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CoffeeBreak Conversation: Kim Austin, Texas A&M Mays Business School

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Our blog series, CoffeeBreak Conversations, is meant to be read in less time than it takes you to enjoy a cup of your favorite break-time beverage. We'll be interviewing members of the career and education technology ecosystem and sharing their different perspectives, experiences, and predictions for our industry. Stay tuned!

Want to nominate someone for a CoffeeBreak Conversation? email us.


Today, we are talking with Kim Austin, Director of the Mays Business School Career Management Center

We often hear that there’s increased competition for students and especially in graduate business programs. How is your career management center helping to address this?

With fewer MBA applications being submitted, there is increased competition for applicants amongst the schools. As a result, our recruiting and admissions team is calling on the career management center team even more than usual. While we’ve always helped showcase our services to prospective students, now we are even more involved. We are doing networking events, virtual sessions, application workshops and more to help prospective students to make those decisions about where they want to go to school and what the outcome will be after they participate in the program.


The perception used to be that the career management center was really for students who were further along in their journey, it sounds like that perception is changing. Are your students getting involved with the career center earlier?

Absolutely, yes. We're very involved with the students even before they come into the program. So, as I mentioned, we have a really strong relationship with our admissions and recruiting team. As they're taking students through the application/admissions process educating them about what our programs offer, we're also involved from the get go. We’re part of the interviewing process.  I help make decisions on the applicants; I give input on their career or employment readiness, how coachable they appear to be, how marketable to employers they will be, that sort of thing.

On preview days, where prospective students can come to campus and see our graduate programs in action, our office holds workshops for them. One example is our workshop on interviewing skills. Although it is tilted to help with interviews for admission into an MBA program, those same interviewing skills will obviously pay off later in the job search as well.

We also host similar sessions to help prospective students learn how to best present themselves in an application situation –whether for admission to an MBA program or to an employer. Once they're admitted and indicate that they plan to come here, we have an online career management course for them, pre-matriculation. It’s an extensive course that they must complete before they begin their other classes.

This takes place right after admission into the program. As a result, the students already know our Career Management Center team. Since they know us and have already been working with us, it is a natural progression for them to engage with us much sooner than they used to.


How have the career needs of your students evolved in the graduate business school?

Recruiting seems to take place earlier and earlier. And by that I mean the employers’ recruitment of students, for both internships and full time roles. It starts almost day one, when our students first come into the program. As a result we've had to really increase the amount of career content that we deliver to them early on. Before they start their regular MBA classes, students participate in Career QuickStart, an online career management course. Then during our two-week MBA orientation in the summer, called MBA core, one week of that orientation is focused on career content.  We didn't do that in the past. Once school begins, the students participate in a non-credit, but program required, career management course that continues building on the basics taught in the online course in the summer. We’ve increased the amount of time and content significantly over the past couple of years as we have seen this urgent need for students to be up to speed so much earlier. Our students start interviewing for internships only a few weeks after starting classes.

Another change we're seeing is that companies are using virtual technology so much more than in the past. Previously, screening interviews may have been done by phone, but now students can anticipate an online, virtual interview for one or more rounds of the interview process. Often in the early rounds, these are recorded interviews and then may progress to a face-to-face but yet still virtual interview.  In the recorded interviews, you may be talking to an avatar instead of a person so you're not seeing their facial expressions and don't really know how you're being received on the other end. That’s not a comfortable situation for most people so we want them to experience it and practice here with us first. We are ramping up our content to help students better understand that process and help them prepare for the experience. In addition to our prep sessions, students have assignments to complete virtual interviews, a phone screening and both recorded and a live, face-to-face virtual interview, with our staff.  We use systems built with artificial intelligence to assess and provide feedback early on before the students actually work with the career coach on it.

This has been a big shift for us. We’ve added a lot of resources that use artificial intelligence which helps students be better prepared before they even meet with the career coaches. We're constantly updating and tweaking what we do. We ask our employers for feedback, to see where they're headed. We ask how they view our candidates and then we tweak what we do around that.  It's really changed a lot of our programming from the career center perspective.

Another way I see career needs evolving is there seems to be a lot more interest from students in things that are visual and utilize technology tools.  They don’t care for the large group workshops or session that we used to do. They don't want to sit for a long time. Anything we do has to be short and to the point. We’re finding that our students, at least here, respond well to things that are very focused and more targeted. They prefer smaller group sessions. We don't do a lot of the big rooms full of people type of workshops and seminars anymore. We've really geared our work to be delivered in small group sessions. It's very labor intensive and I have a small staff so that's a little challenging for us, but we think it's worth it. The students enjoy it, it just seems so much more effective. It’s very different from how we used to deliver our services.


You have always been innovative in your approach to supporting your students and you've recently begun to highlight outcome data on your website. Can you share why that's been important to do that?

