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Career Services Director Q&A: Stanford GSB’s Maeve Richard

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

MR: GSB alumni are very involved in all aspects of the student experience—including the recruiting process. I think it has to do with the small class size and the intimate scale. There is just a belief—and it plays out—that if you are a GSB alum you are available to current students. Students can reach out to GSB alumni and they will pick up the call, respond to your email—they want to help. Many of them pro-actively engage with the school and seek out ways to be involved with the students.

We leverage that strong interest in remaining engaged because often alumni will come back to recruit at the school. They are some of the best hirers, some of the best people to reach out to and network with. We encourage our students to get in touch with and connect with alumni. There is real value in doing informational interviewing, and our advisors know our alumni and can direct students, “Here’s someone you could talk with who did what you are exploring.” We launched an alumni mentoring network last March, which we will continue to build out so that students have growing access to one-on-one flash and mentoring relationships. Students value engaging with alumni and believe that they are highly credible. We also host a career exploration day each year where we bring in panels of alumni to talk about what it’s like to be a product manager, for example. I find that the sweet spot is usually alumni who are seven to 12 years out. Of course, students are most interested in interacting with alumni that made it big and learning how they went about it. Overall, the students value alumni and the alumni welcome the engagement, so it is a win-win.

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?

MR: We are planning to do more this year in terms of providing resources to incoming students over the summer before they arrive on campus. In particular, we’d like to upgrade our industry and function education materials so that students can come in having a better sense of what being a venture capitalist is all about or what private equity is, for instance. That way, when they get here, they are prepared to explore the industries and functions that interest them in much greater depth.

We also ask students to complete a self-assessment during the summer, and then encourage them to follow up with an advising appointment upon arriving on campus. We have a somewhat delicate balance to strike. On the one hand, these are amazingly capable young people who will become even more competent decision makers. They love being independent, finding their own way, and operating autonomously. But at the same time, career guidance is crucial. Engaging to learn what to do when and why, how to manage risks, avoid pitfalls, and how best to pursue career objectives, is important. Otherwise the career exploration and job search process can be exhausting, inefficient, and can end up wasting a lot of time.

A big part of our focus is on describing best practice approaches and strategies. Our model is a teach them to fish one. Preparation, skill building, job search readiness is pretty much on them, and we know that once they arrive it is overwhelming. Many admit to being challenged by the fear of missing out (FOMO), and it can be a real challenge to navigate this enriched environment.

Many students want to be as ready as they can be, which they think can mean they need to pursue a pre-internship before business school starts. We know that a lot of students are doing this at other places, but we and current students generally advise against it—there will be plenty of opportunities to get exposure to work opportunities.

Ideally, I recommend students spend the summer getting to know themselves and getting a better understanding of various post-MBA industries and functions. Beyond that, I really encourage them to take time to down shift, get in touch with what they want, and to end well in their current jobs. Thank the people who have helped them along the way—connect with them, show appreciation, and let them know your plans. I think most current students would say the same thing. Take advantage of the time before you enter school.

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 the CMC, or do those students primarily draw support from the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies?

MR: Students pursuing entrepreneurial ventures straight out of school were up slightly this year, 16 percent compared to 15 percent, but overall this number is consistent. Our entrepreneurial students definitely have expectations of the CMC, although the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) is a great resource that is available to support them. In fact, 100 percent of MBA students take at least once entrepreneurial class while at the GSB. The CMC collaborates closely with the CES on many opportunities.

In terms of our interaction with CES, if an entrepreneurial student wants to come in and talk about the career search process, meet with our advisors, go through that exploration mode—certainly everything is open to them. Of course, a student who is ultimately going to pursue his or her own venture may also want a Plan B. They may simultaneously pursue their own venture and a more traditional job search, and the CMC will support them in that.

CA: What about Stanford students who are interested in social impact? Is this growing? How are you responding from a career services perspective?

MR: When we looked at the employment report this year we noticed a couple of pleasant surprises. One is related to social impact. Last year, there were very few graduates who self-reported taking jobs in the nonprofit category—and yet we have our Center for Social Innovation and we know our students are very interested in social impact and choosing to do things that are socially responsible.

