Future Focused

Today’s business schools use coaching, mentoring, and other professional development programs to ready students for the workplace.

Future Focused

A CLEAR PATH TO SUCCESS

By Brent Fritzemeier

Kansas State offers students a suite of career development programs.

IF COLLEGE STUDENTS are going to land their dream jobs after they graduate, they must plan what classes to take, what extracurricular activities to join, and what internships to pursue—and they often need guidance in making those plans. At Kansas State University’s College of Business Administration, we have developed a suite of career development programs to help students navigate those choices from their first days on campus. We maintain a strong partnership with the career development staff, professional advising staff, and faculty to create a clear path for student success that takes a lot of the guesswork out of career preparation.

“When students start these programs the moment they walk onto campus, it really makes a difference in changing their mindsets for the long haul, because they now have an end-to-end mentality that cuts across all four years of their collegiate careers,” says Kevin Gwinner, Edgerley Family Dean of the College of Business Administration. “It helps students set a precedent for lifelong learning, while emphasizing the importance of professional skills and networking throughout their careers.”

The career development program has three distinct components: Professional Advantage Certification, Executive Mentoring, and Career Coaching. The three components work together to assure that students are ready to transition from classroom to office.

Professional Certification, Step 1

K-State business students are first exposed to career development programming through Professional Advantage Certification, which is composed of two steps and 15 requirements typically completed within a student’s first two years. Professional Advantage sessions are led by career development staff, but they also involve collaboration with key partners, including the K-State Career Center and company representatives. This ensures consistency in content while facilitating interactions between students and the companies interested in hiring them.

Step 1 of the Professional Advantage Certification is an assignment within our Business Foundations course, so it is a requirement for all business students. It includes a series of events and commitments:

Professional Advantage kickoff event. Best-selling author and international speaker Patrick Combs has set the tone for the past few years by delivering his lecture “Major in Success.” Combs is a great storyteller whose message resonates with students as he emphasizes that they should make the most of their academic opportunities while seeking a path that leads to both success and happiness.

CareerLeader Assessment. Students take this career assessment created by former career development leaders at Harvard Business School to understand their interests, motivations, and skills, as well as to identify jobs that fit their unique abilities. They’re encouraged to use this information in discussions with academic advisors as they consider majors and courses, or when they’re seeking advice from coaches and others about their future career options.

Three specialized workshops. These workshops include one on professionalism, in which students learn about having integrity, delivering on promises, dressing professionally, and communicating properly; one on résumé development, in which they plan experiences that will allow them to build exceptional résumés; and one on effective networking.

Elective College of Business event. Students can choose from a variety of workshops, lectures, or other career- related activities to complete this requirement.

Professional Certification, Step 2 

During their sophomore years, students are encouraged to complete Step 2 of Professional Advantage Certification. While Step 1 is mandatory, Step 2 is optional because we wanted to give high-achieving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves. Nonetheless, students receive encouragement to participate from faculty and academic advisors, as well as career development staff. To complete Step 2, they attend workshops and informational sessions on a variety of topics:

Cultivating relationships. Students learn about the college’s Executive Mentor program, which gives them the opportunity to forge lifelong connections with highly experienced executives.

Preparing for the job search. In this workshop, students learn how to search for internships and jobs and how to make the most of fairs and recruitment activities.

Writing resumes. In a session with a career development professional, students receive one-on-one feedback about their resumes.

Interviewing. Students learn how to prepare for an interview, how to impress a company representative, and how to follow up on interviews conducted in person, by phone, and via Skype.

During the next six to 12 months, students also attend or participate in mock interviews, consultations with career coaches, panel discussions in which experts discuss what it takes to succeed on the job, and another elective College of Business event. In addition, they are encouraged to join career-related clubs and organizations.

The career development team tracks student participation and certification status in the program. When students attend events, they register in advance through a mobile app; their IDs are scanned at the door. Students also must complete a Learning Evaluation quiz after each event and must receive a score of at least 80 percent to receive credit. Results are uploaded into a tracker database that students can access to view their progress toward certification.

