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Building Career Development Skills at MBA Orientation

Delece Smith-Barrow

On a recent August day in College Park, Maryland., Jeffrey Kudisch coaches a group of people he calls shareholders on their latest investment. Many in the audience will each put in somewhere between $35,000 and $46,000.

"We're all in this together," he says to the group of about 88 people. "We want to see you make more money."

The shareholders Kudisch is speaking with are not a bunch of Wall Street powerhouses in town for a convention. They are a brand new group of full-time MBA students at the Smith School of Business at University of Maryland--College Park; their pricey investment is the cost of tuition and fees for one school year as a full-time in-state or out-of-state student.

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They've gathered for orientation week in Van Munching Hall, and Kudisch, the assistant dean of corporate relations and managing director of Smith's Office of Career Services, is explaining how his office can help them succeed.

"We are partners," he says. In the Howard Frank Auditorium, he walks them through a PowerPoint presentation that sums up why communication is the most important skill employers want in new employees and how his office can provide them with tools for learning how to interview, improving their resumes and other aspects of career development. All of this comes before students have other, more niche-focused career sessions on topics such as delivering a good elevator pitch and how to impress recruiters.

Like Smith, many other MBA programs around the country use orientation to not only prepare students for the classroom but to also ready them for the job hunt. During orientation, the University of Tennessee--Knoxville is hosting a workshop on how to dress for success as well as holding other-career oriented events. And the Katz Graduate School of Business at University of Pittsburgh will have Jaymin Patel, author of "The MBA Guide to Networking Like a Rockstar," tell students how to do just that during one of its slew of job-preparation activities.

Having students work on career preparation before classes begin is critical, experts say.

At one time internship recruitment happened in the spring, says Melissa Shapiro, the director for the Career Management and Academic Advising Center at Katz, but things have changed. "The companies are beginning to interview and hire earlier and earlier in the cycle," she says.

Interviews can happen during on-campus recruitment, which usually starts in the fall, and at the many MBA conferences students attend during their first semester. The National Black MBA Association, National Society of Hispanic MBAs and National Association of Women MBAs are just a few of the many organizations hosting conferences in September and October.

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Schools often use some of orientation to prepare students for mingling with recruiters and writing savvy cover letters, but much of their career development with new MBAs begins weeks before orientation.

Before orientation begins, "we have all of our students take CareerLeader," says Shapiro. She's referring to the online assessment tool that helps people in the business community figure out "who you are as a professional, what career paths might be the best fit for you," she says.

During the summer, students are also asked to work on an elevator pitch, which is a 30-60 second spiel on who they are that they can say when networking; speak with a career adviser; and improve their resume. "We start working with them on revising their resume to ensure that their resume is more accomplishment focused and less job function focused," Shapiro says.

Business school students at University of Tennessee-Knoxville often spend their summer doing similar activities, says Molly Kinard, director of MBA career management and alumni relations at the school. They also complete a CareerLeader assessment and an assessment created by Gallup, a firm that focuses on research, polling and other specialties, and are paired with a second-year MBA who serves as a career coach.

"It's really important for us to get a head start in the summer with them discovering who they are and what they're goals are," Kinard says.

[Photos: Find out where Fortune 500 CEOs got their MBAs.]

University of Maryland--College Park also has students go through similar exercises before arriving at orientation.

Tommy Malone, one of the school's new MBA students, says when he was applying to business school he did not expect there to be such an intense push for students to think about their careers this early. "I didn't really understand how much time I was going to be putting into career development, and job searching and stuff like that," he says.

The former Marine Corps officer thought he could save career preparation until his second year of school. He wasn't thrilled to start at the beginning of his first year.

"I didn't like it at first, but now that I understand how important it is I actually do appreciate it. As long as you follow the process and the goals that are set for you, you're not going to be that person who is six months from graduating and has no idea what they're going to do."

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