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Career Services Director Q&A: Gary Fraser of USC’s Marshall School of Business

gary_fraserGary Fraser joined the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business as assistant dean and executive director of the Keenan MBA Career Services Center in the summer of 2012, culminating a comprehensive national search to fill the role. Fraser came to Marshall from New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he spent 12 years as dean of students and associate dean of MBA student affairs. During his tenure at NYU Stern, he oversaw the Office of Student Activities and the Office of Career Development and launched and directed the Career Center for Working Professionals. Before joining NYU Stern, he held several positions in brand management, including at Sara Lee, Cadbury Beverages and Kraft/Nabisco.

As Fraser shares in the interview that follows, students at Marshall benefit from a full month of self-assessment and individual career development before employers arrive on campus since the MBA program begins in late July. Read on to learn more about some of the other things that make career services at Marshall unique, including the school’s small student body and its strong alumni base, the “Trojan Network.”

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

Gary Fraser: It is a little bit of everything! There are two main focal points. First, making sure there is a career development process in place so that students are best prepared to compete for the careers that are right for them. Second, engaging with companies of interest and consulting them on the best way to recruit our students. All office functions should support either one or both of these activities.

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?

GF: We have a team of about 15 people in the career office but we also have undergraduate and MBA student workers who assist with administrative functions so that our team can focus on our priorities. Recently, we have assigned team members to functions and activities that are either related to career advising or industry cultivation. We also bring in outside career consultants when we need some program support, such as for mock interviews or résumé reviews.

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

GF: Since our students have the benefit of starting in late July, we have the month of August for self-assessment and the development of an individual career development plan. Because of this we are able to have students interact with companies in September before the first full semester gets too intense. After midterms, students have the option to participate in a number of career-related treks to companies during their fall semester break in October. November and December are about finalizing any additional networking opportunities and applying for positions before summer internship interviews in January. We also have a spring semester career fair in March for students looking for smaller firms or organizations that do not do fall or winter recruiting.

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

GF: It would be naïve to say we are immune to any changes in the economy. However, the fact that we are a smaller school has helped in our ability to react. We have developed “clusters” of students with similar interests, which has made us more efficient when targeting new or existing recruiters. It’s easier for companies when we send 15 résumés to a company that only needs to hire one or two students than a résumé book with hundreds of names in it.

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?

GF: Interview skill development is part of a comprehensive career development plan that we deliver to our students. It actually starts with a workshop on personal branding. We require multiple mock interviews that we manage through our office. For company interviews conducted through our office, students apply and are selected. We only have closed interviews where the company selects and invites students. This is primarily because with a class size around 220, there are usually enough opportunities for everyone. (Open schedules typically exist with schools that have more than 500 students, as it’s a way to guarantee that everyone gets at least one interview.) We primarily conduct most interviews in the designated interview room located in the career office.

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

GF: The “Trojan Network” is a big part of our recruiting process. We just formed an alumni advisory board that will advise the career office on what is evolving in different industries and what needs to be delivered in core courses before summer internship interviews. We also have an Alumni Mentoring Program for students to not only assist with a student’s job search but also provide guidance on having a successful summer internship. Since many of our alums are in the Southern California area or nearby, many come back to recruit our students at corporate presentations or on-campus interviews, as well as at our USC Marshall Tailgates before home football games!

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?

GF: The best advice I can give is for students to spend time thinking about what they are good at and what they want to be good at. Understanding the skills you want to exercise after business school will give you a head start on what classes you want to take and what careers you want to pursue.