Amber Wigmore, Executive Director - Career Services at IE Business School, Spain
(Source: IE Business School)
With two MBA intakes in a year in April and November, Madrid's IE Business School has to grapple with facilitating job opportunities for more graduates in a year than other Spanish business schools. According to Amber Wigmore, the lady who heads the school's Career Services department, it helps to have offices in 25 countries and using virtual video links to connect students with employers. Read more in this interview with Ms Wigmore, the Executive Director of Career Services about how the job search process for international students at IE Business School is changing in the midst of the European crisis.
What is new about the post-MBA recruiting trends at IE Business School?
At our career fair on campus, 128 companies came last year. It was an incredible volume from around the world with 42% of the opportunities from outside of Spain. But there’s a lot of news in the press these days about the "career fair being dead" because business schools are finding it more and more challenging to get companies to physically visit the campus in a world of virtual recruiting. So we are now investing in a platform to do webcasts.
When we go out and meet recruiters from around the world, instead of trying to get them to come on campus at one specific time, now we’re able to do a recruiting event with them in a much more flexible format. Just a week ago, a colleague and I were in Hong Kong for a recruiting conference. We did a finance trip with students where we visited banks and finance firms in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. For financial firms, it is difficult to come on campus during one particular week in October. So now we’re going to do a webcast with them so they can launch a Graduate Management Trainee programme or an internship programme from their headquarters. We can videolink live with them and have our students participate. We have the team and the training for this technology.
Are companies also interviewing virtually?
We do have a lot of our students who use Skype for interviews. The material that we are preparing them for and a lot of our documentation is no longer about interviewing techniques only. We send them a lot of documentation on how to best handle an interview virtually. The 13-month MBA programme is very intense immediately after the students join. Immediately after they arrive, they have deadlines if they want to participate in the internships. Right from day 1, they are interviewing and it would be very difficult for them to miss classes and travel around the world to interview for internships. So, many of the internship interviews are done almost exclusively via Skype now.
Can you describe your role as the Executive Director of Career Services at IE Business School?
For nearly two years, I was the head of Career Advising team who provide one-on-one advice to students from the very beginning of the programme. Since January this year, I was made the Executive Director of the department. My function is to oversee three key areas: career advising, recruiter relations and career education. That includes designing the career classes that we do for each of our programmes, CVs, cover letters, salary negotiation, mock interviews, personal branding and how to get on the radar screen of a head hunter. I oversee three key directors who are responsible for those main areas.
What does a typical job search look like for the MBA and Masters in Management programmes at IE Business School?
We have a very robust Career Services offering very similar services for MBA as well as Masters in Management students. We have a saying in the world of Career Services that if you wait until companies arrive on campus, it’s too late. So we have a career pre-programme. Approximately one month before they start studying at IE, we send them something along the lines of a career portfolio. We get them working on Career Leader and self-assessment tests. Career Leader is a company founded by Dr Jim Walter who was Director of Career Services at Harvard Business School for nearly 20 years. He developed self-assessment tools for HBS students and discovered that this would be useful for business school students worldwide. We’ve been using it for years and it really helps our students to gain focus, to see where they get a score on their best career paths, what are the best work environments for them, what are their motivators. It helps them get focused. This is what they should be doing even before they arrive.
Then they work on identifying potential career opportunities. A lot of it is in their court. They should be really doing the research to prepare themselves. We provide them with all the tools so that they become their own strategic career managers. No matter how good your career advisor is, you should never leave your career in the hands of somebody else. We’re providing them with skills and techniques that they’re going to carry with them throughout their entire lifetime, long after they graduate from IE.
We have them doing their CVs, cover letters and a career marketing plan. So once they come on campus, they can start to concentrate more on the academic content because they are immediately going to be overloaded on the academic side or their core programme. They come on campus and I’m at the official opening ceremony on behalf of Career Services. Right in the beginning of the programme, they have an introduction at the Career Management Centre session with their point-of-contact at the Career Management Centre. All students who receive Career Services are assigned to a key person at the Career Management Centre. Then they have one 60-minute appointment with their careers point-of-contact to ensure that they have their career portfolio documentation in order, their CVs and cover letters are all set. So right from the beginning, they can start applying to internships.