When students earn their credentials, they receive their certificates as well as the choice of a gift—such as a portfolio or duffle bag—from a corporate sponsor. They also are invited to key employer network events, as well as a Major Milestone event hosted by the dean. We note the certification in the honors section of students’ transcripts, and we encourage them to list the accomplishment on their résumés and discuss it during interviews.

Even though we recommend that students complete certification by the end of their sophomore years, students can take advantage of career development programming during their final two years on campus through advanced workshops. These in-depth sessions explore the transition from school to career and bring in external speakers to cover topics such as using advanced search techniques, preparing a LinkedIn profile, evaluating job offers, communicating in the workplace, eliminating debt, and understanding investment strategies for young professionals.

Matched with Mentors

The second pillar of our career development strategy is our Executive Mentor program, established in 2012, which pairs undergraduates with professionals who will be champions for their success. Students can be matched with mentors at any point in their academic careers, even if they don’t achieve Professional Advantage Certification.

Executive Mentors are typically graduates of the K-State College of Business and have at least seven years of professional experience. Executive mentors provide oneon-one career advice, assist students in soft skill development, and provide opportunities for networking with other professionals. Currently, the program boasts more than 500 mentors.

In the past, career development personnel individually matched students with mentors, based on interests and industry preferences. However, the staff recently transitioned to an online platform called K-State College of Business Connect, which was developed through third-party vendor PeopleGrove. This platform allows mentors to create searchable profiles that students can preview so they can initiate mentoring relationships on their own. It also allows participants to determine their level of engagement with the program. Students can look for mentors with whom they can meet on a regular basis and develop a deep connection, or they can use it on a less formal basis to network with alumni on questions related to a specific path or geographic location.

Andrea Labiste Teme, a student from Paraguay who graduated in May 2017, says that getting paired with an Executive Mentor was the best thing that happened to her at K-State. “We talked about all of the opportunities available on campus, the benefits of getting involved, and what areas of my résumé could use improvement. She became more than a mentor to me. It was almost like she became my American family. She even invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving last year, and I was able to apply for a travel scholarship through the Executive Mentor program to visit her in New York.”

Generally, between ten and 15 students apply for similar travel scholarships, which are available for students whose mentors are located more than 250 miles from K-State. The money—up to US$750—can be used to cover airfare or mileage, hotel costs, and ground transportation. Our intention is for students to use the visits to strengthen relationships, shadow their mentors on the job, and build professional networks.

Connected to Coaches

Our third and most recent career development offering is provided by Career Coaches. These industry advisors leverage their extensive experience to help students determine which career path is right for them based on their skills and interests. As with mentors, students can seek out coaches at any time. During one-on-one sessions, Career Coaches help students develop a personalized action plan that includes building professional connections, seeking internships and jobs, and preparing for their careers.

Students have found that Career Coaches help them nail down the exact jobs they want to pursue. That was particularly true for Ashley Thomas, a May 2017 graduate who realized that many different kinds of jobs were open to a graduate with a finance degree. “The coaches gave me a lot of confidence as I began interviewing for jobs by doing mock interviews and giving me advice throughout the different stages of the interview process,” she says.

While K-State’s three Career Coaches now are full-time professional staff members, they all have at least ten years of industry experience; two were corporate recruiters prior to joining the career development team. They draw on their backgrounds to help students see the employer’s side of the job search process. Coaches also provide the school with a strong connection to employers. They strengthen existing partnerships between the school and corporations, and they build additional relationships that will benefit both students and the college as a whole.

When the school is engaged with employers, it has a better understanding of what it needs to do to help students succeed, notes Kurt Roberts, our executive director of career development. As these relationships grow, the school can “identify potential employers that might not have K-State as one of their priority recruiting schools and figure out how we can get those companies engaged with the college to create more opportunities for our students.”

Making Strides

Over the years, we have made a number of changes that have strengthened our career development program. For instance, the first version of Professional Advantage was very broad, included a menu of activities for students to choose from, and required them to accumulate points over their four years in college. As a result of the complexity and level of commitment, only about 15 to 20 students attained certification every year.

