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Career Management Director Q&A: Stacey Rudnick of UT’s McCombs School of Business

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

SR: One of the things that has changed the most is that employers are moving for earlier and earlier access to the MBA students, which has pushed up the timeline for getting students prepped and ready, not only from a résumé perspective but also for interviews. We work with Consortium and Forté, among others, to prep students for their summer career fairs, working with recently admitted students in the spring to get ready. Students who haven’t even set foot yet on campus are being approached by employers. So we work with them to ensure that they feel ready, comfortable and polished to articulate their goals and explain why they are coming to business school in the first place.

Employers are anxious to brand with the incoming students and are hosting day workshops or summer camps that they advertise to students well before matriculation. Mind you, the employers are not forcing commitment from participating students, but the companies are definitely interested in getting in front of our students as soon as possible.

Why earlier? Employers want to get their hooks in sooner because it really is a war for talent. You have a group of students that come into school for a full-time MBA program knowing exactly what they want to do when they graduate. But then you have another group that remains open to the possibilities. Employers are eager to catch students in the space where they are still undecided—in the explore phase—because they know the window closes so soon. And increasingly, investment banks, consulting firms, tech firms—they are all competing for the same students. They all want the best of the best in terms of talent, and there are students that could slot into any or all of those positions.

It has made it very interesting for our career advising staff, who has to now engage with the new class while simultaneously working with current students. We are engaging one on one with students as early as April—getting them ready for conferences, working on résumés, doing webinars—so they can take advantage of some of these early opportunities to be in front of companies. In fact, some have offers before they even get to campus for classes. Now, the employer must keep the offers open so the students still have an opportunity to seek other job offers, but that can be a very early win to know, “I have an offer or maybe more than one offer before I even set foot on campus.”

So, the need to introduce first-year students to the recruiting process has moved up. We do some in orientation, of course, but much is taking place even earlier. All students are working on their résumés over the summer before they come. We typically have career panels during orientation that explore the major and niche career areas—corporate finance, consulting, marketing, real estate, private equity, investment banking, operations, etc. These are meant to be a soft introduction to those industries, and they are typically staffed with alumni to provide a safe environment where students can talk to recent graduates and get a feel for whether it is an industry they want to get into or not.

We move from Orientation into our fall career class and job fair. Our first-year full-time students have a core career management class that is designed to get them prepared for spring semester interviews. We use the career class as dedicated workshop time to work on résumés, cover letters, pitches, interviewing skills, behavioral skills, case skills and more. All students will have at least one mock interview as part of the class, and most will have more than that. The students start submitting résumés in November for interviews in January.

Which brings us to Super Week—pre-term internship interviewing for consulting and investment banking that takes place in the week before spring classes begin. After that, the first seven weeks of the spring semester continue to be pretty heavy for internship interviews.

In addition, we try to get a lot of our first-year students out to visit companies. We have treks to the Bay Area for high tech, a marketing trek in Seattle, a corporate energy/clean tech trek, banking treks in Houston and New York, a consulting trek in Dallas, etc. What began as three treks when I first arrived at McCombs has grown to more than a dozen.

The second-year interviews for full-time positions typically start in the middle of September and run through the fall semester, with just-in-time recruiting for smaller and mid-sized firms happening in the spring. So that’s the on-campus process.

There are also job boards, numerous networking events, virtual and geographic career fairs, student organization functions and other student-led treks as well. We have also done a career fair with 11 other schools in California called “Day in the Bay,” and this year for the first time we have added another career fair in Chicago called “Day by the Lake.” We are very focused on exploring new geographic markets that we believe will create new opportunities for our students.

CA: What about LinkedIn? I know from talking to Admissions Director Rodrigo Malta that McCombs offers students an opportunity to share their LinkedIn profiles as part of the admissions process? Has that impacted career services?

SR: LinkedIn—which used to be an ancillary workshop—has now become an integral part of our core career curriculum. We now teach a three-part series on LinkedIn because it has become such a critical part of students’ own branding. We’ve also piloted a fun workshop exercise—an “Extreme Makeover” LinkedIn edition. Basically, students break into teams of five, and one member’s profile is selected for a 30-minute extreme makeover. Suddenly, you have a team of five people all working on a single team member’s profile, offering suggestions for how to make it stronger, even taking updated LinkedIn photos for their headshot.

The exercise takes place just after the students have completed a workshop discussing LinkedIn best practices—what should be highlighted, what kind of photo to use, how to customize your profile properly to ensure that you are marketing effectively to the audience you are trying to reach. We say to them, “You have had all of this—now you have to put it into practice.” At McCombs, we see LinkedIn as the most public facing 24/7 part of you—it is out there. So all of this programming is designed to help students make the very best use of this tool.

Another interesting data point comes from research that has been done by Bloomberg, GMAC and others showing that the top-rated skill according to recruiters across any industry or function is communication. Recruiters assume that MBAs are smart, that they will be good at the basic skill level things, but they are looking to hire the future managers and leaders of their companies. As they look to recruit a pool of talent that will rise to management, communication skills are seen as a significant differentiator.

That’s why business schools are placing such an emphasis on soft skill development—verbal and writing skills, the ability to pitch, persuasive speaking skills. Because to progress within any organization, first you have to do the work, then you have to manage the work and then you are either leading the work or selling the work or both.

With this in mind, we are focusing more on communication within our career course as well. We rolled out some new workshops this past fall, including “Making Small Talk” and “Rock Your Interview.” We have also done a “Finding a Startup Job in Your Jeans” workshop, which targets our entrepreneurial students and is very focused on pitching. We also do a separate workshop—McCombs is a very veteran-friendly program—so we do special “Business Résumés for Veterans” workshop, which offers a lot of one-on-one attention to help with translating that incredible leadership and work ethic that our veterans bring. On a résumé it takes more time to make this shine through, and we think it’s time well spent.