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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: Same question with regard to students who are interested in social impact careers? Is this growing? How are you responding from a career services perspective?

CSC: We have for many years had decent interest in social impact thanks to our Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. We were one of the first schools to have such a center, and that has always helped us draw students to Johnson interested in the field.

We also have an immersion in sustainable global enterprise. I should perhaps explain what our immersions are. In the second semester of the first year, Johnson students can take an immersion, which is designed to prepare them for their internships. The immersions include a practicum project that they work on as a team directly with a company. So having the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and having that immersion really helps us attract students with an interest in social impact. One of my career advisors also works just with students targeting sustainability careers. That is another area that we have added specific career advisor support for in the last two years.

CA:  What other interesting trends or shifts have you been observing—both in terms of companies who are hiring more or less and student aspirations?

CSC: We have certainly been seeing a shift in terms of greater interest in tech, which I suspect is going to be consistent across the board with other schools. We still have strong recruiting in finance, particularly investment banking, and in consulting. I know some schools have seen banking soften a bit, but we did not experience that at Johnson. Both paths have continued to be strong and perhaps have even grown in recent years.

Of course, we value all of our companies, and we have more companies recruiting our students than in years past. I would say eight years back there were 80 companies that recruited our students, and now it’s more like 120 to 130. Students are coming in with interests that don’t necessarily fall into the typical MBA career path, which is great and adds a lot of nice variety. Social media also has helped with that, in particular LinkedIn. Today students can apply for different roles that don’t recruit on campus and connect easily with in those companies because of LinkedIn. That has broadened the number of companies who recruit our students.

Our largest recruiter by far is a tech company—Amazon—but the banking and consulting firms are strong, and there are also some consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that are strong hirers of Johnson students.

CA: What do you lose sleep over with regard to the Johnson Career Management Center and what it offers?

CSC: I think a lot about our international students. I want to make sure that students who come to Johnson and are looking for jobs either here in the United States or in other places are receiving the support they need. We have done a lot to enhance our work with international students. We work closely with the international student clubs and are doing a lot of corporate outreach in the U.S. and globally to help our international students in the job search process. We offer a lot of programming around visa and immigration policy here in the U.S.

I have placed added focus on career services for our internationals students in the last two years. Our international student population is 35 to 38 percent, which has grown in recent years, and it is harder for them to find positions in the U.S. because of visa restrictions. We have also enhanced our English language support, and we have a formal program around U.S. customs and the way that things are done here. In addition, we provide one-on-one or small group work with consultants and others who can help international students with language and provide writing assistance for resumés and cover letters.

I should also mention the newly created Cornell College of Business. Announced in January and slated to launch in July, it will bring together Johnson with the School of Hotel Administration and the Dyson School, which is Cornell’s undergraduate business program. There are a lot of committees now that have formed consisting of faculty, staff, students and alumni to dig deep and understand how this transition will happen.

I think it will be terrific and will make our business school much larger, which in turn will make it easier to attract faculty and give us a larger budget to play with. From a career management perspective, the career management directors from all three schools are meeting periodically to talk about what the structure might look like as the three schools come together. We do want to make sure that the quality of support that students across all three schools receive is enhanced. They will certainly have access to more courses across the three schools, but we also want to make it easier for recruiters to recruit across all three schools. I think it is absolutely the right direction for Cornell.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CSC: I don’t think I mentioned the treks, which is another way we work with our student clubs. The treks are a great way for students to connect with companies. Student clubs organize the treks, but we help them to find contacts at the various companies, and we also attend many of the treks. Some of the notable ones are the tech trek to the Bay area and Seattle, the marketing trek to New York and New Jersey, a media trek to Los Angeles, a finance trek to Hong Kong and China and a Wall Street trek for the students interested in banking. There are many others, but those are some of the big ones.

Also, last year we launched an Executive Presence Day. Research has shown that people who get hired and move up tend to have really strong executive presence. By executive presence I mean projected gravitas, being confident, being decisive, communicating well, having a good emotional quotient (EQ) and being able to read people well.

So last year we launched an EP Day, bringing in speakers to discuss what EP is and featuring workshops on everything from communication to dress. It went over really well. The feedback we got back from recruiters in terms of our students’ readiness was really good this year, which I think can be attributed partially to EP Day. We will do it again in the fall, and we will do it bigger and better. Based on feedback and research, executive presence is really important for students to develop and we wanted to get that front and center in our process.