Published: September 30, 2008 / Author: Alma Dizik
Career advice used to be off-limits for executive M.B.A. students. No longer.
Once Becky Smith started her executive M.B.A. program, she realized she wasn’t just looking to boost her business acumen and management skills, she also needed career help. But as a working executive and mother of two young boys, she knew it was going to be tough to fit such advice into her already-packed calendar.
It was the E.M.B.A program run by her business school the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School that stepped in to help, organizing one-hour career seminars before class and contracting with executive coaches who were available at flexible hours to meet with students. Their guidance helped Ms. Smith make a switch from banking to become a director of operations at Red Hat Inc., an open-source software company, this spring.
Not many years ago, Ms. Smith would have been hardpressed to get that kind of career advice from an executive M.B.A. program. Most companies covered the cost to send top employees to these programs, and providing career services to classes full of sponsored students was considered taboo. Instead, students often tiptoed around career-service offices, hoping to overhear bits of advice being given to people in the full-time M.B.A. program.
But in the past few years, the market has shifted. According to the Executive MBA Council-a trade organization that serves executive M.B.A. programs of accredited universities only 34% of E.M.B.A. students in 2007 were fully sponsored. By many estimates, more than 50% of students were sponsored in 2000. What’s more, a growing number of E.M.B.A. students say they want to switch careers. As a result, these working managers, typically with 10 or more years of experience in the corporate world, are demanding (regardless of sponsorship status) that, career offices provide detailed professional assessments, build career-strategy workshops, and help them break into new industries or leverage positions in their own firm higher up the corporate ladder.
In response, schools have ramped up their career programming. Many have had to craft programs from scratch specifically tailored to E.M.B.A students, given both their work experience and their limited time on campus (typically every other weekend). They’ve scheduled lunchtime coaching sessions, for instance, or provided online services, or sought to fit career guidance into regular courses or breakout sessions.
Last year, executive M.B.A. students at the University of Houston business school surveyed themselves and provided an outline of desired career services to Jamie Belinne, the school’s assistant dean for career services. The results included requests for counseling services and workshops in personal branding, both of which would help students with a career transition. Ms. Beiinne then contracted with retired executives to assist the aspiring career switchers with marketing their skills. “I joke that this is my midlife crisis group,” Ms. Belinne says. “We are seeing more and more E.M.B.A.s who want a new career.”
Other schools are designing formal career-oriented programs targeted at executive M.B.A. students. They typically aim to help students explore career options at each stage of their E.M.B.A. experience and, in some cases, provide guidance for changing careers. For example, E.M.B.A, students slated to graduate next year from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business will be the first to go through a two-year career program that includes workshops designed around things like negotiating tough compensation packages and podcasts focusing on career advice for students who spend a lot of time traveling for work, says Anita Brick, the business school’s director of career advancement programs.
Emilio Apey, who graduated from Chicago’s executive M.B.A. program in March, says he has already reaped the benefits of the school’s new push into career advice. After it was announced that the bank he worked for would be acquired just four months after classes began Mr. Apey visited the career center with a “very unpolished resume,” hoping for some counseling to position himself for a move within the new firm.
Two months and four counseling sessions later, Mr. Apey had a resume that highlighted his nontechnical skills and a boost to his confidence. Soon after, he secured a job as IT manager for South America with one of the financial institutions that acquired his bank. During the transition, Mr. Ayey has also attended workshops on negotiation and panels with executives to help advance his career. Career management, he says, “is a combination of marketing and acting,” says Mr. Apey.
Schools are also contracting with online career service providers such as CareerBeam, to work with executive M.B.A. students in online counseling sessions and provide online resources. Colleen Sabatino, president of CareerBeam, says that in the past few years, 30 E.M.B.A. programs, including the University of Florida’s Warrington School of Business and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, have retained CareerBeam.
More than a year ago, Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business began offering Career- Beam’s services to E.M.B.A. students as a supplement to its in-office career-management program. About 25% of the 100 or so students using career services use the online service, says Laura Bellis, associate director of E.M.B.A. career services at Mendoza. “If they decide at midnight that they want to focus on career management, then they don’t have to wait for someone [in our office] to be present,” says Ms. Bellis.
Meanwhile, because E.M.B.A. students tend to seek competitive, high-paying jobs, schools are inviting more executive recruiters to sit on panels and to attend networking events. At schools like the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and New York University Stern School of Business, the Association of Executive Search Consultants has stepped in, offering E.M.B.A. programs a customized version of their searchable database, Bluesteps. “It’s [about] executive mobilitylifelong employment is much rarer than it used to be,” says Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants.
Such offerings are growing: According to The Wall Street Journal survey, about 30% of graduates said their schools offer access to executive search firms as a career tool. A few years ago, very few schools offered that perk.
Still, at many schools, career offerings leave a lot to be desired, according to graduates who participated in The Wall Street Journal survey. About 56% of students said their school offered career services specifically tailored to executive M.B.A. students. But of those who used the services, only a small number gave their schools strong marks for career-services satisfaction-a failing that many schools acknowledge.
“That’s been the challenge, trying to ramp up,” says David Ardis, the E.M.B.A. program director at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. He says it has been especially tough to secure job placement for executives. “It’s not something that we can flick on a switch and have fabulous relationships [with companies],” he says.
The complaint about job placement is echoed at other schools, where students says that many programs don’t offer access to recruiting services that full-time M.B.A. students receive, or that schools aren’t tailoring placement services to the specific needs of E.M.B.A. students.
Even as they continue to improve upon career services, many executive M.B.A. program directors say there are concerns about the ethics of providing career services to students who attend programs entirely on the company dime. Mr. Ardis says most students at Michigan, sponsored or not, are encouraged to look within their current companies, but it’s especially true when a company has made a commitment to the student by offering to pay tuition. “There’s a fine line,” he says. “We don’t want to be accused of taking money with one hand, and finding jobs for candidates with another.”