High Satisfaction

Strategic efforts earn the Career Management Center its best employment results yet

From the Spring 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Business

Read McNamara
Read McNamara

Last year, it was the end of March before full-time job offers for the Class of 2014 approached 72 percent. This year? In January, 72 percent of the Class of 2015 already had offers.

It’s expected that by 90 days after Commencement, 90 percent of graduates will have full-time job offers, making this the third consecutive year Owen hit that mark.

While members of the Owen School’s Career Management Center are quick to credit an improved job market and employer optimism, they also acknowledge that the CMC’s strategy of sharpened focus on employers and student coaching is paying off.

“We’re in our third year of what I would call a bull market,” says Read McNamara, managing director of the CMC and corporate affairs. “What’s changed radically from when I came here in 2010 is a greater confidence in the economy. I think we’re now at a point where firms are finally confident enough to build back to their prior numbers in terms of strength and size of the workforce.”

“We’re in our third year of what I’d call a bull market.”

Add to that the quality and stability of the veteran CMC staff, and employer and student satisfaction levels rise. “Being able to attract staff who have succeeded in the corporate world gives them tremendous credibility when they approach students as coaches,” McNamara says. “Regarding stability, career management is a business that undergoes quite a bit of turnover and attrition. There’s a lot of poaching in this field—especially when you get into the top 20-30 schools—so I pinch myself every morning. I am blessed to have one of the best staffs in the business.”

McNamara and Emily Anderson, MBA’99, director of operations and coaching, also point to the quality of Vanderbilt students and the relationships CMC staff have with them. “The size of our student body allows us to know them and to track them over time,” Anderson says. Those personal relationships aid the staff in helping the students identify and prepare for what paths they want to pursue.

“We get a wide variety of backgrounds. Students have a varying degree of knowledge of what a business career path is. We try to help them figure out—based on their experience, their skills, their interest areas—what might be possible avenues for them and to understand the longer term career progression,” she says.

Student prep

In addition to helping students discover their focus, Anderson and the coaching staff work on preparing students for successful internships and interviews. “You can have a good market, but students still have to go execute,” she says. “They have to know what they want to do and then they have to be able to present themselves to the employer base in a way that makes their candidacy compelling. We work on that a lot.”

In January 2015, 72 percent of the Class of 2015 already had offers.

Job Fair
Students and recruiters value CMC programs like this career fair.

Anderson says that they coach the students to understand what employers want and how to judge whether the organization’s cultural fit is right. “Is teamwork very important to that employer or is it pure horsepower and raw knowledge they want? If so, how do you go into an interview knowing how to perform in that environment?” Anderson says. “Employers take recruiting seriously and they look for candidates that match their qualities. Sometimes it’s circumstances, sometimes it’s a cultural fit.”

The coaches and students do similar preparation for internships. Anderson says that all internships have a defined project or role over 10-12 weeks. “That allows employers to see how the students communicate, use teamwork or work independently,” Anderson says. For many employers, the goal of these internships is to convert the internships to full-time offers. In 2014, 53 percent of internships converted to offers—up sharply from less than 30 percent in 2010.

High satisfaction

McNamara’s role includes engaging employers and recruiting new corporate partners. “We’ve been able over the past five years to build up a constellation of reliable, consistent employers who are here in good times and bad, looking to not only hire a number of interns but to extend multiple full-time offers,” he says. Five years ago, only two companies hired three or more students. In 2014, six companies hired three or more, with Amazon hiring 12.

Emily Anderson
Emily Anderson

“We serve two customer bases—No. 1, the students, and No.2, the employers. We’re fortunate enough to have performance metrics for both those universes that allow us to objectively gauge and assess how we are doing,” McNamara says. “I’m very proud that we have had four consecutive years of steadily improving student satisfaction—an important measure which is now at an all-time high. Given the quality and quantity of employers who come on campus now, I am confident that we are meeting the talent acquisition needs of our employer base as well.”

That satisfaction isn’t just with new hires. Employers continue to report high satisfaction with retention and success of Vanderbilt alumni within their organizations.

“You know one of the most gratifying things for me is to hear Geoff Walker [MBA’94 and executive vice president of global brands] at Mattel saying, ‘We did a study of retention and success, and Owen came out on top in terms of the MBA talent we recruited,’” McNamara says. “DaVita, another key employer of ours, said ‘Read, we went back years and looked at retention and progression of career, and Owen came out No. 1.’ When I see tangible, concrete evidence of the success of our students at premiere employers—when I’m not shown platitudes but the hard, concrete numbers of how well our graduates have done in their company—that is very gratifying.”

What’s ahead?

Sustaining that excellence is a top goal for the CMC. “When you get offers and acceptances above 90 percent at 90 days after Commencement, there’s not too much room to improve on those performance metrics,” McNamara says. “If we can continue to operate at the kind of level we are now in those performance metrics while advancing our average salary and bonus numbers, through good markets and bad markets, we would have good reason to be pleased.”

But the CMC does have another future goal. “Right now we have outstanding relationships with a number of firms who recruit on campus and who will provide us with a speaker for a club or participate in our Distinguished Speaker series, as well as companies who will sponsor case competitions. What we do not have are those comprehensive, all-encompassing company relationships that run the gamut from on-campus recruiting all the way to an executive-in-residence,” McNamara says.

“The dean and I have discussed that a top priority for me and the Career Management Center will be to play the pivotal role in developing strategic partnerships with key employers, the kind of relationships, for example, that the Sloan School at MIT has had for 50-60 years with General Motors,” he says. Such strategic relationships can pay off for schools in sponsored research, corporate advisory board members and named research centers.

“If we sustain the level of excellence we have achieved in the key performance metrics we employ and we form those key relationships, I think the future of Owen looks very bright,” McNamara says.