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Career Services Director Q&A: INSEAD’s Mary Carey


American-born Mary Carey stepped into her current role as director of the INSEAD Career Development Center in September 2012, but she was not new to INSEAD nor to France. Before last year, she was executive director of INSEAD’s Global Leadership Center, and before that she worked in career development at another leading European business school, HEC.

She began her professional career in southern California, working as a CPA with KPMG as well as in financial services before heading back to school to study leadership development and career development. When she had the opportunity to come over to France, she jumped at it because she wanted the international experience. “It really opens your eyes to the world,” she says. That was seven years ago, and she’s still there.

As part of the interview that follows, Carey talks about a rebranding campaign currently underway in her department, the role video interviews play in INSEAD students’ job searches (students are spread across three campuses around the globe and companies are campus-blind when they choose who to interview) and the importance of doing interesting things – job-related or not – that add to your personal story. But that’s not all…

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

Mary Carey: First, let me say that we are in the midst of rebranding our department from INSEAD Career Services to the INSEAD Career Development Center. We feel the change it is very important to what our mission is. “Career Services” is not representative of our primary goal, which is to develop the students to be able to realize their career goals and establish lifelong career management skills and to develop the relationships with employers that will allow our students to realize those career goals.

As to my role, I would say it is definitely a combination of all of the above. But we have a very large team on three campuses around the world, so if I look at the percentage of my time, I am most occupied with setting the vision for what we are doing, constantly communicating with my team members, driving things forward – and being in as close to constant contact with the students as I can. With 1,000 MBAs and 300 EMBAs, obviously I’m not talking to each one of them throughout the year. But I do a sprinkling of work with the students so I have my ear tuned to their needs. I do interact regularly with our major companies and recruiters.

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?

MC: We are growing. We are in the final stages of recruitment for two positions, and when we finish that we will be a team of 30. We have 18 in France, 11 in Singapore and one in Abu Dhabi. We are in a growth mode, but we can’t just add lots and lots of people every year. But we are on an upward trajectory because some of our programs have grown and our services have expanded.

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

MC: We have a large on-campus recruitment process. We run three on-campus campaigns every year – the fall campaign, the finance campaign and the spring campaign. They are focused on the class that is in the appropriate period for recruitment, and that is Period Four (P4). Our program is five periods long. The campaign that runs in January is the finance campaign, to be aligned with investment banking recruitment. They recruit in January for internship placement.

Our on-campus recruiting is very large, but it is not the only recruitment students need to be focused on. They also need to be focused on their own search. Not every student ends up with a job from on-campus recruiting. Not everyone finds what they want, and not everyone is accepted for the jobs they interview for. So we emphasize the important of the students being involved in their own job search process.

As part of the on-campus process, we have close to 200 companies that come on campus every year. And that’s on three campuses. They run company presentations, coffee chats, panels, networking events and then applications and interviews. These happen in P4 and extend into the beginning of P5. In P1 though P3 the students on the career side are going through a preparation process of getting to know themselves, getting to know the market and developing lifelong career management skills, such as preparing their CV and cover letter, learning how to network, learning how to interview.

We encourage them to go through what starts as a reflection process as to where they want to work, what industries, what functions. We have a method we have them follow, which includes listing the companies they think they want to work for, identifying contacts or potential contacts in those companies and starting their networking.

At this stage, networking is not to ask for jobs, but to learn about the companies, their industries. It is about building the relationships that will be so important for the rest of their careers. It is also about checking their assumptions, for example, as to what consulting really is. You can only do that by talking and going through the outreach process and then following the leads that develop in this process. Eighty percent of all jobs are in the hidden job market, not on any job listing.

When should this initial networking start? I wouldn’t say in P1, except maybe for those who are ahead of the game. It’s really individual, and some will need to wait a little bit longer. Some of them are not ready to go out and start to network on day one. They need to develop some of those skills around telling their story and getting their CV in order just so they have clear in their minds what skills they have to offer and how they transfer to whatever they are looking at. But certainly by the beginning of P3 they should be in active mode. Our periods are two months long, so by four or five months into school they should be reaching out actively.

