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Career Services Director Q&A: Karen Siegfried of the Cambridge Judge Business School

karen_siegfriedOur continuing series of interviews with career services directors took us most recently to Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, where we caught up with Karen Siegfried. Siegfried is currently serving as interim head of career services, resuming a role she first held in 2010. Her permanent role, though, is as MBA executive director for Judge, with oversight for a team responsible for not only careers but also marketing, admissions, program and projects.

Below she describes the MBA Career Services team, including the addition this year of several sector-specific career consultants. She also explains how her team encourages students to remain flexible in the short term – with regard to their first post-MBA job, for example – as a means of reaching their long-term goals.

She also shares more about the several ways Judge alumni take an active role in the recruiting process, and she provides some valuable advice for prospective applicants in terms of what they can do now to be better prepared for a successful job search when they arrive at Judge. So read on…

Clear Admit: Tell us about the MBA Career Services 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?

Karen Siegfried: We have seven staff on our Careers team, working in business development, employer relations and career development/student advisory roles. Our internal staff level, for our small cohort of about 150 students, has remained constant for the last few years. However, this year we added a team of six external sector/regional career consultants, who will be part of our team going forward. We are also working on sourcing additional consultants for certain sectors/regions. This allows us to offer a careers advisory provision that is targeted to the individual interests and needs of our students and to accommodate the changing needs/interests of our students year on year.

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

KS: The recruitment process for the Cambridge MBA begins soon after the course starts, after our two-week orientation, with one to three on-campus recruitment events per week. We have equal representation from employers across finance, consulting and industry. We find that the application processes for the finance employers and industry leadership programs tend to occur during our first term, followed by the consultancy recruitment processes in the second term. Meanwhile the majority of industry experienced-hire roles occur during the third term and into the summer.

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

KS: Our most recently surveyed class (MBA 2011, graduating in the summer of 2012) had strong employment outcomes, with 91 percent of those seeking employment holding offers within three months of graduation.  However, we’re noticing that functional and regional mobility are outpacing sector mobility. As such, we are encouraging our students to be more flexible in their “Plan A” and “Plan B” and to look more widely for opportunities within their current sector. Our staff support them in the research, networking and advising required to do so.

We are also emphasizing the need to identify and secure the right opportunity, as opposed to being overly focused on one particular sector or location. We have many students who return to their home country or home region with their initial post-MBA job, only to make a successful regional transfer within one to two years. This shows that flexibility in the short term can often secure a longer-term goal.

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?

KS: We hold several workshops throughout the year that cover interview skills and the assessment center process, which include mock interviews. In addition, we provide one-on-one interview practice with our careers consultants. We have a mix of interview schedules, as some employers prefer to run their interview process through us, using on-campus interview rooms, whilst other employers prefer to administer their interview process themselves, using their facilities. Employers that do choose to interview on campus have a choice of small meeting rooms or individual offices.

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

KS: Alumni engage with us on the recruitment side in four main ways:

·     Networking with current students, sharing their experience of their career path, offering careers advice and introducing students to further networks

·     Contacting us with a Cambridge MBA “exclusive” recruitment opportunity, requesting assistance in promoting the role to students and identifying relevant candidates

·     Ensuring that the Cambridge MBA is included in their employer’s recruitment schedule, and being involved in the recruitment presentation and interview process, as appropriate

·     Acting as mentors/advisors for students with interviews, providing sector- and/or company-specific interview advice and tactics

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?

KS: We advise candidates to start their networking as early as possible, ideally as soon after they accept their offer of admission. We also encourage them to start their sector and company research in the months before they arrive, so that they can make the most of their time once the course starts focusing their attention and energy on the application and interview process, i.e. being able to “hit the ground running.”

Those candidates who are hoping to switch sector should invest in building knowledge of and skills in their target sector prior to arrival, such as taking courses, attending conferences, joining professional organizations, volunteering, undertaking a pro-bono project, etc., to enhance their profile for prospective employers and to be able to show demonstrated interest in their desired sector switch. We find that those students who approach their job/career search in a strategic, structured and proactive way, with a consistent commitment to and ownership of it, are always able to create more opportunities and options for themselves then those students who arrive on campus expecting Careers to do it for them.