Oh goodness, that's very important because that's one of the first questions we get asked by prospective students. For anybody who's making an investment in an MBA education, it’s an expensive endeavor, not just from the financial standpoint but also from a time commitment. You have to invest a lot when you go into an MBA program and people want to know -  what am I going to get out of this, what's the outcome going to be? They want to know the return on their investment, both time-wise and financial.

We've always shared our outcomes with prospective students.  They want to know - where do your students go, into what industries, what's your employment rate, who hires your students, where do they go for internships and what's your average salaries - those sorts of things.  We get asked those questions all of the time. To be honest we've never had a really great way to display that information and to keep it current. We might put a PDF document or something like that up on our website, but it was really difficult to keep it current. It wasn't interactive where people could change parameters and look at different aspects of our employment outcomes. It was just static.

And so we were very excited with your uConnect Outcome Data Visualization Tool; to be able to have an opportunity to put it on our site where people could interact with it. They can choose to look at a salary for a particular area, for a particular industry or a particular functional role. They can look at it for multiple years, they can choose a particular year. It just makes it so much nicer and more useful. In fact I was showing it yesterday to our admissions director and she was so excited.  She asked, “Can I share this link now and send to prospective students?” She was so happy when I told her, “Absolutely, yes!” Now we can easily send this to people without providing lengthy explanations or emailing all these extra documents and attachments.


Are there other institutional priorities at Texas A&M that your career center is aligned with and is supporting?

The primary goal of the Mays Business School is to develop transformational leaders. We feel that the Career Management Center plays a big part in that development or transformation of our graduate students.  In fact, the very first module in our pre-matriculation career course, is a unit on self-discovery or awareness. We call it “discover your identity.” It's all about reflecting on who you are and what value you bring to the table, not only into the program as an MBA student but to a potential employer.  Students complete a battery of assessments to help determine their values, interests, personal traits or characteristics and motivated skills or strengths. Then they do a number of reflection assignments. We worked with faculty to develop this module. One professor in particular, Dr. Marcantonio, teaches the personal and professional leadership course which runs throughout the entire MBA program.  She provided input on the course design and has become a real partner with us. The summer work completed by the students aligns with what she's doing in her course. We share all the module 1 assignments with her which she then uses as the foundation for the leader portfolios students complete in her class and to segue into the next phase of what they will do in her course.

Not only are we helping fulfill the school's mission of developing transformational leaders, we are collaborating with and working directly alongside our faculty colleagues to accomplish that goal.  It’s really refreshing to see staff and faculty working together on this. And, it’s good for our team to see how they are impacting the students and also helping the school achieve its goals. I think this collaboration has helped change the image of the career center.  We're now viewed very differently than in the past because we collaborate and partner with faculty and the academic programs.

So for us that's been really key, and I think it's really helped to elevate what we do in the career center and help students see that this is not this separate thing. It's all integrated, it's all about being a whole person, it all matters. And when you leave here, when you leave with your degree and you're moving out into the workplace, you want to be the best person you can possibly be. And so all of these things we do are far more than just developing interview skills or applying for a job, we're helping develop leaders as well.


So my last question for this Coffee Break Conversation is... if you could have a Coffee Break Conversation with anyone, and it doesn't matter if they're fictional or real, if they're current or not, related to any topic, who would you choose to talk to?

There's so many people it's hard to narrow it down to one! But I think, for me I would rather not have a single conversation but rather a group one.  If I could have several people in the room, I’d like to hear their individual stories and how they got to where they are now. Having learned from working in a career center and also knowing my own experience that it's not usually a straight path to get to where you are, I enjoy hearing about the career journey people have taken.  I'd like to know the stories behind some of the people that I know or read about, ones that are leading organizations and doing really cool things. How in the world did they end up there? It probably was not a direct path so I’m curious about the wandering along the path to get where they are now.

A couple of people in particular come to mind. A number of years ago, I met a woman named Sharon Eubank who now leads a worldwide philanthropic organization called LDS Charities.  It would be fun to “pick her brain” and know the story behind her decisions to get where she is now.

Sheri Dew, the president of Deseret Book Company, is another person that I would like to have as part of that conversation. I know a little bit about her background but again I’d like to know more about her story-how she got to where she is now.  She was on the forefront of converting a bookstore (the traditional kind) and focusing on the e-book/online format. She was very early in the process of thinking ahead and recognizing the need to convert content to e-book format because that change was coming. She devised a plan to work with the major players in that space, and, when other bookstores were closing down, that one actually survived. It's still out there because she had the foresight to do that. I’d like to know more about her thought processes and what led her to those decisions.

For me, I think I want to understand what draws people to their careers and how did they get where they are? What led them there, how did they get these ideas in their head about being innovative, to think ahead, to identify the trends that are coming and how did they prepare for that? I just think it's really fascinating to know peoples' stories, what drives them and how they get their inspiration. I like to hear their stories.


Thank you Kim, it’s been great to talk to you and learn from you!


 Stay tuned for our next CoffeeBreak Conversation, featuring another very special guest!

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Lisa Philpott
Lisa Philpott

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