Career Services Director Q&A: NYU Stern’s Beth Briggs

John Byrne - Thu, 06/16/2016 - 02:19
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An English major with a master’s degree in social work, Beth Briggs brings an array of resources to her role as senior director of the Office of Career Development at NYU’s Stern School of Business. After devoting the first portion of her career to various forms of social work, she transitioned to a more formal consulting role at Mercer, where she spent eight years, initially as a team writer but ultimately as a principal in the firm. At Mercer, she worked with a range of New York City‒based clients across industries around their human capital needs.

Coming to NYU Stern in 2008, she started initially at what has since become the school’s Office of Student Engagement, helping to run its NYC experiential learning programs, including Stern Consulting Corps, through which MBA students work with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations throughout New York City. Briggs left the Office of Student Engagement for the Office of Career Development in 2009, where today she leads the career coaching, relationship management and operations teams for full-time MBA students.

In the interview that follows, you’ll learn about recent employment trends at Stern (including an uptick in hiring by Google and Amazon), Briggs’s advice on how to jumpstart your job search process as soon as you are admitted, the benefits of the school’s collaborative nature and more.

Briggs draws on the skills and network she developed over the course of her career, both within Stern and beyond, to connect the dots for students and help them land jobs that are fulfilling and, most important to Briggs, make them happy.

Our thanks to Briggs for making time to share more about her role and the office she leads.

Clear Admit: How do you view your role as senior director of the Office of Career Development at Stern? Is it to administer workshops? Counsel students? Counsel companies? Manage the entire office and oversee its various functions? All of the above? What do you love most about it?

Beth Briggs: Definitely all of the above. I work closely with students as well as our employers to develop strategies for hiring our students. I also manage our teams in the Office of Career Development and encourage my group to connect with other teams across NYU Stern to make sure we are maximizing opportunities for our students.

I really love all of it, to be honest. I am fortunate to have a phenomenal team, the students are great and to be involved with them during this pivotal time in their lives is amazing.

CA: Now, about your team. How many career advisors do you have? Is this a relatively constant figure? If not, how has it changed in recent years? How might it change in the near future?

BB: There are about 15 members on the team, and everyone’s main priority is to support our MBA students. We have a group of coaches who come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Some have MBAs, some don’t. They come from a range of different industries and functions, and this diversity of backgrounds and styles allows us to support students with different needs.

So on one side we have our Career Coaching Team, which partners with students, and on the other side we have our Relationship Management Team, which partners with employers. We want to be constantly bridging between the two. Our Relationship Management Team is similarly organized as each relationship manager oversees a different portfolio of industries.

And then we have an Operations Team, which ties us all together and positions us to use best-in-class systems and technologies to meet our students’ and employers’ needs.

CA: Can you provide prospective applicants with an overview of the recruitment process at Stern? When does it start? How does it unfold? How has this changed in recent years, if at all?

BB: The moment you are thinking about coming to an MBA program, the recruitment process should start clicking along in your mind. We have students do their own self-assessment about what they want, what skills they bring and how Stern can help bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to go. We really encourage students to begin thinking about their goals as soon as they are admitted. We also have a series of workshops we call “Summer Sneak Peeks.” These are designed to build a longer runway for students to do that early exploration, because once they come to campus they only have a month or so before more formal recruiting gets started.

The first presentations start at the end of September or early October with companies coming to campus, but we are trying to get all students to be in the mindset of exploration and consideration from the get-go. We want our students to know how to navigate a job search both during their MBA and in the future. We also we want everyone starting from the same place of engagement—getting out there and talking to companies, one another and coaches to begin to develop their story.

Over the summer, the sneak peeks provide a way to touch base with our coaching team—and for those who are remote, we also offer webinars. Then, once students come to campus for orientation, we get really focused on facilitating conversations with alumni. Because of our New York City location, students can readily tap into the Stern alumni network.  Alums are eager and willing to meet with students to share a bit of what their own career path has been like.

We also feature a careers curriculum called Ignite, which includes a number of different workshops on networking, informational interviewing, mock interviews, cover letters, resumé development and more. Here again, we see this program as not only helping students in their MBA job search, but also serving as a foundation for their ongoing career.

CAStern has historically been a top destination for students hoping to work on Wall Street post-MBA. How has this changed since 2008? Has student interest in finance rebounded completely? What if any changes were made within the Office of Career Development as a result of the financial crisis?

BB: We have certainly seen a diversifying of interests in our incoming MBA students, but finance is still quite strong for Stern students. Because of our top-ranked finance faculty, we will always attract students interested in those roles, and we also have strong relationships with many of the investment banks that are so close to us here in downtown New York.

