Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

The State of MBA Recruiting

An Inside Glimpse into Fuqua's Career Management Center

May 16, 2013

The latest batch of MBAs have just graduated and will soon begin their first assignments out of business school. What are the insights, trends, and best practices we are seeing in MBA recruiting and employment? And what roles does a school's career management center have in the process? Sheryle Dirks, Associate Dean for Career Management at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, shared her thoughts in the following Q & A.

What does the typical MBA job search look like today?
As with any career transition, today's MBA job search is a complex and often difficult process. Students must balance their time between academics, recruiting, and co-curricular activities, and no two experiences are exactly the same.

We are fortunate that employers often engage in multiple channels on our campus to identify potential new hires. In the past, formal corporate presentations and on-campus interviews were the primary mechanisms in the campus environment, but options now range from in-class cases and lectures, to drop-in hours, to mock interviews, for-credit experiential learning, and many other types of interactions. While students have to prioritize how they spend their time and energy, this dynamic environment provides a wide range of engagement opportunities and allows employers and students to learn more about each other.  

How does the Career Management Center (CMC) fit into the MBA job search process?
Aside from the more obvious things that we do, such as recruiting and career prep, I think it's important to highlight our visibility, accessibility, and diversity. We strive to engage with students in ways and times that meet their needs:

  • Career coaches are available on an on-demand basis every day during the academic year.
  • CMC staff members attend all employer recruiting events, including those held after business hours, to address real-time needs of students and recruiters.
  • Each of the six sections in the first-year class has an assigned liaison from the CMC who meets regularly with student leadership from each section to gauge how students are doing.
  • We teach most of our core content for first-year MBA students in the required Leadership Communications course. Important career and job search skill building is done in the classroom context and schedule.
  • The CMC team is very diverse across multiple dimensions - we have lived and worked outside the United States; we have prior experience in industries from investment banking to consulting to consumer goods to entrepreneurship to higher education; and we represent different ethnicities and generations - yet we share a passion for Fuqua and our student and employer stakeholders.

What is the typical timing for a student going through the Fuqua career search process?
Fuqua students' interests are extremely diverse and span the entire spectrum of business - across job functions and industries and from large, traditional employers to early stage start-ups to non-profits. What this means is that paths and timing are varied; even classmates who are the best of friends may find that their processes are completely different because of the types of roles they're seeking.

What is an example of a success story that came from the CMC and students working together?
One example this year is a graduating student who worked with one of our Sector Directors during her entire two years at Fuqua. Our staff member connected the student with the local office of a global energy technology company. After much networking on the student's part, with guidance from us all along the way, the company created a new strategy role for this graduate to move into after graduation. The combination of the Fuqua network, the skills and knowledge she learned while she was here, and the student's initiative and perseverance produced a great result.

For prospective business school students thinking about a career change, what best practice advice would you give?
For a prospective or incoming MBA student, I would consider the following questions as a framework for the career change process:

  • What skills do I have - and what accomplishments have they netted - that are transferable beyond my current job function and industry?
  • How can I communicate those transferable skills and qualities in a language that makes sense and has meaning to a prospective employer?
  • How can I leverage my MBA experience to build skills, knowledge, credibility, and a professional network in the job function and/or industry where I want to work?
  • How can I use the internship as an important milestone in the change process?

There's a lot to unpack here, but making a career change by function, industry, and/or geography is a paradigm of the MBA value proposition. I'm not saying it will be easy, but most MBAs are career changers at some level.

What are employers looking for when they consider candidates who are career changers?
Organizations need more from their MBA hires than ever before in light of today's global and economic complexities. Today's successful MBA hire is one who can demonstrate flexibility amid rapidly changing business conditions, develop productive relationships across cultural and language barriers, and make sound decisions even when operating with incomplete or imperfect information. Those capabilities are not endemic to a particular job title or degree credential, so the candidate who can demonstrate such skills will be attractive to an employer regardless of his or her prior background.

For example, two outgoing student leaders could both be considered "extreme" career changers. Prior to Fuqua, one was a university program manager and the other a college tennis coach. Building on their leadership, strategic experience, and thoughtful positioning of their transferable skills, they developed their business acumen at Fuqua and have both accepted post-MBA roles with top consulting firms.

Speaking of consulting, an increasing number of Fuqua graduates have been going into consulting over the past few years. What are some of the other or less traditional jobs that students are going into this spring?
We have students going into a wide variety of industries and functions, both in corporate and non-profit settings. Students graduating this year have taken roles at Falabella - a Chilean retailer; the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; and Social Impact Architects, to name a few. As more industries recognize the cross-functional value of an MBA, students have more opportunities to work in an area for which they have passion.

Consulting, financial services, and consumer products are often considered "the big 3" traditional MBA career paths and continue to attract many Fuqua graduates and other top MBAs each year.

As technology products and services have become more embedded in daily life, this sector has become an increasingly popular MBA destination. The tech industry offers a wide range of opportunity for MBAs from product management roles at large employers to general management roles at early stage start-ups. 

Other sectors that are increasingly sought by MBAs for internships and full-time positions are health, retail, social impact, and energy. The diversity of employers in these sectors is vast and accommodates the varied career interests of MBAs - from those with very specific niche skills and focus to those wanting a more traditional MBA career experience with a large multinational employer.