Career Services in Spain: Latin America and Asia new career destinations for ESADE graduates

Before the Spanish economic crisis, roughly a third of Barcelonas ESADE Business School MBA graduates fond jobs in Spain. That proportion has now reduced to one-sixth of the class. To make up for loss, the ESADE career services team has made efforts to tap into the job markets in Latin America and Asia, says the schools director of career services Pollyanna Nethersole, in this second part of the interview series with career services directors of major Spanish b-schools.

Part 1: How IESE Business School is dealing with the shrunk European job market

Based out of Barcelona, ESADE Business School (pronounced e-saa-day) was ranked 22nd across the world in 2013 and 5th among European b-schools in 2012 by the Financial Times. The school has recently moved to a brand new campus that contains a full-fledged business park owned by the school, where companies rent out offices alongside MBA classrooms. The schools coffee shop at any time is teeming with students, professors — and company executives who work in the schools business park.


Could you talk about your responsibilities at ESADE, those of your department and how the performance of your department is measured within the school?

My responsibilities here are for Career Services for ESADE Business School. We have over 700 undergraduate students, around 360 or so who are doing their MSc programmes in management, and then we have around 300 full-time MBA students. I have a responsibility to provide Career Services to all those students and help the team that provides those services too. My responsibility ends when the students graduate. Two years after graduation, it’s my colleagues in the alumni association that continue with providing lifelong career services.

Coming to the second part of your question, I think for all business schools, the rankings are a clear indication of the school’s performance. Sadly, the rankings don’t reflect how fulfilled people might feel in their careers or how happy they are. The rankings are very much focused on the increment in the salary three years after graduation. We are a school that focuses on providing that fulfillment to students in terms of job satisfaction. For example, someone comes in from banking or financial services and decides to work for a non-profit organisation, and he might be supremely happy with the career decision that he’s made and he finds that fulfillment, but from the rankings perspective, it would reflect negatively. That’s the only thing I would say. When you go back to how we’re doing in terms of ranking, I would say extremely well. Within 3 months after graduation, 92% of the MBAs have found a position. For the undergraduate programme, it goes up to 95%. If you look at the MSc students, the number goes even higher.

What is a typical job search for an ESADE MBA student like? How much is his own effort and how much is of the career services department?

Interestingly, we start sometimes even before the student is admitted. I think the admissions team is very clear about making a promise that we can fulfill and not raising expectations. When they’re interviewing potential candidates, it’s very important that we understand what exactly their ambitions are and whether we can fulfill them. I would say that’s an important first part of the interview. There’s a difference between people that are career builders as opposed to career switchers.

Let’s imagine that a candidate is now interested and thinks ESADE could be the place for him. We then organise webinars wherein we speak to potential candidates. If you’re interested in financial services, let’s tell you what our statistics are. Let’s give you the experiences of people like yourselves who wanted to take on this career and see how they’ve done. So we give them seminars on consulting, financial services and other industries at the candidate stage. If they feel this is for them and they apply to ESADE and are admitted, Career Services will get in touch with them again. We’ll tell them about our main career forum in October which has a lot of important recruiters coming in.

If you’re interested in financial services or consulting, we need to know that now. We need to start getting you prepared. So before you even come on campus, you will have been coached on how to get your CV together, how to package information on the experience you already have in the most palatable way to put it before recruiters.

When you come on campus, we have the Welcome Week in the very first week. Career Services plays a really important role in that. I think what we try to stress on is working out a successful career path whilst you’re here and making sure that the career search is well-focused and based on self knowledge. Knowing yourself well and asking yourselves those difficult questions – what am I good at and not good at, what are my real competencies, what do I really enjoy doing, what are those times where I feel myself in a sense of flow and things come naturally and almost intuitively – is important. Knowing yourself really well, understanding your strengths and how you can add value to a company and how you communicate that is vital because when companies come here, they see a lot of world-class talent. You have to really be able to make that pitch. We help students start and initiate that journey.

Some people are far ahead already, and we call them hunters. These are people who really know what they want. Frankly speaking, it’s easier with such people. If they’re interested in a particular sector, we’ll put them with a sector expert and start homing in on the companies.

For the explorers, what we have to say is, “We’ll use this time to explore and research options to get to know you better.” But obviously, the quicker they start to realise where they want to go, the better. Having said that, it’s quite often the case that during the MBA experience that is so rich and with so many minds mingling with different cultures, they may well say: “You know what, I thought I wanted to do this but when I tried this other thing out, I found it really clicked and I’m going to go that way.”

