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Career Services Director Q&A: Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

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

CSC: One of the things that I noted when I first started at Johnson—and I came from a corporate marketing role—was just how accessible our alumni are here at Johnson. It was nothing for me to email someone or pick up the phone and have people respond quickly. I hear that from our students, too—that our alumni are quite responsive. I know that all the schools, we all say that our alumni are engaged in mock interviews and recruiting and the like. But I do think Johnson is really special terms of its loyal, engaged alumni.

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?

CSC: One of the most useful things students can do is to really narrow down their career aspirations before they get here. The students who are most successful in the job search process are those who know what they want to do and have done the prep before arriving to school. The students that are trying to make a significant change or who haven’t thought through what they want before they get here do tend to struggle more. So my advice is to really narrow down what your career goals are.

If you are thinking you want to make a change, it’s also a good time get exposure to your potential career path. Say you are in corporate finance and want to switch to a marketing role—see if you can get involved in marketing projects at work. This allows you to add more to your resumé and also gives you something to talk about in interviews. So I urge students to use that time to see if they can pivot into some of those projects.

Our students, once they activate their Cornell emails, are able to access the full Vault guides, which provide guides for any career function or industry that you might be interested in. Beyond that, I urge them to talk to contacts, have coffee with people, go to lunch with people—undergrad contacts, friends and family, really any people who are doing the work that they may be interested in. Shadow people if that’s a possibility. Try to learn as much as you can and talk to people to learn more. Read industry blogs or magazines or websites about the industry you are targeting. We have a number of things we recommend to students based on their interest. There are the general business publications, of course, but there are also specific publications if you are targeting tech, brand management, consulting.

We also give our students a resumé template before they come in and we email them a copy of the Getting Down to Business workbook. We encourage students to go ahead and drat their resumé in the Johnson format and come ready with that to review with their career advisor when they arrive on campus. Before they meet with us, we want them to have their resumé and their Career Leader report done. Career Leader is an online assessment that looks at your strengths, motivators and key skills and helps students come up with MBA-type careers that might be a good match. Many schools use it, and I think it can be particularly helpful for students who are unsure of their future career paths. It’s not the end all be all, but it is a useful tool.

CA: What about students who hope to pursue entrepreneurial paths straight out of school? What particular opportunities/challenges do they present for your team? Are there special resources in place through CMC, or do those students primarily draw support from the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute?

CSC: When I first started at the Career Management Center back in ’08, little attention was placed on entrepreneurship because that wasn’t seen as the function of the office in general. Today we have an advisor for technology who also has entrepreneurship under her umbrella. So that has changed significantly. The exact programming we are putting behind it is still to be determined, but we do have a basic curriculum in place and we also help connect students to Entrepreneurship@Cornell, which is a university-wide opportunity to tap into the entrepreneurial community.

We do find that the number of students who come in and plan to start a business right after school is larger the number who leave planning to start a business right away. Often they decide to put off entrepreneurial ventures until later in their careers. It is a small group, but there is growing interest in entrepreneurship, and we are putting more resources behind what support we can provide to make sure we guide them through the process.

CA: There’s been a huge shift toward greater hiring by tech firms in recent years. How has this impacted your overall career services offerings? Are there specific programs, interview prep, etc. for students targeting tech jobs?

One of the things I did on my team when I took over two years ago was to hire someone who focuses on students pursuing jobs in technology. We really did not have one person devoted to tech before. She comes from the tech industry and has a passion for technology. She worked at Google right before coming here, so she has experience that is really valued and she understands what tech companies, and Google in particular, go for and what kind of students they hire.

I also brought on a part-time contractor based in the Bay area. She is a very skilled recruiter who works for a startup now and has worked with many of the tech companies in the region. She is very knowledgeable about recruiting in tech. Especially seeing the growth in interest in tech among our students, we recognized that we needed to have someone on the ground in the Bay area.

Also, from a curriculum perspective, we have started an immersion focused on digital technology. It has a pretty heavy analytics focus and pairs students from the MBA program with students from the engineering programs. Some classes are taught by engineering professors. There’s also a practicum project associated with the immersion that really helps students get a handle of what it would be like to work in tech. The first year has gone very well, and students have gotten a range of jobs from large and small tech firms in a variety of roles, including analytics and project management.