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Tough Times? Call Your B-School Counselor

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Post Tough Times? Call Your B-School Counselor - July 7th, 2008

As the economy goes sour, alumni are reconnecting with career services offices. Here's how counselors' expertise can help

Has your high-paying finance job just evaporated? It may be time to go back to school—not to take classes, but to check in with the career counseling office. Free career services for life are a perk for most MBA graduates. And while most MBAs may not need them, in an economic downturn like the one we're facing, they're a valuable resource.

Career services offices, which are reporting an increase in calls from alumni, are ramping up their offerings for MBAs. "There will be a demand stepping up for these kinds of services and to a certain level we have a feeling of confidence," says Tom Kozicki, executive director of the career center at UC Irvine's Merage School of Business and board president of the MBA Career Services Council, the umbrella organization for MBA career services offices. "Having someone that you can sit down with objectively in order to get some good advice and honest feedback is important."

There are many ways an MBA career center can help in an economic downturn. Jobless alums can polish a résumé, connect with hiring managers, attend networking events, or simply get a needed confidence boost. Recently, USC Marshall invited alumni to participate in a job fair that was traditionally reserved for current students, in order to cope with the downturn. The staff at Duke's Fuqua is working on getting their alumni a reduced rate at a career consultancy in order to help them manage careers after they are out of school and globally dispersed, says Sheryle Dirks, Fuqua's career management director.

Here are some other ways career centers are helping graduates:

Consultations "When you are laid off, you're in shock, it may be the first time in your career that it's happened to you," says Scott Turner, the associate director at the Keenan MBA career resource center at Marshall. He advises MBAs who are out of work to turn to the professionals at their alma mater as a resource. After losing a job, a consultation with a member of the business school's career management team can help students realign their focus, Turner says.

For instance, Turner typically conducts two or three 45-minute sessions with interested alums in order to help them get back on their feet. In those sessions they can sharpen their job-hunting skills by having Turner review their résumé and practice a "branding statement," which he describes as "a 30-second elevator pitch" to help during an interview or a networking situation.

Mock Interviews While practicing interview techniques is commonplace for current B-school students as they go through recruiting, brushing up on skills and learning to remain confident after being laid off can be tough, school officials say. Thomas Monaco, the director of MBA career services at Fordham University, says recent alums should take advantage of the service, which is usually offered on an unlimited basis and is a good starting point to refresh interview skills. Monaco warns that it's not always easy for schools to respond because of the workload involved. "We've been able to manage it because it's not a very well-known service," says Monaco.

Alumni Databases Browsing through a database of employed alumni is also a good way to incorporate the career management center into a job search. Kozicki encourages students to do self-directed job searches by identifying companies and searching the database to connect with alums at the targeted companies. He adds that an alumni database is an effective method for networking and career exploration because those in the program's database have agreed to be contacted and are interested in maintaining a network. While someone at the career management center can help jump-start the search, alums have access to the databases via the Web.

Job Boards While job boards have been one of the traditional methods of finding positions for current students, they are also helpful to those who are out of school. They're most helpful for those alumni who have left school within the past few years, says Fuqua's Dirks. A number of schools are using a service that will allow cross-posting of jobs, increasing the number of postings.

Networking Events For a job-hunter, any type of face-to-face interaction is important — even if it's not job-related, explains Dirks: "The introduction may come about from something electronic, but we say that the job search is a contact sport." Dirks adds that it's important for former students to attend events hosted by their alma mater in order to have the chance to mingle. For example, Fuqua's recent event in New York attracted everyone from the newly appointed B-school dean to prospective students to alumni. Many of the 200 alumni present at the event were in the banking industry and interested in supporting one another through the economic downturn. Dirks explains these types of events are especially important to former students who work in a different city or country from where they went to school.

Personality and Career Assessment Evaluations Online personality assessment programs at most career offices help alums reconnect with their original goals and interests. "Losing a job gives you the opportunity to rethink," explains Guy Groff, who heads the career management center at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He encourages alumni to research the facets of their personality that can help them be successful in a future position. Groff says while many alums have already done career assessment as students, it is beneficial to come in and evaluate current goals.

While using a career center to help start your job search is a good move, it's also important to keep in touch and continue to build a network during periods of employment, say experts. In fact, many of the calls career centers are getting these days are from employed alums who want to help others who may be looking for work. Fuqua's Dirks says reaching out through the career management center to network before you're laid off is a good approach and urges MBAs to stay in contact through their network throughout their career: "If the only time you go to [your network] is when you actually need something, you are going to run it dry."

Source : Businessweek.com
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