Having said that, we have seen a change in the number of students heading into finance. In 2008, 61 percent of the class sought finance positions, compared to 35 percent this past year. It’s a big shift, yes, but the percentage of our students heading into finance is still strong when you compare it to our peer schools.

Where we have seen that change happening the most is with students moving toward consulting. From 2008 to 2015 we saw an uptick from 14 percent to 29 percent of students securing jobs in consulting. Our Relationship Management Team has done a great job of deepening and strengthening our relationships with the top consulting firms. Our alumni have also been great advocates for students pursuing consulting careers, and our coaches have also worked to really prepare our students for consulting interviews.

The percentage of students pursuing careers in technology has also increased, growing from 3 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2015. So we certainly see that interest growing. Here, too, our alumni network has been really helpful. We have alums who are around the corner at Facebook and up the block at Google. This provides our students with lots of access. There are also lots of alumni running incubators and startups. Stern is a very collaborative community, and we all share information about the kinds of opportunities that might be available to our students.

CA: How does your team counsel students regarding the interview? Is there a formal mock interview process? How are interview schedules administered? Is there an established policy regarding how closed and open interviews should be conducted? What facilities are available for interviews?

BB: Each student is required to go through two practice interviews as part of Ignite. Every first-year student will have a behavioral mock interview just to practice what that’s like. They also each do a technical mock interview. We have a select group of about 25 second-year students—called MBA2 Career Mentors—who do those technical interviews for particular functional and industry areas. We want to give our students that foundational preparation in advance of when their real interviews roll around. Students can also schedule mock interviews with any of our coaches whenever they would like, up to once week.

In terms of how interviews are scheduled, the application process happens toward the end of November/early December for companies that are coming to campus. Students submit cover letters (if an employer requires it, though some don’t) and resumés, and companies make decisions and send out interview invitations. From there, students schedule their interviews. All of the scheduling is done through our career account system.

Within our Office of Career Development suite we have approximately 25 interview rooms, so most of our interviews happen here in our suite. Skype has certainly become an increasingly common modality for interviews, particularly for first-round interviews for companies located outside of New York (and even sometimes those here in the city). We also conduct mock interviews for students through Skype or over the phone, and we offer workshops for how to successfully conduct Skype or phone interviews.

CAWhat kind of role do alumni play in Stern’s recruiting process? How integral are they to your office’s success? Is alumni participation a major part of your placement platform?

BB: One of the things that I love about working at Stern is that we have this amazing community of students and alumni. Sternies are always going to help Sternies. We leverage our alumni to help us in a couple of ways. One is in terms of information sharing. So many of our alums stay in and around New York City after graduation, so they are close by. They can and do come to campus, they host breakfast informational sessions, they conduct informational interviews. They really provide a lot of great information and support to our students as they drill down into the industries they want to target.

But alumni also serve as advocates for our students within the organizations where they work. Often, a hiring manager will tap our alumni to find more talent from Stern. That is particularly effective for companies that don’t necessarily have a long history of hiring. The more our students go out and have success in their own careers, the more those organizations are likely to seek additional talent from the same source.

CADo you have any advice for prospective applicants in terms of what they might do in advance of the MBA program to be better prepared for the job search process? In your experience, do you find that students who have done x, y or z before arriving on campus have a more successful experience with career services and the job search as a whole?

BB: This is such a valuable time to think hard about your areas of interest. Once a student has decided, “I am going to come to business school,” it’s almost like they have a halo effect. They can reach out to anyone they know and say, “I want to have a conversation with you about what you do.” So I would really urge incoming students to leverage their networks to have early fact-finding conversations. What do people do in different roles? What skills are necessary to be successful? What courses or other activities can they take advantage of during their MBA program to achieve their goals?

I also think it’s important to remember to go back to your network after you’ve reached out to them to thank them for their time, let them know where you’ve landed and remind them what you’re interested in. Because often these people can serve as valuable resources later in your job search.

CAWhat about students who hope to pursue entrepreneurial paths straight out of school? What particular opportunities/challenges do they present for your team? Are there special resources in place through OCD, or do those students primarily draw support from the W.R. Berkley Innovation Lab?

BB: I think the biggest role our office can play for students looking to start their own businesses is to continue to coach them and keep them accountable to their own goals. Beyond that, the real resources for entrepreneurs here at Stern come from the W.R. Berkley Innovation Lab and the annual Entrepreneurs Challenge. The Entrepreneurs Challenge just concluded here earlier this month. It’s always a big highlight here at Stern for the teams that participate.

