The recently transformed Career Education program at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business is receiving high praise from MBA students - First Year students in particular - who attended a series of career discovery forums during their first week on Grounds. The school year may have just begun, but already Darden's students are operating with their career end goal in mind.
"The recruiting process now starts so early in the game. Students are actually learning career education concepts from us even before they come to Darden," said Jack Oakes, assistant dean for the Career Development Center at Darden. "Recruiters want to talk with students who know more or less what they want to do a few months after they start their MBA program."
This innovative program responds to the needs of millennial learners.
"The Darden Career Development team is committed to being the absolute best in the industry by meeting students wherever they are in their career search," said Everette Fortner, Darden's executive director for professional development, who helped lead the revamping of the program.
"The team undertook a thorough design-thinking approach to this redesign, connecting deeply with students around their needs. In addition, they engaged two student groups from the Design Thinking Second-Year elective, to get ideas straight from students. In fact, two ideas from the student projects were front and center in the final implementation. Due to the nature of the process, what has been started now is a process of continuous improvement in the delivery of career education," Fortner added.
The big change made to the career discovery forums, gatherings in which students listen and learn from guests who work in various fields, involved a focus on roles rather than traditional industry paths. This approach allowed students to think in more flexible terms about what their careers could look like.
"We'd been very functionally oriented, presenting careers in finance and careers in marketing," said Oakes. "Student feedback encouraged us to change the format and present the kinds of roles students might pursue."
The first career discovery forum was called "Being an Adviser to Corporations: Careers in Consulting and Investment Banking," and enabled students to explore what it means to hold those roles. The session also offered students the chance to participate in a question and answer session.
"Typically an adviser is an investment banker or a consultant. So, we had representatives of both functions describe what an investment career might look like and what a consulting career might look like," said Oakes. "We've heard great reviews from students on this approach."
What if a student wasn't interested in an adviser role?
"We asked them to be flexible through the whole week by attending each and every one of those forums. Those who knew they didn't want to go into investment banking, for example, were asked to still attend because one day they might need to hire an investment banker or they might need to ask a consultant for help to improve their company. They will need to know how people in those roles function, think and act," Oakes said.
The forums were sponsored by Danaher Corporation and included:
- Perspectives on Career Success
- Being an Adviser to Corporations: Careers in Consulting and Investment Banking
- Becoming a Corporate Leader I: Careers in Marketing, Strategy and Business Development
- Becoming a Corporate Leader II: Careers in Finance, Operations and Supply
- Becoming an Owner: Paths to Consider Now and in the Future
- Mission-Driven and Global Opportunities: Perspectives from Darden's Institute for Business in Society and Center for Global Initiatives
According to Oakes, the vast majority of students are career switchers, and some are undecided, which is fine, he added, because Darden also provides students with the ability to become self-aware and promptly decide which career roles are best for them.
"We tell students to be sponges and absorb information," Oakes said. "Through a series of self-assessments administered through our courses and by experiencing job treks and speaking with recruiters, students will be able to hone in on that one career objective that's right for them."
The forums were recorded for sharing with Second Year students as well. The new career discovery program was focused solely on learning and did not include networking experiences. Those come a little later. For now, Fist Year students are settling in and forging ahead to carve out their academic and career paths with help from Darden's integrated approach to student support.
About the Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is one of the world's leading business schools, offering MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. The unique Darden experience combines the case study method, top-ranked faculty whose research advances global managerial practice and business education, and a tight-knit learning environment to develop responsible and complete leaders who are ready to make an impact.
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