How business students are chasing careers in a changed world
In February, masters in management (MiM) student Zoe Brain was in the midst of the selection process for three graduate programmes at supply chain and logistics management companies. Over the next few months, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, those positions “just disappeared”.
Refusing to panic, Brain used her time in lockdown at home in Cumbria, north-west England, to look for new options. In January she will begin a masters in education back at Durham University, where she studied for her MiM in the business school. After this, she plans to qualify as a languages teacher and use the MiM to advance into education management. “You just have to deal with adversity, get on with it and find the positive,” she says.
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Brain’s resilience and adaptability exemplify the response to Covid-19 across the MiM sector. While students altered plans where necessary, careers advisers rapidly shifted to online-only support. Now, despite predictions of a deep global recession, many students and staff are optimistic that opportunities remain, both in job prospects and the development of career services.
Covid-19 has hit industries such as travel, hospitality and retail hard. The initial impact on others, including traditional hunting grounds for MiM graduates, has been less severe. “Our research shows that areas such as professional services, technology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, and consulting — particularly in consultancies that work with a diverse portfolio of industries — seem to be faring reasonably well at the moment,” says Alison Collins, careers manager for masters programmes at Warwick Business School. “This is good news for MiM students, as many go into these industries, particularly consulting.”
Indeed, the technology sector has proved opportune for Italian student Elisa Bollettino, who is finishing her MiM programme from Bocconi University in Milan while interning at Tink, a fintech start-up in Stockholm. Likewise Marie-Sophie Busschots, who studied at Vlerick Business School, moved from Belgium to Barcelona in July to join the graduate programme at software company VMware.
MiM courses teach strengths and skills important in a difficult job market, says Professor Massimo Magni, director of the MSc in international management at Bocconi University. “Adaptability on one hand and resilience on the other helps,” he says, “first to bounce back if something happens, and then to adapt and find something different.”
Business school careers departments have also demonstrated these qualities, rapidly switching their provision from primarily face-to-face to online. This includes holding career coaching sessions with videoconferencing software, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and supporting students on messenger services such as email and WeChat.
Even careers workshops, seminars and fairs have moved into the digital realm. Bocconi University, for example, launched Virtual Bocconi&Jobs, the first digital version of its careers fair. Students could explore employers’ virtual booths, which included information about the company, vacancies and the opportunity to communicate with recruiters.
While born of necessity, the digital transformation has brought benefits. Online channels have allowed the careers service to provide “a more seamless support system”, according to Tim McCollum, careers consultant at Durham University Business School.
In some cases, access to employers has been expanded. “We have more career events compared with the past because companies — not just locally but regionally too — can present their opportunities via the online platform,” says John Lai, director of the MSc in management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Over the next year, as recruitment migrates online further, students will need to develop new virtual communication skills to impress employers. Vlerick Business School, for example, will run next year’s mock assessment centre day online rather than in person to help students prepare, according to Professor Kerstin Fehre, programme director of the school’s MiM.
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is employing machine learning to support students in the switch to online recruitment. The school already has an artificial intelligence platform that scans students’ CVs for keywords to help applications pass screening tools. Now, it is using AI to assess and improve students’ performance in video interviews.
Students record answers and the platform uses facial-recognition technology to analyse eye contact, emotion and gestures, for instance. “It will give students suggestions to help them speak in front of a camera more naturally,” says Raymond Xiao, assistant director of the careers team for MSc programmes at HKUST. The technology will also help students improve the structure of their answers and avoid repetition, he adds.
For all the optimism, challenges remain. Suyash Agarwal has been finishing his MiM from Warwick Business School remotely, staying with his family in India. He secured an internship in the UK last December but is still waiting to hear about his start date. Job hunting is also tough: Agarwal says that in 60-70 per cent of cases, he receives no response to applications.
Even so, an indomitable spirit is again apparent.
“I believe I am lucky to be going through this,” he says. “Tougher steel is forged in the hottest fire.”
Research the labour market.
“Devote time each week, where possible, to understanding the job market, sectors, employer trends and where there is growth,” says Tim McCollum.
Look beyond advertised roles.
“We encourage students to leverage their personal, social and alumni network to find hidden job opportunities,” says Raymond Xiao.
Consider emerging markets.
“Reach out to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia,” says John Lai. “In the near future, these markets will probably be the main drivers of the Asian economy.”
“It is not a bad thing to encounter such a crisis early in life,” says Xiao.