We also work closely with our Office of Student Engagement, which administers our Summer Startup Fellowship. This program provides monetary support and working space for students who are pursuing their own ventures. We also leverage the resources across NYU and beyond to connect the dots and allow them to be successful. And we also have a lot of alumni who are entrepreneurs or working at startups who come to campus to share their stories and the challenges they’ve faced.

Overall, from a pure employment perspective, interest in pursuing entrepreneurial ventures immediately upon graduation has remained pretty consistent as a small percentage of the class. Sometimes students know coming in the door that they are going to start their own business. Sometimes students come in focused on entrepreneurship but then shift toward more traditional career paths, knowing in the back of their minds that they will come back to entrepreneurship further down the line. And then there are students who meet other students here at Stern and get energy from them, and ideas begin to form and percolate.

CAThere’s been a huge shift toward greater hiring by tech firms in recent years. How has this impacted your overall career services offerings? Are there specific programs, interview prep, etc. for students targeting tech jobs?

BB: We offer a general foundational program that helps all students in terms of preparing for roles in the technology industry. But we also work in a more focused way by tapping our second-year career mentors to work with students pursuing tech jobs. The number of tech-focused career mentors has increased year over year. It’s up to about three or four, which is pretty significant growth within the group of 25.

We also work with our Entertainment, Media, and Technology Association student club to develop different kinds of programming. In the fall, we put together an array of networking events with companies including startups and smaller firms that aren’t necessarily going to have an on-campus recruitment strategy. We host networking nights with companies in and around New York City, and we bring in alumni or representatives from different companies who may not have immediate hiring needs to engage with our students and talk about the kinds of hiring needs they may have down the line.

We also are introducing more specific case prep for tech interviews, leveraging what has been effective for the consulting industry. And we’ve been offering workshops that augment some of the great courses here on project management, user-centered design and design thinking to give students the foundation and vocabulary they need to interview in the space. Finally, we have a trek to San Francisco each January. Of course, we do a number of visits to tech companies in and around New York City—almost every Friday—but then in January we do a trek to the Bay Area so our students get to visit a vast number of companies and leverage the Stern alumni network.

CASame question with regard to students who are interested in social impact careers? Is this growing? How are you responding from a career services perspective?

BB: Social impact was growing for a long time, and now it remains relatively stable. One of our coaches on staff comes from a social impact background, and Stern has a very vibrant student club called the Social Enterprise Association. Of course, it is a broad industry area with different kinds of roles, so we make a point of featuring alumni from different organizations that represent impact investing, not-for-profit consulting, education, etc. There is also our Social Impact Internship Fund, which provides monetary support for students doing internships in the social impact space. It allows us to send students to organizations that may not be able to afford MBA interns. And then we also have our Center for Human Rights and Business, which was the first of its kind at a leading business school. The center sends students as fellows to work for organizations focused on business and human rights. This year we have students heading to New Balance, PepsiCo and PVH Corp. Earlier this year we also launched a new Center for Sustainable Business.

CA:  What other interesting trends or shifts have you been observing—both in terms of companies who are hiring more or less and student aspirations?

BB: We still have many top companies who partner with us and hire strong numbers of students every year. In fact, that list of companies is growing year over year. And it’s increasing in the tech space. Google and Amazon, in particular, have been increasing their hiring of Stern students, which is terrific.

But we also have more and more students looking to do unique kinds of things outside of more traditional MBA recruiting. Because we have alumni in all kinds of interesting places, we are able to connect them.

CAHow many incoming students do you see each year who are actually pretty undecided about their post-MBA path? What resources to you offer to help them hone in on a career path that suits them?

BB: We want to make everyone comfortable seeking our help wherever they are in the process. It’s okay if you have changed your mind from your original potential career path you described in your admissions essay. If you feel unclear about what you want to do, that’s absolutely fine. We have the resources to help you create an action plan, and that might even change between what you do over the summer to what you seek full time after graduation. We pride ourselves on having the background and structure to support students wherever they are in their process.

CAWhat do you lose sleep over with regard to the Stern Office of Career Development and what it offers?

BB: I really take pride in being able to connect students to roles that are right for them and to encourage them to explore options that match where they want to go. Beyond that, I also want them to be happy. I want to be sending students out into the workforce into roles where they can thrive. We are teaching them how to do a job search, not just while they’re here in the MBA program but later, after they leave. I want them to be able to ask the right questions of themselves and employers to make the right choices over the course of their careers.

CAAny parting thoughts to share?

BB: Stern is known from an admissions perspective for its collaborative community, but within the building, that sense of collaboration is even stronger. We work closely with the Office of Student Engagement and the student clubs, making sure we are connecting all the dots and thinking through all of the resources and opportunities that exist within Stern to help students achieve their goals. And that collaborative community extends outside of Stern as well, to New York City and beyond.

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