Once they’ve had a 60-minute meeting with the assigned point of contact, they’re welcome to have a 30-minute focussed appointment with another member of the Career Management Centre team who might be more specialised in the sector or area of their interest. Then they have unlimited drop-in sessions that they can participate in. We post ourselves on the IE Career portal so they can see every member of the team, what their specialisations are and drop in for brief 10-minute appointments. Somebody who is applying for international organisations can come in and see if their application for the UN is in order and the person here who specialises is the one who advises the students in that area and is also the person who is handling recruiting for those organisations.
In addition to that, we have a course called Career Strategy. For the MBA programme, we have 15 sessions on business etiquette, CV writing, cover letter writing, speed networking, managing your career transitions, networking, piloting your career, career design and job hunting, interview skills, mock interviews, negotiating an offer and then we talk to them about the IE job bank which we give them access to, 3 months prior to graduation and all the services we provide to alumni lifelong.
We are active members of the MBA Career Services Council and the MBA Career Services Working Professionals Alliance which is an alliance of the top 32 business schools recognised in providing outstanding career services to alumni and executive students. Within that, we’re considered amongst the top and pioneers in international recruiting.
Last year, I was selected along with my counterpart from Kellogg-Northwestern, to present at the annual conference on Best Practices in International Recruiting. With 42% of our recruiting happening outside Spain, that is a very high volume. In addition to the mandatory career sessions that students have, we also organise different career drives, voluntary sessions on personal branding where we bring in gurus from different parts of the world. We always tell students to be active and participate in alumni events.
Something unique about IE is that right from day one we encourage our students to go to alumni events. Even if it’s not a careers event per se, if you’re interested in working for that company and the director of supply chain is coming, come to the event and introduce yourself. The next day, you can send a targeted cover letter.
This is an overview on top of the IE job bank that students have access to which is a lifelong service, calls for applications that we are sending right from day 1. Then we also do the CV book which is a collection of CVs that we use as a marketing tool when we go out to pitch to recruiters.
What are some of these best practices that you’ve been using for international post-MBA recruiting?
I can tell you that one of our major competitive advantages is our incredible international network of 25 offices around the world. We have this tremendous footprint and their main mission is to help with admissions for IE programmes. But because of their local market knowledge and relations with our alumni in those regions, they almost act as a back office for our Career Management Centre. I can tell you that of all the offices, six are a lot more geared towards Career Services, one of which is the office in India.
Any opportunities they become aware of, they centralise it through us. They are getting those companies they meet with to come to our annual career fair. In addition to that, last year we brought more than 75 companies to do on-campus recruiting and corporate presentations at different points during the year. This year, we expect to see even more of that with the webcast that I mentioned earlier. It’s these relations that we have in different markets that are contributing to us gaining more international opportunities for our students.
We recently named a Careers Director of the India office and it is the first office of the 25 to have a Careers Director. I am working closely with him there. He is generating recruitment opportunities and centralising them through the IE job bank. And there is a special monthly bulletin he sends to IE alumni residing in India where he is making sure that they are aware of all our initiatives in Careers and if they have any recruiting needs, they let him know. He makes sure he has all their information by reaching out to their companies.
He is also doing a lot of outreach to HR associations, executive search firms, etc. The other offices have strong career management focus are the ones in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Dubai and Singapore, which also covers Hong Kong and Taiwan.
That is one of the best practices. One another thing I am doing is alignment with other areas in IE. I’m doing a lot of speaking engagements with different departments and also getting faculty collaboration. Instead of faculty learning of opportunities and announcing it to their classes, we have them centralise it through the Career Management Centre as well.
What is a day at work like for a Career Services Director at one of these offices?
