Headhunter helps MBAs

Tips: The percentage of MBA graduates finding jobs quickly has been rising since the University of Maryland's business school hired an executive search firm.

April 14, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Clad in pressed slacks and a sharp vest, Christopher Kerns stood before a group of colleagues as they went around the room reciting which of the job-finding tasks they had completed.

How many networking calls had they made this week? How many resumes had they each sent out? Did they have any informational interviews? What about a formal job interview?

"It's continually putting my job search in front of me," one of his colleagues, Randy Daems, 29, said of the process. "I know every Thursday I'm going to be coming to this meeting and talking about what I did that week."

The group is made up of second-year students completing their work toward master's degrees in business administration at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Park.

Their meetings are part of the school's partnership with Stanton Chase International, a Baltimore international executive search firm whose professional recruiters are helping MBA students find jobs.

Since the program began last year, the percentage of Smith's MBA students who accepted jobs within three months of graduation increased to 85 percent from 73 percent a year earlier, the university said. The percentage is expected to be higher still this year.

"The value in bringing in an executive search firm like this is that they are executive coaches; they are savvy, sophisticated people," said Janet Richert, managing director of the business school's Office of Career Management.

Through the partnership, three people from the search firm work with 128 business school students. They meet with the students weekly and keep office hours on campus for consultations. They also call their employer clients and contacts to try to link students with companies that are hiring.

As consultants, the Stanton Chase employees help students with everything from preparing for an interview to checking a cover letter to make sure students don't forget anything when they're about to make important phone calls.

The weekly meetings consist of tracking each student's progress in their job search and offering advice on topics, including interview etiquette and making contacts.

Eventually, the student groups will be talking about job offers and negotiating, said Patty Buchek, a senior consultant at Stanton Chase International who works with the MBA students at the business school.

"They're isolation-busters," Buchek said of the meetings. "It's difficult when you're involved with a job search to keep motivated and keep focused."

To help graduates find jobs, many colleges and universities have relationships with companies that send representatives to the campuses to prepare students by doing mock interviews and other exercises, said Norita Rehrig, assistant executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And several schools rely heavily on their alumni network to link students with potential jobs.

Georgetown University's Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business, for instance, brings to campus its alumni who work at places where students hope to find jobs. The alumni then help the students practice skills tailored to that field, such as interviewing for a job on Wall Street.

"The alumni are tougher on the students than sometimes the ordinary recruiter from those organizations," said John R. Flato, director of MBA career management at McDonough. Georgetown also employs a retired executive from International Business Machines Corp. to work directly with students, helping them with their resumes and interviewing skills.

But experts said the arrangement between the University of Maryland and Stanton Chase seemed more unusual, though in many ways it was a sensible fit.

While Stanton Chase is paid through a contract with the University of Maryland, the relationship with the students could bear fruit in the future. The search firm is building relationships with graduates who may someday hold top positions at a company and need to hire an executive search firm, said Ellen Heffernan, secretary treasurer of the National Association of Executive Recruiters.

The idea of bringing an executive search firm to the University of Maryland's business school came last year when employees of the Office of Career Management decided to reinvent itself.

The center, Richert said, was "as traditional as it could get" and it wasn't successful. The school had adopted a model of partnering with outside organizations, and a couple of Richert's colleagues knew of Stanton Chase so the career center and the search firm forged an alliance.

By partnering with the executive search firm, the business school gains its experience and credibility, Richert said. Also, one of the biggest problems in an interview is finding out what employers are looking for, and a recruiter can help with that, said William Finlay, a professor at the University of Georgia and co-author of Headhunters: Matchmaking in the Labor Market.

At a recent Thursday meeting, for instance, Buchek, the Stanton Chase consultant, talked with a group of MBA students about the importance of networking.

"Manage those contacts smartly and continue to care for and feed those networks," she said, "because those networks are going to feed you through your career."

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