We introduced a new question that asks students, “Have you chosen a socially responsible role in a private business?” And we did see a sizable increase in how students responded to that question year over year. It jumped from 8 to 13 percent. We expect that this number will grow over time because our students have placed a deep-seated value on social impact. Although a small percentage of the class may head into the nonprofit sector, increasing numbers of students are making a choice to do something they would characterize as socially responsible. This demonstrates what we believe to be true—there is a social consciousness among our students, and it is part of the GSB.

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?

MR: Another thing that I thought was great in this most recent report was the fact that more companies are recruiting our first- and second-year MBAs. In 2017, 411 different companies hired our students, either for internships over the summer or for full-time positions. A lot of this has to do with the fact that our students end up deciding that they want to find the ideal opportunity for themselves—and they are going out and identifying these jobs.

This changes what career services needs to do in terms of career and job search support. Students are pursuing these “self-sourced jobs” and we have to shift how we support them so that they succeed at what they are going for. The combination of the market being good and students fanning out has resulted in more companies than ever hiring Stanford students. My hope is that this figure also reflects the fact that we are doing a better job of employer outreach. We’re out there developing relationships and going after the jobs that are going to appeal to students. For years and years there have been about 350 companies hiring our students, which is a substantial number in relation to our class size. But last year there was an uptick to 383, and this year it grew even more.

We also saw some slight shifts in terms of geography. So many of our students come here and want to remain on the west coast when they graduate. That’s fine, but we also want to support them whatever geography they choose. This year, 62 percent of the class remained in this region, down three percentage points over the prior year. The Northeastern U.S. drew 16 percent of the class, and another 11 percent took international jobs.

We have also observed that the number of women going into private equity and venture capital has nearly doubled since 2014. I think there are a couple of things happening here that have caused those numbers to shift. For starters, VC was strong. There was an increase in hiring, and women were successful candidates. There are also women alumnae out there who have had success in their careers and are at a level where they are both prominent and influential. Many of these women want to encourage women to come into finance, including the areas of private investing that are particularly attractive. They have come back to campus, initiated programming, and been aggressive recruiters. It’s a virtuous circle of sorts. Women have succeeded in those roles, we are starting to build up a base of employers for whom hiring more women is a priority, and student clubs have also been especially capable and effective at getting more students—particularly women students—into those roles. Add to that the fact that we have two seasoned advisors who focus on that whole area of investing. Success breeds success. Second-year MBAs influence first-year MBAs, which creates momentum, so more women are going for it.

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

MR: Right now, I would say our focus is on the international students. But rather than just losing sleep over it, I’m framing it as an opportunity. This is an opportunity to really get to know the needs of this population—to find out what is going on, what is happening in their world, what we need to do differently in our advising. We need to do a lot more on the employer side for sure. Employers are having to adjust and flex, too.

We have a team member who has built up and expanded the career programming content for international students. Our relationship with Bechtel, the university office that handles international students, is also very strong. We have a solid foundation in place, but things are undeniably more challenging for international students right now.

I find myself thinking a lot about how we need to respond to that—how do we upgrade what we are able to offer the international students. Part of it involves helping them construct new strategies and talking them through the realities of getting a visa and recruiting challenges. It’s also about having both a Plan A and Plan B. Plan A could be “I want to come here and start my own thing in California.” Plan B might be more like, “Let’s find a company that is willing to hire me and work hard to get me a visa.” And then Plan C might be, “Okay, I am willing to not stay in America but instead work for a multinational in my home country that can help me, in time, return to the States to work.”

I really want our international students to be thinking in terms of Plans A, B, and C. And the job they take may not be the one they most wanted, but they need to recognize that there are still ways of achieving their original goals if they stay flexible.

CA: Any final thoughts you’d like to close with?

MR: My hope is that the time students spend at the GSB is transformative in building their capacity to choose well and to manage their career. That comes about when students become clear and confident about who they are and what they want, then acquire the job search skills that enable them to find the job, launch the career that suits them best, and realize their personal and professional goals. I feel privileged to have this set of responsibilities. I had no idea it would be so fulfilling being engaged in helping students succeed.