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Career Services Director Q&A: Michael Malone (Formerly) of the Kellogg School of Management


Editor’s note: In the time since we conducted this interview, Malone has returned to Columbia Business School, where he currently serves as associate dean for the school’s MBA program. But because he shared so much valuable insight into the Kellogg School of Management career services process, we’re running his interview here. We will update this series with an interview with Kellogg’s new head of the Career Management Center in coming weeks.

Michael Malone came to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management to serve as managing director of the Career Management Center in January 2012 after serving as director for career education and advising at Columbia Business School (CBS) for six years. Describing himself as a “lifelong student-focused professional,” he explains that he has spent the past 20 years in higher education in roles that have helped him understand the different pressure points faced by both student and employer. “I am able to bring a level of understanding from both the student and employer sides to help them understand the other’s needs and build empathy between them,” he says.  

The thing that drew him most to Kellogg was the wide-ranging distribution of employment opportunities from an industry and geographic standpoint. “The employer base at Kellogg is one of most diverse at any school,” he says, noting that Kellogg students go to a range of more than 200 companies upon graduation. “To get to develop relationships and a knowledge base across such a wide variety of industries – not only the traditional ones associated with the MBA such as banking, consulting and consumer packaged goods, but also other areas such as media, energy, private equity, technology, venture capitalism, entrepreneurship – that balance is something I really appreciate at Kellogg and something that makes my role really interesting and rewarding,” he says.

Read on to learn more about Kellogg’s Career Management Center – including the dramatic reorganization and expanded scope that Malone has spearheaded over the past year and a half, as well as a new pilot program designed to help students begin the career search process before they even get to campus.

Clear Admit: How do you view your role as director of the Career Management Center? Is it to administer workshops? Counsel students? Counsel companies? Manage the entire office and oversee its various functions? All of the above?

Michael Malone: I look at our macro-level role – my macro-level role – as two-fold. First, it is to ensure that companies are finding talent at any level they need, whether newly-minted MBAs or more experienced professionals. To ensure that they are coming to Kellogg and finding talented, motivated individuals that can fill the positions they need to fill in their organizations. Second, it is to make sure students have the resources they need to make informed choices. We want our students to be thinking about both their short- and long-term goals and about how they can best join organizations that will help them achieve those goals – and make strong contributions to those organizations while there.

Understanding the needs and backgrounds of both sets of constituents – students and employers – is really important to me. Spending time with both constituents, listening to them, understanding their needs, and helping that to be translated increases the likelihood of positive interactions.

CA: Now, about your team. How many career advisors 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?

MM: Our organization changed dramatically last year when I entered. We conducted a significant benchmarking of student needs and marketplace dynamics, and with the findings from that process we pushed forward with a pretty ambitious reorganization. We raised our headcount from 15 to 28 and reorganized in such a way that we could provide higher-touch service to both our employers and students, demonstrating an understanding of both populations at more granular levels and enabling greater, more meaningful interactivity. It has been a big shift, and the school showed a lot of foresight in recognizing that career management factors prominently in current students’ – and prospective students’ – choices. It shows that Kellogg truly understands the value proposition that a top MBA offers.

The reorganization allowed us to go into some areas that we knew were growing and provide additional resources. One such area is in business development. A trend we have seen is that the number of organizations who see on-campus recruiting as their method of talent recruitment has flattened and in some cases declined. While it will always be the method of choice for some industries, there are others who view other means as more aligned with their organizations. Another is in identifying enterprise opportunities – that is industries and organizations that don’t already have a clearly established MBA population. We now have team members specifically devoted to uncovering those opportunities at both the MBA level and the professional development level.

The reorganization also allowed us to take a closer look at how we conduct our career education for our students and deliver it in a way they may not have gotten it before. We have reorganized the content for MBA students to follow more of a learning theory, cognitive science approach. So now we are organizing our programming with a pre-learning component, so things students do before the workshops; a while-learning component, and here we’ve explored more experiential learning opportunities; and a post-workshop session follow up to solidify what they have learned. We hope this structural change will make the material that we present sticky, so that students will stand a much greater chance of remembering what we have shared with them and be more able to replicate it on their own. We are now in the process of identifying a curriculum design specialist to become a full-time member of our team to repackage all of our career education experiences. We are hoping to have that person on board by summer 2013. We have begun internally to work on and pilot a number of workshops to follow this cadence, so we have a model in place we think the right individual can use as a template to look at all the content we offer and repackage it to improve retention and outcomes.

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

MM: Our two-year program starts very quickly. When we look at the recruitment process beginning I look at it through the students’ eyes as the moment when they are starting to hear about industries and have informal interactions with employers. We are on a quarter system, so that takes place very shortly after classes start. That doesn’t allow for a tremendous amount of soul searching in the first part of the quarter, and I think this represents a real challenge for students. Our partner employers want to get to know students as soon as possible, but they also realize the value in giving students time to get to know themselves.

Students coming into Kellogg are going to be in contact with employers fairly quickly, and this will take shape over the first quarter in the form of attending corporate presentations, oftentimes in the evenings, and in activities hosted by professional clubs on campus. There are many activities coordinated through clubs at a peer-to-peer level. All of this makes for an extraordinarily active fall, but the hope is that students complete their fall quarter with a clear sense of purpose in terms of what industry they are targeting, having built some sort of network within that target industry, having identified target organizations they want to interview with, and with a plan for how those organizations might help them achieve their longer-term goal. I find that our students do an excellent job of balancing all of that with a rigorous academic load and full social calendar.

So that’s the process as it unfolds for opportunities that are cyclical year over year and are most likely to use on-campus recruiting. Then these students will interview in January and February for summer internships.