Apart from CVs, we spend a lot of time on coaching. It can be group coaching session which says: think about where you want to be. It can go on to individual coaching sessions. There’s no limit to the number of sessions. It’s as long as it needs to be. We also have a regular number of programmes which cover things like how to negotiate your salary, interview skills or figuring out particular skills for a sector. If you have an interview coming up and you want to do a mock interview, our coaches will do that with you. There’s a lot of input from us which we hope will help them in that search.

At the same time, we also have an external focus towards recruiters. We make sure that recruiters are aware of the talent that we have on campus. The more personalised our contact can be with them, the better. The recruiters are feeling the pinch in terms of the economic crisis and what they like from ESADE is that they get an extremely personalised service. We can ring them up and say, “This is the person right for you.”

Knowing a candidate really well allows us to communicate the value of the candidate to the recruiter as well. We have two major career forums – October and February. There are a lot of consulting and finance companies in the October forum because of their recruiting schedules. They need to see people straightaway so they can start offering internships. Internships have become really important as a way of recruitment. In the February forum, there’s more of the industry.

We go through the job offer process and remain in contact until two years afterwards. We have people coming back even a year after graduation to the forum because they want a job change. So that’s possible too. Two years after graduation, my colleagues at the alumni association take over.

Do you participate in the MBA admissions process? Based on a candidates stated goals in the essay, can you decide whether to admit him or not?

I think that’s really important. For the MBA area, our director for Career Services, Helga Kirchner sits in on the final admissions committee for the full-time MBA programme. She has a say in whether the person should be admitted or not. Looking from Helga’s perspective, what’s key is quality. We’re looking for a high GMAT score and also quality of experience. We normally average around five years of business experience. For us, it’s very important that it is solid business experience because we know that when a recruiter comes in, this is going to be a key factor. And then the linkup between the experience, the academic credentials and their aspirations, there has to be a clear match. If there is a mismatch, it would be a cause for alarm.

Does all recruiting happen on campus or does some recruiting happen out of the student’s own effort too?

I can’t say enough how important it is for the student to be proactive in the job search. We can provide coaching and bring recruiters to campus but at the end of day, it’s the student who will be sitting in front of the recruiter. Hopefully we will have prepared him enough and given him every possible advantage but it’s the student who will get the job. The student will also have to do an awful lot of research first of all by internal search: what do I have, what’s in my DNA, what can I offer to a recruiter. Being able to communicate those to a potential employer is key. If you are going to meet employers, know their culture. Visit the website, know the culture, read the literature, speak to alumni in the company. The students have to do everything they can to show that they’ve already found out that they can fit into that particular culture, that they have particular competencies or a vision that matches. There’s a lot of onus on the student.

Which geographies do the ESADE MBA graduates largely land up in?

With ESADE being a school based in Europe, predominantly our strength has been Europe. Having said that, it’s my job to see that the same strength that we have in Europe, we should now start to see in Latin America and Asia too. Right now, 85% of students find jobs in Europe, both Eastern and Western including Spain. Around 10% go back to Latin America and just under 10% of the people go back to Asia.

How are you increasing your footprint in companies across geographies?

Esade has recently started an international regional initiative. I think it’s basically recognition of the fact that one size doesn’t fit all. We need to tailor our approach to regional markets. What Katie (her colleague) is commissioned with doing is to look at India for example, and look at how we reach out to companies and students there and to develop that region both in terms of admissions and career services. Conjointly, we will be developing a regional career services strategy for India, Latin America, etc. There are many strong Spanish multinationals with whom we have good relationships. It’s also possible to grow internationally. We do travel a lot. My admissions colleague Mary Granger has made over 20 trips last year. Katie has just come back from India and is going there again in February. The director of full-time MBA and the director of University programmes were both in India this month. We’re going out and getting feedback. Our alumni play an important role and we have a strong alumni network.

We had Infosys on campus for recruiting last month. In fact, Infosys was one of our top recruiters for internships; they took five students. So we also have proactive outreach to companies. Apart from the regional approach, we have a sector-specific approach to Career Services too. Rather than saying it’s an Indian company, we say it’s a digital company or a company from the retail sector. I think it is much more helpful to view companies that way because the cultural difference isnt that much of an issue. It’s the sector that really drives it. So we have sector specific experts who will communicate with companies in Mexico, India, etc.

The new trend in b-schools is to open full-time offices across the world to offer special electives abroad, build networks with the local companies, etc. How do you see ESADE competing with schools that are growing like that?

This is more a question for our dean. But in terms of how we are dealing with Career Services to regions beyond Europe, the International Regional Initiative is a clear strength that we have and a clear focus on how to build the ESADE brand regionally. I think our performance in the rankings also doesn’t go unnoticed. In October, ESADE was ranked number 1 for diversity by The Economist. We were ranked number 2 for teamwork and collaboration by Bloomberg Businessweek. Those speak volumes for the value of the ESADE MBA. As I also said, the alumni network worldwide is extremely strong. But we do have a campus abroad. ESADE has a campus in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Global Executive MBA.