Well India is the only place where we have an official Careers Director. A heavy component in his day is recruiter relations and business development – going after companies and making them aware of IE and pitch the talent of all the different programmes and profiles we have, starting with the IE university fresh graduates to pre-experienced Masters in Management to our full-time MBA students and finally our executive programmes. He also takes into account where our Indian alumni would like to work.
It’s not a placement agency. He is generating opportunities that we are posting in our job bank. He is informing the Indian alumni about that to encourage them to apply to these opportunities. At the same time, he’s been through Careers Training like CV writing, cover letter writing, etc. When alumni approach him and are looking for more local market expertise when it comes to their career portfolio documentation, he’s prepared for that as well. Again, he would also go to industry events such as finance conference, HR conference and really get the word out there about IE’s presence in India.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about the Career Services department among IE students?
The most misunderstood thing is that we are going to place them, that on their graduation we’re going to say, Congratulations, here’s your diploma and here’s your job. It’s not about that. It’s about providing them with the tools and resources, providing them with a very robust career education. Then it’s up to them to perform well in the interview, to prepare themselves well, to write strong cover letters, to do an internship to help lay the groundwork if they’re interested in a career change. Our number one mission is improving their employability. That’s our mission. However it’s up to them to secure that opportunity.
This is a misunderstanding that happens in Career Services across the world and in the world of Career Services, we talk about it. We also talk about the ‘P’ word – placement. This word is strictly prohibited. You don’t hear the word in our circle of the top 32 business schools. We don’t discuss that. We talk about how to provide tools to students and how they become their own strategic career managers.
How has the work of Career Services changed through worsening economies since 2008?
It’s interesting because we do work slightly in parallel with our international offices. If you look at the growth of their offices, such as the two most recent offices in Australia and Turkey where there’s growth and interest in recruiting more students, we’re leveraging that presence to tap into that market in terms of generating opportunities there for our students. Perhaps Turkey and Australia aren’t the number one destination for our students but it’s also a matter of educating them and organising what we call Career Drives for telling them about opportunities in these regions. We recently did one in Colombia where we brought in an executive search firm that specialised in Colombia. They talked about what they are doing there. Colombia is not a typical destination but we are educating students that there are more difficult times and visa issues in Western Europe currently compared to Latin America, Singapore, Dubai etc. We don’t provide students with visa services but we provide them with information on firms that do.
From day one, they have a listing of all our careers collaborators and providers on the IE careers portal. This includes an excellent resource called Going Global. In this, there are series of country career guides. Each of these guides includes visa information, CV tips, cover letter tips, interviewing tips, a list of the top online job sites, a list of the executive search firms in those countries. So we’re guiding them or orienting them in the right direction. We do definitely take into account the economies and the labour market. We are trying to offset that by guiding them to other markets where we foresee that there could be opportunities.
Have you been finding students with unrealistic expectations at these times and have you been trying to correct them?
Yes. I think the most unrealistic expectations lie around the visa issue. I think students coming from the US or Asia and expecting that it’s going to be a lot easier to get a visa because they’re studying here is not the situation. What I’m starting to do is to go to IE admissions Information Sessions in various parts of the world to ensure that the message is clear that our students’ expectations are managed from the very beginning. Members of the team participate in admissions events, virtual days, open day sessions because the questions in these events are all about careers. So I like to have somebody on-hand to guide them properly so they’re not getting into this with any erroneous ideas about what to expect.
Do you also participate in the admissions process?
We do in the sense that we’re participating in the events like speed networking events, virtual days, open days. From time to time, Admissions will consult us on certain profiles so we are very much aware but we don’t sit on the Admissions Committee. We participate in those events just to educate students before they commit to the school. They’re asking us to participate more and more in these events because I believe in the past the actual content was a lot about the programme and life in Madrid. Now it’s all about careers. So it’s very important that someone from my team is there either to give a presentation or answer questions. I frequently do a virtual Q&A sessions on specific programmes. We do speed networking where they go around and meet everyone on the Career Management team just to ensure that there are no outstanding doubts or anything unclear about careers.
What are the top questions that you get at such events and how do you answer them?