Other students – those who are focused on more enterprise opportunities or on industries that don’t use on-campus recruiting as much – they will be spending that winter quarter building relationships, reaching out to alumni and making other connections so that they will be top of mind when opportunities arise.

For our one-year (1Y) program – and we are one of only a handful of programs around the globe to offer one – the timing for students in that program is a little different. They are not focused on a summer internship but rather on full-time positions right away. They are able to focus solely on academics for the summer, on setting a good academic foundation for themselves. Because they don’t have an internship to trade on they really have to demonstrate their horsepower through academics. But then, as the summer unfolds, we unfold our prep sessions and workshops so that they end up with a level of preparation that is comparable to the students who would go through the full-time, two-year program.

If they are looking to change industries that is really difficult to do without the internship. It’s when a student has a background in business or has taken a lot of courses that have prepared them to be in the MBA that the 1Y makes perfect sense. If they are not as conversant with finance strategy, the 2Y program’s pace likely makes more sense. The other piece is that the 1Y program is much more applicable for students who are not looking to make a major shift – those who are perhaps looking to change industry but not function or vice versa, or who are looking to change geography.

The hope is to have the ability to have some choice, so if there is an offer made our students are good at assessing that offer in terms of climate, potential for fit.

CA: How has the economy impacted recruitment at Kellogg? 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?

MM: The economy this year from a jobs perspective is in a similar position to last year if not slightly more optimistic. I am seeing that impact students’ mindset and their ability to look at a number of variables. It’s unlike 2008-09, when if you had an offer you really had to consider just taking it.

Throughout, employers have seen Kellogg as a great source of talent. But especially now, we encourage our students to be very thoughtful about their short- and long-term goals and to recognize that professional development can take place in lots of ways at lots of different organizations. We do encourage them to be flexible, but we want them to counterbalance that with staying true to their North Star. “Let whatever you’ve set out as your seven- to 10-year goal really be your guiding light,” we tell them. “Stay flexible, but keep focused on how what you choose now helps get you closer to that North Star seven to 10 years down the road.”

We regularly recommend to students to consider a primary and secondary path that could lead to that North Star, but potentially in very different ways. Also, we recommend that if students have a primary and secondary plan, that they are not pursuing those in a mutually exclusive way or in a primary and secondary way, but rather consecutively in a way that reflects their interests proportionally – kind of like thinking of it as a balanced portfolio. That can be a real challenge for students to follow through on. But I think it really helps students to be thinking about two or three ways of getting to their long-term goal. It helps them be more agile, nimble and more able to respond to whatever marketplace feedback they get.

We believe strongly here at the Kellogg Career Management Center in pursuing that passion or driver that gets you up in the morning, but also that there are multiple ways to get there. There is not a single right first post-MBA job – you need to think about multiple paths.

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?

MM: We are unique in that we still ask of our employment partners that they maintain 30 percent of interview spaces for open interviews. It really is asking our employers to take a risk with us – that the talent levels they might find in someone they hadn’t originally considered will prove worth their time. That our partners are open to it and continue to work with us within those parameters I think is great. And it gives students who might not have had highly relevant backgrounds the opportunity to make a strong case that they can be a strong fit for an organization.

In terms of our preparation, one of our most highly regarded programs is our mock interview program. We offer individual, recorded, professionally coached mock interviews to any student who wants them. In terms of our first-year students, we are looking at between 400 and 450 interview slots, and we will accommodate any student who wants a mock interview in advance of the recruiting cycle.

We have a number of coaches and a just-in-time model, so that the mock interview precedes live interviews by just a couple of weeks. That way, the recommendations students receive are still fresh in their minds. Students regularly comment that this is something that they really value.

Our coaches are a combination of professional staff and contract coaches that we hire, train and incorporate into the process. The mock interviews take place right in our interview rooms. Interviewing is nerve-wracking enough, so we conduct the mock interviews in the same rooms as the live ones as sort of a dry run, to give our students the sense of a home-court advantage.

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

MM: Unquestionably so. The alumni play such a key role in terms of relationship development, advocating for students at partner organizations, providing us with feedback on how our students can be better prepared in future recruiting seasons. Kellogg alumni are incredibly loyal, so I find that alumni in whatever organization they go on to will first think of coming back to Kellogg to find talent for needs at their organizations. We are very grateful for that loyalty and for that sense of being embedded in the culture of organizations around the globe.

One of the most powerful stories you will hear from our students is how responsive alumni are. We regularly get feedback from students that their response rate from alumni is 80 percent or better. One of the strengths of Kellogg is that sense of shared ownership over the experience of other Kellogg students.

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?

MM: Use the pre-MBA summer to think very specifically about themselves. This is often a daunting task. These are people who are tremendous analysts, tremendous at problem solving – but often less so when the focus is themselves. We provide a variety of tools to help students get some sense of who they are, what their strengths are, and I encourage them to use the summer to do some research on what organizations and/or industries best align with these strengths.

When they arrive on campus, it really is like drinking from a fire hose. There aren’t too many ways to alleviate that beyond doing some of the work early on in terms of getting to know yourself, who you are and what you bring to the employment table and finding out about potential industries and hypothesizing about the best alignment.

One of the concurrent pieces to the last notion of using the pre-MBA summer effectively and efficiently, we are piloting a series of pre-MBA career events to provide guidance to incoming students around self assessment and how to analyze an industry they aren’t familiar with. We would like to provide a framework for students to get to know themselves and then learn about industries they may have little knowledge of. Ideally, we want them to come in with perhaps four our five areas that might be in play for them so a career professional can bring that down to two or three industries. This is a pilot that we are running this year, and if it is successful we may be able to expand it. It is open to all admitted students.