Career Boosters: Professional Development Programs for Students

While a career center can offer students pointers on crafting résumés and acing interviews, students might benefit even more from classroom experiences that show them what life will be like in the working world.
Career Boosters: Professional Development Programs for Students

HOW CAN BUSINESS SCHOOLS give students an edge in their job searches? Here, we share career development ideas that five business schools submitted to AACSB International’s “Innovations That Inspire” initiative. These innovations boil down to five recommendations that can give students’ careers an immense boost well before graduation day.

PROVIDE STUDENTS WITH A GLIMPSE OF THE EXECUTIVE LIFE.

At the Auckland University of Technology Business School in New Zealand, business students learn about the life of an executive through the one-day Shadow a Leader program. For the annual event, the school creates three-person teams consisting of a local business leader, a high school student, and an AUT business student who is either a post-grad or in the final year of undergraduate study.

After the teams assemble at the business school for breakfast, the students spend the rest of the day following their executives. They accompany the business leaders to marketing and finance meetings, client negotiations, staff presentations, and factory tours. The older students are charged with guiding their high school teammates and sharing their expertise.

Shadow a Leader allows AUT to achieve multiple goals, say school representatives. It doesn’t just help AUT strengthen its ties with business and industry stakeholders, it also allows the school to develop relationships with elite high school students. When the event was launched in 2012, only four teams participated; in 2016, 75 teams competed, including high school students from nearly 40 Auckland schools. Administrators followed up with promising high school students to offer campus tours and information about studying at AUT Business.

But perhaps most important, Shadow a Leader enables business students to develop business contacts and create networking opportunities. Before the event, the school runs a workshop to coach students on how to network and how to prepare their CVs, which are used to match students with business leaders. In the workshop, students also learn how to communicate professionally, use LinkedIn, and set up business cards.

Using these skills, students are encouraged to stay in touch with their business leaders after the event. Many students have netted scholarships, internships, and job offers after participating in the program. Not only do they gain insights into their potential career paths but, as one student noted, they see firsthand “what makes a great leader.”

For more information on the program, visit www.aut.ac.nz/study-at-aut/study-areas/business/for-business/shadow-a-leader.

DESIGN ACTIVITIES THAT HELP STUDENTS AND EXECUTIVES GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER.

Both students and corporations are looking to make the right match, and that’s most likely to happen if they see each other operating outside an interview room. To help students and employers get acquainted, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy in Bangkok, Thailand, has created Sports Day. At the one-day event, second- to fourth-year students join in recreational activities with managers, partners, and HR staffs from the Big Four audit firms of Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG, and PwC.

Participants are split into four teams consisting of students, faculty from the business school, and staff members from each firm. In the morning, they all join in team-building activities; after lunch, they attend an opening ceremony before participating in parades and games. In the evening, everyone eats dinner together; then, each team puts on a stage performance.

The day is largely organized by Big Four staff and student representatives called Ambassadors. Students who want to become Ambassadors submit applications to one of the four firms; each company auditions about 20 students, eventually choosing ten. These Ambassadors work with the firms on every aspect of Sports Day, including schedule, location, facility, catering, recreational activities, and performances. As they interact with company representatives, Ambassadors get a chance to showcase their abilities, express their ideas, and learn more about the companies. Ambassadors and finalists automatically get internships with their selected firms; other students can also apply for internships through normal channels.

While students benefit the most from Sports Day, faculty also use the event to network with Big Four executives and exchange ideas about the program and the profession. The event also strengthens relations between the school and the Big Four firms, who are major employers of Chulalongkorn’s graduates—and who are even more likely to hire these graduates after spending time with them during Sports Day.

THE DYNAMICS OF THE SIMULATION REQUIRE STUDENTS TO TRANSLATE STRATEGY INTO RESULTS, WORK IN TEAMS, SHARE WORKLOADS IN A HIGH-PRESSURE ENVIRONMENT, AND MODEL THEIR LEADERSHIP VALUES.

 

LET STUDENTS PRETEND TO BE CEOS.
What’s it like to be a C-level executive? At IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, MBA students find out through the Executive Management Simulation Course (EXSIM), which combines a software-based business game with role-playing exercises on stakeholder management.