In the fall of 2016, we launched a redesigned Professional Advantage program with more defined career prep activities that students complete in Steps 1 and 2. During this first year, more than 700 students completed Step 1 as part of the Business Foundations course; of those students, 62 went on to achieve certification. Because of this positive result, we look for the number of certifications to increase in the coming years.

We also enhanced the entire program in fall 2016 when we launched the K-State Business Career Development app, which allows students to learn more about career development opportunities, register for workshops and events, and track their progress toward Professional Advantage Certification. The app also lets students see in advance when particular recruiters will be coming to campus, so they can be prepared to meet with reps from companies where they might like to work.

Student buy-in has been high for these career development offerings. In fact, a large portion of the funding for these programs comes from a career development fee, which was implemented only after student leaders voted for it. Students also take advantage of the many events we offer. During the 2016–17 school year, the college held more than 150 different workshops and events that each were attended by an average of 33 students. More than 500 students met with Career Coaches for initial consultations, and about 30 percent returned for additional sessions.

We believe recruiters and employers have noticed the difference in our students. For instance, K-State scored well in the employer survey category of the most recent Bloomberg business school rankings. We have also received excellent feedback from people like Natacha Buchanan, who has been recruiting at our school on behalf of Phillips 66 for more than ten years. She noted an “elevation” that has occurred in terms of student preparedness since we have implemented the career development program.

“I have seen students who are more prepared, confident, and knowledgeable about how to interact with employers, as well as about the industries they are entering,” Buchanan says.

That’s exactly how we want our students to be viewed—as prepared, confident, and knowledgeable. If we can create programs that achieve those results, we will be setting them up for lifelong success.

Brent Fritzemeier is a communications and marketing specialist at Kansas State University’s College of Business Administration in Manhattan.

COACHING TOMORROW'S LEADERS

By Frank Ghannadian and Stephanie Thomason

One-on-one coaching sessions at the University of Tampa prepare students to succeed in the business world.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY to ensure that business school graduates become leaders once they’ve entered the workforce? At the University of Tampa’s Sykes College of Business in Florida, we believe one of the keys is to provide leadership coaching for MBA students.

Workplace coaching has received a lot of positive attention lately, as new research increasingly points to its benefits. For instance, in a 2016 article in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Rebecca Jones, Stephen Woods, and Yves Guillaume conclude that workplace coaching enhances employee learning and development, whether it’s conducted virtually or face-to-face. In a 2014 article on Forbes.com, William Arruda suggests that a workplace coach will help individuals set goals, identify blind spots, learn to be accountable, acquire leadership skills, and focus on development efforts.

But students can benefit from coaching just as much as executives can. For example, a recent study found that when undergraduates receive individual coaching, they procrastinate less and do a better job of attaining their goals. That study was published by Sabine Losch, Eva Traut-Mattausch, Maximilian Mühlberger, and Eva Jonas in a 2016 issue of Frontiers in Psychology.

At the Sykes College, we have made leadership coaching one component of a broader professional development practicum within our MBA program. The practicum is a four-credit requirement for all our MBA students, and they can complete it over one or two semesters in a variety of ways, depending on their learning needs and career aspirations. They can participate in study abroad courses, complete internships, join a faculty-led research project, earn a leadership certificate, earn an SAP ERP certificate, or take a practicum course focused on career development. The study abroad courses count for between two and four credits; the rest are all two credits.

Coaching has been part of our professional development practicum for 13 years, but for fall 2016 we developed the TECO Energy Center for Leadership Certificate program, which we call Modern Advances in Leadership. To earn the Leadership Certificate, students must attend a variety of three-hour modules that cover leadership, negotiation, strategy, human resource management, team building, and entrepreneurial innovation—and they must work with one of our 100 professional coaches. We’ve found that coaching can have profound beneficial effects on students, both while they’re in school and once they’re in the workforce.

Coaching Basics

We recruit coaches primarily through our alliance with the Central Florida chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Many of our participants are professional coaches who are active members in the ICF and have been certified by that organization. But we also offer a daylong coach training program in which we share our program goals, structure, and expectations.