In terms of regional offices of other schools that you mention, I wonder how many of those are Admissions offices as opposed to Career Services offices because we haven’t noticed the other schools having any competitive advantage over us to date.

On your website, one of the students is quoted as interning with Apple in the USA. Could you describe how she got that internship?

A lot of companies come to the Career Forum obviously to recruit. But internships are becoming really important as a recruitment tool. With the crisis, they are more cautious and careful. But they are really savvy and they know this crisis will come and go. There have been many recessions before but no recruiter would want a hole in the organisation wherein they just stop recruiting. The internship is a surefire way of making sure that they really have got the talent that they want and it fits in well with the company. In October when recruiters come to the forum, they already have a certain amount of internships available. The recruitment process almost starts then and offers go out. In fact last week, we had Amazon recruiting for internships. Interestingly, 8 out of the 10 they interviewed were Indian profiles. The student working with Apple will have heard about the internship possibility and will have applied for it. And now will be spending their summer. We do have a good turnaround of internships turning into successful job opportunities.

How has the Eurozone crisis affected job searches post-MBA at ESADE? What’s the toughest thing for an MBA while finding a job in Spain today?

First of all, I’m very aware that when we talk of a crisis, it’s a European perspective. When we go to Brazil, India or China, we don’t really get that sense of a crisis. When we look at the range of profiles we have, our diversity is amazing. We probably have around 50 nationalities looking for jobs in global opportunities. Spain is not their number one priority, not even Europe necessarily. It’s not so limiting. Our placement figures for MBA are 93% as compared to the 91% earlier. So despite the crisis, we’re actually improving.

If we look at Spain in particular, the job market has shrunk. In 2008, Spain may have been taking a third of our MBAs. Now it is perhaps only a sixth. So it has certainly diminished. We’re well aware of the shift from West to the East. The places with the most exciting job opportunities are Latin America and Asia and we’re gearing up to do that.

Could you give an example of an unrealistic career goal that would have been a realistic one before the Europe crisis?

I suppose the obvious one would be someone who has experience in IT or engineering and says he wants to switch to a career in marketing for a Spanish company. Clearly, that’s a big ask. Language need not be an obstacle and we have a top-notch Executive Language Centre but simply because the possibilities have reduced. If a Spanish company would want to recruit for marketing, they would clearly want someone with experience in marketing. It would take a leap of confidence to believe that someone from IT or engineering can actually handle marketing. Why is it that he would want to do marketing? The 5 years of expertise wouldn’t help me marry that with a marketing career. We know that we are operating in a context where the positions are limited so the company would rather have someone with 5 years of experience in marketing.

Was this career switch possible before the crisis?

No. I’m not saying it was possible before. I’m just saying that the probability of that happening is now even more reduced. I would’ve been difficult even in 2008 but right now, it’s tougher as recruiters are looking for specific profiles.

What are the most unrealistic career expectations among your MBA students that you find yourself correcting the most?

I think we can say that sectors like consulting that have a strict policy in terms of their typical profile, they’re looking for a typical age and experience. Someone who is a lot older than the average MBA student may have missed the boat. And it would be really difficult to channel them into a very strict entrance procedure with a consultant, particularly if they haven’t got the previous experience that marries with that. But then someone on my team would always recall an outlier case from the past who defies this logic. So there are always exceptions that don’t go with the rule. You find people that are absolutely outstanding; they have strong personal qualities, strong drive and absolute tenacity. And where that drive and passion is realistic objectively as well — because of the competencies that they have and because they are able to communicate it to the employer — you do see exceptions to the rule. It’s nice to see that happen as well.

I want to mention one of the aspects about where our Indian students go. We have students who go for consulting, financial services and industry roles across the globe. For those who do choose to return to India, one of the trends we have noticed is that because ESADE has a real strength in terms of family business, in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation, a lot of Indian profiles are really ambitious. They say, “With this knowledge, I’m going back.” Sometimes they go back to family business and really transform it.

For example, there’s one person who said, “I’m the only one who understands Europeans or Latin Americans because I’ve been living with them for a year at ESADE. Thanks to that, I will be responsible for the international expansion of my family business. No one else could’ve done that in my family business but me because of the experience that I got.”

Other people go back and start a new venture. We’ve noticed a lot of people going back not to the family business but for a side shoot and setting up their own startup companies. We’ve noticed that Indian profiles are particularly entrepreneurial.