To help MBA students practice all the applied knowledge they have acquired in the classroom, the weeklong business simulation covers the full range of executive responsibilities: finance, strategic decision-making, marketing and sales, and operations and supply chain management. Participants act as members of the company’s executive committee to execute strategy while they compete against companies run by fellow classmates in a distributed simulation context. The dynamics of the simulation require students to translate strategy into results, work in teams, share workloads in a high-pressure environment, and model their leadership values.

In addition to the simulation, the course adds a face-to-face learning component in which students must manage key stakeholders such as the board of directors, the bank, and the president of the unions. These roles are filled respectively by IESE professors, risk management professionals from local financial services companies, and staff from local unions. During these face-to-face activities, students must debate strategy with their board members and agree on the dividends policy; work with the bankers to determine the financing conditions of short- and long-term loans; and discuss labor issues with the union representative.

EXSIM is designed to force students to grow in four different dimensions. First, it exposes them to tensions between various constituents and shows them how company strategy affects different departments. Second, it requires them to take concrete actions in areas such as staffing and setting a budget. Third, it encourages them to make prudent decisions by placing them in complex, volatile environments where they must manage risks based on incomplete information. Finally, it helps them appreciate teamwork because it places them in a high-stress environment where central planning is impossible.

While EXSIM is challenging, course evaluations have been consistently high. In fact, students often list the course as the best learning experience in the entire MBA program.

ALLOW STUDENTS TO “TRY ON” POSSIBLE JOBS.

Undergraduates don’t always understand the possible careers open to them—or what their lives would be like if they pursued those careers. Last fall, the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, launched a program called Career Fitting Rooms, designed to help students determine if their skills and personalities suit the professions they want to pursue.

Through the Fitting Room program, each academic discipline in the Strome College can invite up to six recent alumni who have been employed in their fields for one to five years. Fitting Rooms are held during the university’s scheduled Activity Period, and lunch is provided for students and guests. The alumni in each Fitting Room give quick overviews of their jobs, describing what they like and don’t like about their roles, as well as the personality characteristics that tend to be good fits. The alums also outline the various paths that are available within their fields and take time to have one-on-one conversations with interested students.

A total of seven Fitting Rooms were held in the fall of 2015, when the program launched. Between 20 and 25 students attended each one.

While the Fitting Room was designed to help students, particularly freshmen and sophomores, determine their best paths forward, the program also provides the college with an excellent way to connect with alumni. Since the program launched, several alumni have requested more opportunities to become actively involved with other student-centered initiatives, and four have joined the college’s Executive Mentor Program.

ASK STUDENTS TO INTERVIEW PRACTITIONERS.

At Kingston University’s Kingston Business School in the United Kingdom, undergraduates learn about the field of marketing through a program called Employer Insights, in which students film interviews with practitioners and share the films with their classmates. Teams of five marketing students conduct the interviews, in which they ask practitioners about current developments in marketing communications and request advice on how to seek employment in the field. The program is expected to be particularly helpful to first-generation college students who do not have friends and family members in business who can share their own experiences.

Before the student teams conduct their interviews, they develop discussion guides for their visits and consider the types of questions that would be most appropriate to ask. Students also attend a session with a representative from the university’s career team, who comes to the classroom to discuss professional etiquette in both email and in-person communications.

Students film the interviews on their mobile devices or borrowed equipment, then edit the films down to ten minutes. The recordings are posted on a private section of YouTube; they’re also shown in class. Each team leads a discussion that dissects the highlights of the interview, particularly focusing on the career advice shared by practitioners.

To judge how helpful Employer Insights could be, Kingston collected quantitative data before and after the program was implemented in 2014. Beforehand, just 16 percent of students claimed to be confident in their knowledge about jobs in marketing; afterward, the number rose to 55 percent. Comments were also generally positive, as students noted that the exercise helped them make the connection between coursework and the real world, while allowing them to envision themselves in professional settings. Employer Insights also has received a UK Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship award.

To read ideas from all of the business schools that were chosen as one of AACSB’s “Innovations That Inspire,” visit www.aacsb.edu/innovations-that-inspire.

While a career center can offer students pointers on crafting résumés and acing interviews, students might benefit even more from classroom experiences that show them what life will be like in the working world.