SMITH BUSINESS Magazine
Volume 13 No. 1 SPRING 2012

Looking for Mr. Right (Company)

Christina Buckless is ready for her interview. She is poised, smiling, neatly made up. Her navy suit is fresh and nicely pressed — which is kind of amazing, because Buckless has had to wear it every day for the past three weeks.

During that period, she’s met with recruiters 20 times. Several of those recruiters, she hopes, will make her an offer, and one of those offers, she hopes, will be the perfect first step in a fulfilling career.

Buckless will graduate in May. She needs a job. She is consumed with finding one.

“Senior year, they should make you take a class called Finding a Job,” Buckless jokes, “because I do more work researching and applying for jobs than I do on homework.” Buckless averages 15 hours a week on her job search. She has taken advantage of almost every service the Office of Career Services offers, from mock interviews to resume review sessions to employer networking events. She’s gone to five career fairs, three at Smith and two on campus. She pores over HireSmith, the school’s job posting site, looking for opportunities that fit her supply chain management skill set. She meticulously researches each company and customizes her cover letter to match their needs.

But for all her ceaseless effort and laser focus, Buckless isn’t applying for every job out there. Even in a tough economy, most Smith students aren’t just looking for employment. They want a career. And they don’t just want to be in the right kind of position. They also want to be in the right kind of company.

This can come as a surprise to those who survived previous recessions. If you graduated during the downturn in the 80s, for example, or the recession of the early 90s, getting any kind of job was an accomplishment. Many graduates took whatever they could find and figured they would work their way up, or sideways, once they proved themselves as employees.

Millenials are a different breed. They’re driven by a need for meaning and personal fulfillment in their work lives. They want a job that feels significant, and since entry-level jobs aren’t high on the influence scale, the type of company with which they are affiliated is all the more important.

So Buckless, like a lot of her fellow Millenials, doesn’t just want a fling with her first company. She wants a real relationship. When Buckless looks at a company she’s thinking about future opportunities and growth potential. “I want to go to a company that I’m going to stay at, move up, and continue to grow. Someplace I could see myself for a long time,” Buckless says wistfully.

In such a dismal economy with so many people out of work, is it self-indulgent or naïve to hold out for Mr. Right (Company)? “It’s a generational trend we have to acknowledge,” says Jeff Kudisch, managing director of the Office of Career Services, who admits that it is a trend he sometimes finds frustrating. “While we understand it, we’re also working to increase their sense of urgency and provide our students with innovative programs to help them identify their career mission and pursue the right companies. Our alumni are also helping us expose students to job market realities, which shape their expectations and drive.”

So how do students go about getting the right job with the right company?

Get an Internship

An important first step is getting the right internship. “Fifteen years ago an internship was not an expectation,” says Adrienne Alberts, lead associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, who recruits MBA students at Smith. “In the past it was nice if a student had a chance to try on their career for size and get relevant experience, but it wasn’t necessary. That has changed dramatically. Now an internship is an entry level job. I think that cuts across industries and across types of organizations. The companies that are likely to employ a graduate of business school will expect you to have some career experience.”

Alumni are often a key factor in that equation. Alumni at companies both large and small have provided great internship opportunities for Smith students.

Nick Olson, an MBA student who will graduate in May, spent last summer working for Smith alumna Alison Cherry, MBA ’08. Cherry’s start-up, Snack Packers, packages and delivers healthy treats to office workers in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. Olson spent last summer building a financial model for her business, as well as putting dried coconut chips into re-usable containers. The unconventional experience was a good fit for Olson, who hopes to go into consulting (and whose job search is also in full swing).

Network

Network, network, network. Everyone knows this, but not everyone takes it to heart. Ray Ruiz, manager of campus recruiting for KPMG, says he appreciates students who take the advice about networking seriously. KPMG hired 80 Smith MBA and undergrad students for internships or full-time positions last year. “I remember the students who talk to us before or after an event on campus, who hold a conversation and follow up with an email that has points from that conversation,” says Ruiz.

The Smith alumni network opens a lot of doors for students. Doron Tamari ’11, now a fan experience and promotions intern with Ohio State Athletics, had the opportunity to meet Ike Richman, vice president of communications at Comcast-Spectacor, while a student. “I got a chance to sit down with him and ask him about how he got to where he is,” says Tamari. “He answered all kinds of questions. It was great to see someone with a Maryland degree working in that kind of position. Even though it didn’t land me a job with his company, that advice was really helpful to me.”

Be Prepared

The Smith School’s Office of Career Services invests a lot of resources into helping students prepare for the job search. Job-seekers can take workshops that help polish their resumes, craft their cover letters and develop their elevator pitches. Alumni by the dozens devote hours to mock interviews, letting students practice the process with someone who’s on their side before facing critical strangers. MBA students work with younger students on networking skills, teaching them how to schmooze like pros. This year the OCS even brought in an award-winning Broadway actor to hold improv workshops, aimed at helping students think on their feet during interviews and present themselves with more polish.

Perhaps the best resource available at the OCS are the staff members, who go above and beyond to support students. Sahil Patni, who graduated in December, got a coveted interview slot with Ernst & Young, but the day before it was scheduled to be held the recruiter’s schedule changed. Patni’s interview slot was also changed — to a time he just couldn’t make. Patni contacted the OCS in a panic. “I thought it was a disaster, but they got everything resolved even though it was 11 p.m.,” says Patni. “They got back to me in literally 10 minutes and it was fixed in an hour. I thought that was pretty amazing.”

Persist

Some students, of course, do all the right things and still don’t get the job of their dreams. Even worse is the fear of graduating without a single offer. The Smith School has good placement rates, but the cruel reality of today’s bleak employment landscape means that a few students will find the job search process quite challenging.

Kristin Thompson, MBA ’11, was one of those students. Thompson came back to school because she wanted to work in the energy industry, and her job search started the moment she started her MBA program. She joined clubs, attended networking events and participated in the Dingman Center’s Technion internship working on an energy project. By her second year, Thompson felt like she had a good understanding of the industry.

Like most Smith students, Thompson searched for her perfect match, her dream company, and found it in GE. She pursued the opportunity and eventually made it to the final round of interviews. Thompson practiced her pitch, worked with the communications club to get feedback, and worked with OCS to prepare for her interview. Things looked good until the call came: We can’t offer you anything at this time.

“I was extremely disappointed. I’d worked so hard, I knew that I would be a good fit,” says Thompson. She went to Kudisch for advice, and he urged her to widen her options, but also persist with GE. Thompson kept in touch with her GE contacts, sending New Year’s cards and attending networking events while also applying for other positions. Fifty applications later, she was still jobless but not discouraged. And then it happened: right before she graduated, Thompson was offered a spot in GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program. She’s currently with the corporate enterprise team as part of her two-year rotational training. And today she’s back at Smith, recruiting new talent for GE.

Thompson held out for her dream company. Not every student has the option to do so. But Smith is committed to supporting every student on the path to their dreams.

Christina Buckless, though, is still a lady in waiting. She’s got a few more interviews coming up, which means another long week of researching companies, filling out forms, smiling for strangers, and getting that suit cleaned and pressed again. The wait is nerve-wracking. Did I get an interview? Did I make it to the second round? Did they call me back? When am I going to hear?

“The only thing I want to do is take a nap. I’m just so tired,” Buckless confesses. “I’ve gotten a lot of interviews, so that keeps me energized. But I know people who aren’t getting offers — or they aren’t even getting interviews — and they’re really anxious.”

Buckless is anxious too. That anxiety won’t go away till she has an offer in hand.

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