JC: We prepare students through career education programs on various assessment methods such as behavioral interviews, industry-specific interviews and case interviews. Advisors work one-on-one with students to help them think through and practice responses, and we sponsor a mock interview program.

Through our mock interview program, first- and second-year students meet with trained student Career Fellows to practice conducting informational and industry-specific interviews and to receive feedback on areas for improvement.

For most companies who interview on campus, the entire application and interview process is managed through our online recruiting system. Students use this system to identify and apply for opportunities and schedule interviews. All interviews are closed (i.e., companies select candidates for interviews). If the company is willing, we offer students the opportunity to drop their resume for a “walk-in” interview where companies can choose to interview additional candidates not on their original schedule/interview list.

Many interviews take place in our On-Campus Interview Suite. We recently revamped this facility to include updated design and technology. Equipped with 48 interview rooms, the suite hosts more than 400 interviews per year. We also offer students space for telephone interviews and technology for interviews via video conferencing.

CA: What kind of role do alumni play in Wharton’s recruiting process? How integral are they to your office’s success? Is alumni participation a major part of your placement platform?

JC: Alumni are a key component to recruiting at Wharton. With more than 80,000 alumni at numerous firms across industries and geographies, Wharton students are plugged into a rich and diverse network of some of the top professionals worldwide. Alumni come back as recruiters, champion Wharton students at their firms and are some of our key contacts at companies. To that end, we have established relationships with the majority of the geographic alumni clubs (including 14 each in Asia and Europe respectively) and affinity clubs such as the Wharton Private Equity Partners. These clubs and their membership are invaluable resources to our office and to the students for industry and company information as well as for networking and employment leads.

CA: Do you have any advice for prospective applicants in terms of what they might do in advance of the MBA program to be better prepared for the job search process? In your experience, do you find that students who have done x, y, or z before arriving on campus have a more successful experience with career services and the job search as a whole?

JC: There is no specific formula for success. Many of our students come to Wharton to switch careers and see the MBA program as a chance to explore new industries, functions or geographies and to chart a different professional path. To that end, it is important to come prepared with self-awareness of your goals and values, direction of what you are looking to achieve at Wharton, curiosity to pursue intellectual and professional interests and energy and drive to achieve your career goals.

Lastly, recognize that career management is a lifelong endeavor. Focus on developing skills and establishing professional relationships that will endure and serve you regardless of where your path takes you, instead of just concentrating on that first post–business school job.