The coaching aspect of the leadership certificate kicks off with a Strategic Choices Workshop, which is led by two seasoned ICF coaches. Prior to attending the Strategic Choices workshop, students are expected to read material that sets out coaching expectations and to view a TED talk by Simon Sinek on the “Big Why.” We also ask students to answer their own “Big Why” by formulating statements about their overall missions and purposes in life. During the workshop, individual students stand and announce their statements to the coaches.

Next, students and coaches circulate around the room to get to know one another; we facilitate this process by providing them with biographies of the others in the group before the workshop begins. As the workshop commences, coaches indicate which students they would like to work with, and students and coaches are paired up. Most coaches are matched with one student, but they have the option of coaching two students a semester.

Students are required to meet with their coaches for about an hour three times during the semester, although many coaches stay in touch with students after their official meetings are concluded. In the rare event that a match doesn’t work out—for instance, one time a coach had a conflict and could no longer continue—we reassign students to different coaches. After each of the three formal meetings, students complete reflection papers, which they email to both the coaches and the instructor.

These papers follow the three-step DEAL Model of reflection, in which students describe the learning experience, examine this experience in light of the learning objectives, and articulate what they’ve learned. They also are asked to describe an expectation they had about coaching prior to the experience; note how the expectation applied to their coaching program; analyze the ways in which their expectations were met, not met, or exceeded; and evaluate how the experience could have been improved.

Gathering Feedback

At the end of the program, students prepare papers that integrate the content they’ve learned in the various leadership modules. They deliver these papers in the pitch room of our new Innovation and Collaboration Building to members of the board of advisors for the TECO Energy Center for Leadership.

Student feedback on the coaching component of our professional development program has been extremely positive. For instance, one student noted that his coach helped him become more proficient at public speaking, which prepared him well for when he needed to deliver presentations at his job. Another student praised her coach for helping her talk through issues and gain clarity on her goals. The experience has even inspired her to think about how she can contribute in the future. “I hope I am able to pay it forward and become a leadership coach to a student one day,” she says.

A third student appreciated his coach’s recommendation not to rush toward a new goal, but instead to celebrate his most recent achievements for a longer period of time. He was advised to view that time as an opportunity to improve work-life balance and contemplate his next goals strategically.

“My coach advised that I not limit my vision of the future to what is already visible—I should ‘not focus just on the food at the buffet, but try ordering off the menu,’” he says. “To me, this means I need to spend more time seeing what possibilities exist for my next career, not retreading old paths.”

These and similar testimonials lead us to believe that when students meet with coaches, they are stimulated to work harder and more purposefully in goal-oriented ways.

Training Leaders

We have found that—combined with lectures and exercises in leadership— our one-on-one coaching program has improved learning outcomes and job placement rates for our students. We also have found that part of the success of our coaching program stems from the fact that we have built it around a four-step process recommended by the Institute of Corporate Productivity:

  1. We establish coaching as an organizational competence by developing a purposeful, mission-driven coaching program.
  2. We use coaching to transfer knowledge by requiring students to write reflection papers.
  3. We involve executives who are passionate about coaching by working with professional ICF coaches and training local leaders as coaches.
  4. We build in accountability, capability, and measurement by having the coaches provide structured feedback to us about their experiences with students after the course wraps up.

The goal of our coaching program is to provide MBAs with the training they will need to become better leaders— which means they will ultimately run healthier organizations when they apply their new skills in the workplace.

While not all students in our MBA program take the coaching component of the professional development practicum, we believe those who do will gain lifelong skills. Going forward, we want to track the progress of our graduates to see how those who have gone through leadership coaching have fared in their careers. We’re sure they’ll go far.

Frank Ghannadian is dean of the Sykes College of Business, director of the TECO Energy Center for Leadership, and professor of finance at the University of Tampa in Florida. Ghannadian also is a member of BizEd’s advisory committee. Stephanie Thomason is associate professor of management and associate director of the TECO Center at the school.

HELPFUL LINKS

This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2017 print issue. If you have comments or feedback on its content, please contact us at bized.editors@aacsb.edu.