If they are in a certain region, they will ask about their opportunities to work in the US or Europe after graduation. They ask about internship opportunities and career changes.
For those looking for information on where our students have secured opportunities from previous intakes, we have our placement report which we publish on the web. So in each section (IMBA or Masters in Management), we have a detailed report. Without getting into too many details, I refer them to the placement report for that.
For internship opportunities, I tell them that the internship programme is a part of the IMBA Programme Management. For example, IMBA Programme Management organises the IMBA in Practice which is the internship because they get academic credit for it. However, even though it’s organised by programme management, we are very involved from the beginning. At the information session, we will have somebody from Careers to have slides about the best resources for looking for an internship. Then we are more involved in the sense that once they have secured the internship and have been granted the go-ahead, they’ve now formalised the IMBA in Practice. It’s a pre-workshop class where I talk to students about converting the internship into full-time employment. Because now one of the major trends in Career Services is that multinationals are no longer doing a separate process for internships and a separate process for full-time. For example, Johnson & Johnson are looking to hire full-time from their pool of internship candidates. So when I go to Career Services conferences and there are recruiters there, we have discussions on how to convert interns into full-time employees. That is what I talk about in my session to those who are about to go away. The golden tip is to perhaps be successful in the internship and how to convert it into a full-time employment.
In terms of career change, it depends what I talk to them about. If it’s functional change, they’re considering going back to the same company. We talk about industry change and leverage relationships and all about networking from day one. If it’s geographical change, we talk about visa implications and the internship is a great way to lay the groundwork for a career change and also getting involved in the IE community as a whole. Students who come in with an interest for a career in finance but they don’t have any experience in finance, I encourage them to join the IE Finance Club. If they’re interested in consulting, join the Consulting Club. So on your resume, it already shows an active passion for the area they are looking to enter.
You mentioned that sometimes the Admissions team asks for your advice on certain profiles from their applicant pool. How do you respond?
It happens for very specialised programmes. Maybe somebody might be really out of the box for the average profile. So maybe that’s when they come to me. When you look at a careers perspective, we look at two factors. I look at employability of that student upon graduation because when we go to a recruiter, they always look for a certain critical mass when we present candidates. When they come to your school, they want you to present at least 20 solid candidates for that role. So we look to make sure that this candidate wouldn’t cause a red flag to go up. A recruiter would look at such specialised Master and see that these candidates more or less fit with the profile but this one is out of the box. Whenever there’s doubt about that candidate’s employability, you look at that candidate’s capability at networking because it is critical these days. If you think of MBA opportunities out there, on an average for every MBA vacancy, you will have at least 300 applicants of which 10-11 of them are equally as qualified if not more qualified than you. It’s really important to work with the students and get them to stand out from the rest. You need them to network, to get them to start sending out cover letters to recruiters.
With the Eurozone crisis, which new geographies are students finding jobs in?
We have such a tremendous diversity of profiles and students coming from more than 80 countries and alumni working in more than a 100 countries. They are going everywhere. This year, I just came back from a recruiting conference in Hong Kong and there’s a lot of talk about opportunities in Philippines. In the recent past, we’ve had more than an average number of opportunities in Nigeria. We are approached by a lot of recruiters because they know of the tremendous international profiles here. I could literally name maybe 50 different countries where our students are going. We do have quite a lot of geographic mobility amongst our students. They don’t necessarily go back to their own countries.
Apart from virtual recruitment, how else is the job search process after MBA changing?
I would say that one of the biggest trends around recruiting is around LinkedIn. There’s a statistic that 80% of employers will look at your LinkedIn profile before they call you for an interview. So one of the things we have students do that at the very top of their CVs, in addition to their contact information and email address, we have them put their public URL of their LinkedIn profile. There is an active Career Services professionals group on LinkedIn so we are abreast of what’s going on there. There’s a new, powerful tool called LinkedIn.com/alumni. This is for seeing more activity there and more powerful search filters for students to identify IE alumni that could help them open doors to certain companies.