Careers Services Update

Harbus met with the triumvirate in charge of careers at HBS – Tim Butler, Jana Kierstead and Ron Peracchio – to get an update on the recruiting state of play so far this year. The word in the tunnels is that the prospects this year for both RC and EC are relatively grim, with students scrambling for jobs, and many still without offers. Although the Careers Team did not have much hard data available, the outlook, they say, is far from bleak.

Give me a job – even if it’s Nasty, Brutish and Short.
Rumors have been circulating that the labor market is so tight that graduating MBAs are even considering normal jobs, i.e. the ones where you mother doesn’t have to ask, “So, what do you actually do?” The sound of screeching brakes of the HBS New Economy Bandwagon is audible in this year’s RC curriculum, as Profs shiftily apologize for the few remaining cases that slipped through the Net, and students fete grimy-faced widget-makers.

Even consulting companies, traditionally the brown-paper-bag of employment options, are feeling loved again, with yields from their job offers approaching 100% for many firms.

The classroom nervousness has been picked up by a spate of recent Wall Street Journal articles, suggesting that companies are being more choosy over their choice of MBA hires, with Mercer and others canceling their Summer associate programs and or otherwise scaling back. Campus presentations, advertising and sponsorship budgets have also been slashed, affecting the coffers of on-campus clubs and societies. Even the Harbus is feeling the pinch, with the Editor in Chief’s company Merc being traded in for a Honda.
Don’t worry, b2b happy

The message from the Careers Service in response to these concerns is two-fold – the situation is not as bad as all that, and even if it was, HBS students are still the most attractive target market for our favorite companies.

The number of companies recruiting on campus this year has not fallen in aggregate. The Job Bank, they say, is bulging with companies, with more being added every day.

Of the Treks, a bell-weather for company interest, only WesTrek had fewer companies than last year – other Treks sprung up, connecting students and potential employers in new geographic areas and sectors.

Self-doubt is not normally an affliction suffered by HBS students, and the careers service see no need to start now. Traditionally one of the biggest challenges faxed by the Careers service is that last year approximately 50% of companies left campus having failed to bag even one HBS grad.
One rule for us, another for them?

Over the last couple of years the Careers Service has made progress in keeping errant students on the right track to improve employer satisfaction. A number of firms stopped recruiting at Stanford as a result of the dismal attendance record of interviewees. A few years ago HBS also had a lousy record, so the Careers Service introduced strict penalties for missed interviews, along the lines of `two strikes and you’re out’. The exact punishment meted out is a somewhat vague `loss of recruiting privileges’, and varies on a case-by-case basis, but is sufficient to scare students who would be horrified to lose privileges.

This approach has, the trio agreed, succeeded in improving the attendance rate at interviews. Pressed on whether this will be extended wider, i.e. to include not turning up to recruiting dinners, the team said this would be unworkable. Phew.
On the other side of the table, a number of students have suffered from questionable behavior by firms themselves – last minute time changes, disinterested interviewers and exploding or disappearing offers. This behavior, I was assured, is not tolerated with bans from on-campus recruiting maintained as a credible threat. This was carried out recently to a misbehaving company recruiting at Harvard College.

Plans for the future
The team identified three main priority areas where they were working to improve their service to students, the school and potential employers.

First, is the use of technology in new and innovative ways. The Careers Service has invested a lot of time and effort in a new, automated, Internet-based system, which will be `push’ rather than `pull’. Currently undergoing beta-testing, the new technology is slated for full introduction after the Summer, and will allow students to control their individual career-interest profile, and will automatically receive email updates of new job listings, and relevant news items.

Secondly, they are trying to come up with ways to better manage the information overload. As just one example, trees, employers and students all lose out in the current mail-box stuffing followed by trash-can stuffing cycle of flyers in our mailboxes. To ensure that the right information finds the right people at the right time is one of the primary challenges that Jana Kierstead.

Thirdly, in response to the tremendous interest in career counseling, the Careers team is looking to increase capacity for one-to-one counseling. I suggested that one of the problems with the Careers counseling system, was that you get a different person every time you come into contact with the Careers service, and there is no institutional memory. They responded that although it had been suggested to assign students to staff mentors who will get to know them better, there no immediate plans to move towards such a system, primarily due to resource constraints.

The most effective way that changes get transmitted to the Careers Service is through the SA polls – each year Careers are placed as one of the highest priority items. This is, they say, invaluable in their discussions with the rest of the school, and though HBS grads do not have a lot to worry about, not worth neglecting.