Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Consortium MBA's: Back to School

In a matter of days, Consortium students and MBA's across the country return to campus. There is no reprieve or period of easing into the intense environment. Students hit the ground running the first day. First-year students learn right away that recruiting and the grinding effort to secure the internship they dreamed about starts the minute they register for core courses.
Consortium second-year students return to campus after a productive summer of internships. Many earned offers of full-time employment when they graduate. In finance, Consortium interns earned full-time offers at such places as JPMorgan Chase and Barclays Capital.
Indiana-Kelley's classes have started already. First-year students have gone through orientation, and Indiana has introduced a new program to make sure its students will be ready when banks and corporations come to Bloomington. The new program, called Me, Inc., aims to advise students on career selections, strategies and preparation and coach them on recruiting techniques, interviewing and self-branding. Hence, students are counseled before the race gets going.
No doubt, other business schools will observe and replicate Kelley's program, if they don't have a similar program in place already.
A return to campus shifts the focus of the b-school experience back to courses, classes, classmates, professors, and deans. And it reminds all how much the experience has evolved over the decades. Business schools today are significantly different from the way they were in the mid-1980's, or even the 1990's.
The differences?
1. Recruiting is now a full-time job for first-year students. Long ago, students started worrying about internships in early January. They spent much the fall immersed in accounting, finance and marketing and didn't have to develop strategies, attend corporate presentations, prepare for informational interviews, and do what they can to get on interviewers "A" lists.
Today, students are more perceptive, aggressive, and better coached about what they need to do to get the right offer.
2. Business schools today are attentive to rankings and popular opinion about their roles, purpose, and value. They've step out beyond their academic niches and are committed to making themselves continually relevant.
They pay attention to their constituencies: students, recruiters, and corporate donors. If those constituencies make recommendations to improve, they consider them and deploy new programs, courses, campuses, and experiences as soon as funds permit them to do so.
3. B-schools today pay attention to matters and skills beyond the old-fashioned case studies or the legendary finance and accounting texts. They focus more on ethics, conflicts, organization dynamics, communications, branding, teamwork, partnerships and other soft skills. They imbed these values in all aspect of instruction, even if they know they may not always do so successfully.
B-schools also prefer and encourage students to be engaged, active and collegial.
4. B-schools today have pushed hard to emphasize global business, foreign cultures, and opportunities in other economies around the world. They don't merely teach it on campus; they facilitate experiences in foreign countries: e.g., semesters abroad, spring-break trips to Tanzania or China, internships in Peru, Dubai or Indonesia, or ties to institutes on emerging markets.
5. Perhaps more than some corporate environments, b-schools are more appreciative and committed to diversity. They trip over themselves to ensure that all groups are represented, that the student body has significant representation from internationals, women, people of color, and people of many interests, career aims, and past experiences.
They know, too, diversity helps attract top students and professors and fosters creative ideas and exciting discussion about global business.
6. Today, students have different long-term career strategies. Most know it's no longer about the 15-20-year climb up the corporate ladder. Long ago, an MBA graduate might happily join a Fortune 500 firm as a financial analyst and happily take each step up the rung that gets him or her closer to the CFO's office.
Students now know they can't rely on that kind of career plan, even if they want it. That Fortune 500 firm today will likely reinvent itself many times in the next decade, because of mergers, new products, acquisitions, expansions, or (sorry to say) bankruptcy, restructuring, or product obsolescence.
Today, students know they must focus on long-term networks, contacts, transitions, preparing for changes and downturns, reinventing themselves or ensuring the learning curve maintains a positive slope.
Similarities? Some things, however, haven't changed or may not ever.
1. Accounting, finance, marketing, capital markets, operations research, and policy have always been mandatory core courses and--in some form or another--will continue to be so. Within the colorful, comprehensive MBA experience, b-schools understand they have to tend to the basics, the canon of business instruction.
2. Investment banks and consulting firms, years ago, were the top choices among graduates at top schools. Commercial banks, advertising firms, manufacturing and consumer-products companies followed behind. To a certain extent, they are all still popular choices.
But today there are numerous other opportunities that weren't readily apparent years ago: technology firms, Internet start-up companies, entrepreneurship, hedge funds, venture capital, private equity, non-profits, and whatever might be the next new thing. Students today won't hesitate to look beyond the traditional.
3. In the 1980's through the mid-2000's, compensation was king. Compenation packages counted for much, drove recruiting or attracted students who wouldn't otherwise have headed in that direction. Many headed to investment banking, not because they adored corporate finance, but because of sign-on bonuses and promises of big first-year payouts.
Compensation still counts for much, because MBA students look for a return on their school investment. However, most now add another important variable: work-life balance. If the balance doesn't make sense, then the compensation might not matter.
4. The media years ago always described MBA students as "conceited" or "entitled" or filled with unusual expecations. The media (including blogs, books, and online sites) still offer the same descriptions.
As they did years ago, that might result from students who, having worked in a suffocating, sometimes overwhelming academic environment, want to apply what they have learned and see a pay-off from their efforts.
Unlike years ago, however, many students don't necessarily harbor visions of becoming a Fortune 1000 CEO in five years. Many aspire to get experience and then consider venturing out to do their own thing in their own ways.
Nothing wrong with that.
Tracy Williams

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