Student groups play a very big role in the recruiting process. The sector clubs – consulting, technology, finance – they are a really large engine of outreach between the companies and the students. Companies will come and make presentations to the clubs, and the student organizations are also the drivers of career treks. Our treks either go to regions or target specific industries in a region or both. All of that happens through the clubs. And those are just some of the club activities. They are very, very active across their industries, they set up panels, conferences, mock interviews and more.

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

MC: Students need to develop their own network. And when you are out there considering jobs, don’t be blinded by the fact that a job doesn’t says it’s an MBA job. There are a lot of jobs out there that use MBA skills and that are very, very challenging but aren’t necessarily labeled as MBA jobs. Students should look closely at the job and what they would be doing.

Fewer and fewer companies hire on potential only. They expect students to hit the ground running. Some programs exist that develop MBAs and hire a lot on potential, but even those rotational MBA programs are looking to see, “What can this person contribute to my organization today?”

Flexibility among the students varies from individual to individual, and it often takes coaching and education. We are educating them as to how to view the market. It also takes us getting as many other sources of information in front of them as we can. This is a key role that alumni play – getting them the real story, giving them market knowledge. Students will listen to alumni because they come from the same place.

Empowering the students on their own job search is also something we are placing more of an emphasis on now. It is much more explicit than it has been in the past at INSEAD. Some of what I described to you is becoming more and more explicit in our messages to them this year than it was before.

Part of this is because I am new at the helm. It has always been done to a degree, but we are becoming more and more clear and explicit about it to them that they are leading their own job searches – with our help. That is a reaction to the market. With the way the markets are today, there is volatility, so one cannot be passive.

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?

MC: We don’t have open interviews. Companies will screen students online and make selections regarding who they want to interview before coming on campus. Students also apply to interview, so that is a second group of selection. And then companies will usually reserve a few open interview slots they will then fill if they need during the on-campus presentation. So basically there are three opportunities to get an interview.

We do a lot of work on interviewing. One piece is on general interviewing skills. We have a professional outside consultant who comes in and runs very detailed workshops on interviewing skills. Then we have a team from the same company that offers mock interviews based on sector or function. Everyone has to choose. So if I want to be a marketer I choose a marketing mock interview. These are run in groups of three, so students receive input from the consultant as well as peer feedback.

Consulting case interview training is very intense and technical. It is run in two-day workshops for those that want to go into consulting. We offer the same sort of thing for those who want to go into banking – finance-specific interviewing skills, both behavioral and technical.

We have many interview rooms. We could still use more, but we have many interview rooms, including many equipped with video-conferencing capabilities. We run almost 1,000 video interviews a year. We have students on three campuses, and the companies are campus-blind when they choose who to interview. We don’t want companies to choose the students that happen to be near them at the time of the interviews. In addition to the video interviews, we run 5,000 on-campus interviews a year. Because even companies who video conference initially will do second rounds on our campus, too. All of these interviews are scheduled through us.

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

MC: Alumni are a huge source of job opportunities. We maintain relationships with many, many alumni, which is a virtuous circle kind of thing. We also offer career alumni support, so we are in contact with many alumni that way, and they in turn bring jobs to the center. We reach out to alumni and they are involved in sector panels, networking evenings, industry events that we run. We couldn’t do it without them, they are really important.

We also bring alumni back to meet with students during orientation week – so current students recognize some of the career transitions they can expect to make by hearing the experiences of those who have made shifts.

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?

MC: The most important thing that students can do is to explore – both themselves and the market. The better they know who they are and what their career goals are – and the more they can develop why their career goals make sense based on their experience and background and desires – the more prepared they are for their job search.

Talk to as many people as you possibly can. Get to know what’s out there. Build your professional network. Practice your story. It’s an iterative process that will evolve the more they talk to people. There are even students that, despite all of our efforts, get to the end of the program and they don’t know what they want to do. The best way is to talk to people and say, “Does that sound interesting to me?” and if it does, find out more.

Do as much of that before the program as you can, and during the program do things that add to your story. It doesn’t have to be all job related. Employers are interested in people who are interesting. If someone took a backpack and a bike and rode across the U.S. and kept a blog – that makes a candidate interesting. And obviously they build all sorts of other skills when they do things. Do something that makes you interesting and adds to your story.