Mendoza School of Business

A Notre Dame mentor says: Be prepared

Published: March 25, 2005 / Author: Mendoza College

MBAs should start their job search early, not take it personally, and be familiar with “99% of the questions they will receive in the interview,” says Karen O. Dowd

Karen O. Dowd is senior director of career development for the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. Previously, she served as a senior consultant with Empower Group, a management consulting company in New York City . Dowd also worked for 10 years as head of career services at the University of Virginia ‘s Darden Graduate School of Business.

She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:


Q: What do you ask students to do before they get to campus?
A: We provide them with a self-assessment test that helps them identify their strengths and core interests. It helps them come here with a clear plan of action. We also provide them with an online template to help them compose their résumé.

Q: What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you give students?
A: Be a student. Be a learner, and be open to new opportunities while you’re here. We prefer an open mind.

Q: What is the biggest mistake MBAs make in the job search?
A: Putting it all off until the last minute. Career services offices have become so effective at communicating with the students about all the necessary steps that it can be overwhelming.

Q: What is your philosophy on the job search?
A: The MBA world is smaller than people think. There are about 500 companies actively hiring in the MBA marketplace, nationally and internationally. Students must work to understand the key industries, functions, and companies that already believe in the value of MBAs. From there, they can narrow down where they might fit. A lot of prospective students make the mistake of coming here assuming that the whole world is at their feet. The more successful students will understand the MBA market earlier and be more efficient in their job search efforts.

Q: Are certain MBAs having more success in their job searches?
A: The job search is the most demoralizing, de-energizing thing a person can go through because it’s extremely deflating to one’s ego. Most people cannot stand the idea of picking up the phone and making a cold call. Every time they are interacting with people for those two years, they are being evaluated. The students who are more upbeat and don’t take things personally are the ones who are most successful.

Q: How do you encourage students to express themselves in an interview?
A: I tell students they have to be natural. The more natural they are, the better the dialogue will be. It’s imperative that they feel confident going in that they are the best match for that position. If a student can’t make a convincing case in 10 seconds or less about why he or she is the best person for that job, then he or she shouldn’t be interviewing. Before the interview, candidates must prepare so they won’t be caught off guard. They should be familiar with 99% of the questions they will receive.

Q: How do you market your students?
A: We have three approaches. We encourage companies to come to campus to recruit. We also do just-in-time hiring. As a small program, we have the ability to be available to companies all year as their needs surface. We also take our students to the market. We do city treks, as well as having alumni and career panels throughout the year.

Q: Which recruiters have a good relationship with Mendoza ?
A: We have good relationships with GE (GE ), IBM (IBM ), Procter & Gamble (PG ), and Hewlett-Packard (HP), among many others. Of course, Chicago is a stronghold for us, with many hiring companies. Latin America is also going to be a growing area, especially Chile , where we have an affiliate program.

Q: How do you help international students?
A: We have a strong international alumni base and an international résumé book, which we mail out to employers. We also meet with students and educate them about the process and the reality of the marketplace, and coach them about how to get on interview schedules and handle their visa situation. Of course, we’re always looking for companies that want to hire international students.


Topics: Mendoza