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Career Services Director Q&A: Javier Muñoz of IESE

munozOur interview series with career services directors at top business schools takes us this week to Barcelona’s IESE, where we spoke with Javier Muñoz, assistant dean and director of career management. Muñoz knows IESE from many angles. He began there in 2001 as an MBA student himself, completing his degree in 2003. Upon completion, rather than return to banking, which had been his career path before business school, he accepted a position in the IESE admissions department.

“The offer [to join the admissions team] was very surprising at the beginning, but IESE is famous for bringing in MBAs [to its administration] every year,” he told us. After eight years in admissions, including five as head of the department, IESE offered Muñoz an opportunity to lead a different department – career services. He accepted and took over as assistant dean and director in 2011.

Muñoz had no idea when he came to IESE for an MBA that he would find himself working there for the next decade plus. “The only thing that I knew was that I wanted to explore different options apart from finance,” he says. He got several other offers, but when IESE came calling he answered. “I fell in love with the school, the MBA was such a great experience for me, they offered me a great position and I went for it,” he says.

As head of IESE career services, Muñoz leads a team made up primarily of other MBAs who together are working hard to help current IESE students secure top jobs at companies around the globe. Read on to learn what he likes most about the job, how the recruitment process unfolds for students and more.

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?

Javier Muñoz: We do basically everything, but we have two main areas of focus. The first is the business development aspect – interacting with companies from all around the world. And then we are also in charge of the career management activities for students within the school to prepare them to be in front of recruiters.

What I like the most is to innovate. I think that in general business school is an environment where you have a lot of experience and a lot of people who have been doing things for a good  number of years, and very few of them are willing to change. The thing that I enjoy the most is to challenge all of those things. For example, having an international team spread around the world is something we decided to do a couple of years ago when I took charge. At the beginning they thought I was crazy. But I thought that was the only way to be effective placing students around the world. We need somebody there that the recruiters know and can relate to. The second important point was to organize trips where our students can travel to those places and be in front of those recruiters. It really is all about making the lives of recruiters as easy as possible. We are already one of the business schools with the most international placements, and we hope to grow those ratings.

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?

JM: We have 20 people. In terms of executives with an MBA, we have 15 including myself. And then we have five more staff members. I managed to convince the school to increase the number of people working for career services, so that the total number went up from 15 to 20, with almost all of that growth in the international offices. We think we have enough international scope at this moment, but we have a couple of cities in mind for future expansion. One would be Dubai, where we don’t currently have a local presence. And maybe we will have someone in China in the future because we know that IESE has a very strong alliance with CEIBS in Shanghai. If I have to choose one, the next will be Dubai.

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

JM: The roadmap is very intense, let’s say. We start from the beginning of the program. Even in orientation they have to start with a lot of things from Career Services. And it will last for the full two years.

It will include a lot of preparation on the students’ side, but they have a career services mentor guiding them through the activities. The most important thing we can do is personalize the process for each student. Our students are very heterogeneous. They come from many different nationalities and have different objectives. So the only way to truly personalize is by sitting down and spending time with them, and that is what we do.

We do have companies that come on campus, more every year. Next year we are running three career forums. We ran one two years ago, this past year we started having two, and next year we will expand to three. They will take place in October, November and February. And for the first time we are joining forces with other business schools in Europe to have joint career fairs with a special focus on certain areas of the world. For example, we are joining forces with London Business School to have an event with a focus on Asia. As part of it, companies offering careers in Asia will go to a single place and meet all students from Europe interested in careers in Asia.

We also have a lot of career treks, during which groups of students go to visit different companies in different regions. We have a pharma trek in Switzerland, banking treks in London and New York, a luxury goods trek in Milan. So students can either travel to network with recruiters or work with them on our campus.

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

JM: Well, I have to admit that we were affected a lot back in 2008 when the beginning of the financial crisis started. Prior to that, something like a third of our class went into investment banking in London. After the crisis, that number went down to 15 percent of the class. I was working in the admissions department at that time, but I know the guys in career services had to make an effort to attract different players. That shift coincided with companies like Amazon and Google entering the market. Together, that resulted in a big shift from the placements of the past.

Regarding the Spanish economy, IESE has a good reputation in Spain. The big multinationals in Spain still are in good shape. So at the end of the day when you talk about top MBA programs, the numbers entering the market in Spain are actually pretty small. It’s not really a challenge to find jobs in great companies for the 50 Spanish students in our class.

As a school, we were deeply affected but in terms of the current MBA class we have basically recovered. Investment banking numbers are not the same as they were prior to the crisis, but I don’t think we will ever see those numbers again. Other companies are taking over and fighting for those students. It is, today, a healthier balance between traditional sectors and all the rest. We expect to have 65 percent of the class going to industry next year and a little less than a third going to investment banking and consulting.

In terms of encouraging flexibility on the part of the students themselves, they just have to read the news. They come in with this attitude of doing an extra effort to be visible when they get to the recruiters. They are conscious now that they have to work extra hard. The fact that we have international students who want to have an international career makes this especially true. They know they have to make an effort to travel to those places to meet with those recruiters. The commitment they have in the job search is much higher than it was 10 years ago when I was getting my MBA. Students are making more of an effort to travel and be prepared to get those jobs.

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?

JM: We organize the mock interview process, we have mock interview marathons and we involve the different student clubs and alumni. Specifically, if we talk about some sectors like investment banking, consulting and some others now that are starting to be more focused on interviews, such as pharma – you really have to prepare and go through mock interviews to be successful. Because you are competing with the best students not only from your school but from the best schools in Europe and worldwide. At the end of the day we have to coordinate with the academics, with the program to ensure that together we give the students the time they need to prepare. We are getting a lot of response from academics so that we can coordinate better. Going forward we may take some days from academics to run the interview marathons and other workshops.

As part of our career forums we give companies rooms to run their interviews. We have nice interview rooms for them. First-round interviews are held on campus when companies are visiting. Most of the time, the students travel for second-round interviews. Still, that leaves thousands of interviews that are organized on campus.

Sometimes companies take advantage of video conferencing, although we do prefer for students to have face-to-face interviews. But sometimes it is impossible. We do have different facilities available for our students in that instance, at no cost whatsoever.

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

JM: Alumni play a very important role, even serving as coaches during the recruitment process. But the most important thing they provide is their experience working for their companies and bringing more companies to us. They serve as a proven experience of success in those companies. We manage to keep a very close relationship with most of our alumni, and we have an alumni advisory board for career services.

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?

JM: My recommendation would be to start exploring, the sooner the better. Most of the time when you come to the MBA you know that you want to make a change, but you only know in detail the industry that you are working for. So you have some preconceptions, some myths, that you need to change. And you only change that if you start investigating. You can do that at the beginning of the program, but if you start doing that even before the program you gain.