Directly relevant pre-MBA experience counts more while hiring, says NUS Singapore career services head

21 Feb, 2013


NUS Business School, National University of Singapore

Despite a relatively rosier job market, as a Singaporean MBA you will find companies making the same demands from you at interview time as they are from European or American graduates. For example, you are more likely to land a job in finance if you have pre-MBA finance experience, and will have to solve case studies even for non-consulting job interviews.

This and more emerges in our interview with Saima Siddiqui, Senior Associate Director of Career Services at the National University of Singapores (NUS) Business School, who is responsible for providing the schools MBAs career services.

She says that school feels confident of continuing to excel in the increasingly crowded Singapore market because thanks to their traditional stronghold of the region, most Singaporean companies are full of NUS alumni who are always happy to help.

How does NUS Business School see the role of Career Services?

NUS Business School Career Services serves as a partner and guide for NUS MBA students in their professional and career development. NUS Business School Career Services provides workshops and coaching on career planning and job search strategy, including resume, cover letter and interview preparation. We organise forums for NUS MBA students to gain industry insight and build a professional network in Singapore, including on-campus industry talks, and off-campus industry-specific networking events. We arrange access to internship and job opportunities in Singapore and the region, and a connection to industry professionals and recruiters.

What expectations do MBA students have from Career Services?

Approximately 90% of MBA students in the full time program at NUS Business School are non-Singaporean, and most have not lived in Singapore before beginning the MBA program at NUS. As a result, these students do not have their own personal or professional networks in Singapore, nor are most very familiar with the business and recruiting environment in Singapore and the region. Therefore, NUS MBA students expect Career Services to provide them with the support and access necessary to build their own professional networks in Singapore, share insights into the employment market and recruiting environment in Singapore and the region, and serve as a point of access to employers, advise them on how to develop, prepare and pitch themselves to ensure that they are well positioned for their post-MBA job search.

In which ways is the role of Career Services most misunderstood among students?

There certainly are some misconceptions among students as to the role of Career Services, particularly before they arrive at NUS Business School. In other markets and in other countries, business school career services departments sometimes function differently from ours --- as a “placement office” rather than as an advisor, partner and facilitator in career development.

As a result, we sometimes find that students from certain countries have an expectation that they will arrive at NUS Business School and that they will be placed through the Career Service office, as part of a structured on-campus recruiting exercise. However, the reality is that an internship or job search in Singapore and the region is very different from what some of our students may be used to for the reasons such as, among others, that Singapore is a relatively small market. The population of the country is 5 million people, out of which one million are expatriates. So, while there is an expectation that there are a huge array of job opportunities in Singapore with many international firms and major regional players basing their headquarters here, in reality, the job market for MBA-level opportunities is relatively small and extremely competitive.

Secondly, many multinational companies use their offices in Singapore as their base to enter the wider ASEAN market, and some may explore opportunities in China and Taiwan from their Singapore offices as well. As a result, they are focused on hiring candidates with either regional expertise (natives of the target countries, prior ASEAN/target country work experience, or proficiency in a local language), or some other directly relevant experience that will immediately add value to the existing team. While there are leadership programs in the region, and some structured program hiring occurs as well, more often than not, companies in Singapore are hiring on an as-needed basis, and choosing candidates with relevant skills and experience, in fairly limited numbers.

Ans then personal networks and referrals can play an important role in highly selective and fast-moving business environments like Singapore. Because employers have short timelines, and very specific requirements, many opportunities that would be of interest to our MBA students are not publicised but shared through personal networks and word of mouth. Such hidden job opportunities are not filled through job listings or traditional on-campus recruitment.

All these factors combined mean that the most critical components for securing a summer internship or a full-time job offer in Singapore are job search planning and preparation, getting to know the market and building a professional network through internships, research projects and informational interviews, and working closely with Career Services.

NUS MBA classes are becoming increasingly global due to the increased interest in Asia among students from a wider spread of nations. How do you go about building the networks with companies to satisfy the expectations of an increasingly global class composition?

NUS Business School prides itself on the diversity of its MBA classes. A typical full-time MBA cohort at NUS Business School is comprised of 90% international students from up to 30 different countries. More likely than not, our MBA students have to partner with students from other countries, and diverse language and cultural backgrounds, in each and every class.

The fact that NUS Business School is located in Singapore, which is widely considered the gateway to Asia/ASEAN, and dubbed “the world’s easiest place to do business”, means that we have many global companies and major regional players as our neighbors here. While many of these companies initially brought top talent from their headquarters, there is increasing interest among such firms to hire talent locally, and develop talent (and future leaders) here in Asia.

NUS MBA students are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this shift, and have the right blend of professional experience in their home country, combined with training and experience here in Singapore. Thanks to NUS Business School’s location and reputation, we find that when companies enter the Singapore market, they often turn to NUS Business School in their search for talent.

How does a typical job search for an NUS MBA student go?

Typically, each first-year MBA student arriving at NUS Business School participates in our eight-week Career Management Module. This eight-part series, with segments focused on self-assessment, elevator pitch, resume, cover letter and interview preparation, as well as networking and career planning, is designed to ensure that all NUS MBA students have a full understanding of these important parts of career development and job search.

Once the first-year MBA students have completed the Career Management Module, Career Services begins conducting a series of networking events, on-campus presentations and company visits that allow students to gain exposure and build their knowledge and their network. By the beginning of the second semester, Career Services begins listing internship opportunities that first-year students are eligible to take on. Part-time internships are available to students during the course of the academic year for maximum work commitment of 16 hours per week. Full-time summer internships, are available from May-July for about 12 weeks and allow students to really get to know a company. Internships are an excellent source of full-time job opportunities, and each year, a number of NUS MBA students convert their summer internships to full-time offers. For the rest, applications for full-time roles begin in the third semester, and continue until Commencement.

How difficult or easy is it for someone with an Asian MBA to look for a job in the US or Europe? What kind of help does the school give?

The fact that a student may have an Asian MBA does not limit their ability to secure a job in the US and Europe. The challenge is that many US firms in particular have very structured MBA recruiting, so the likelihood of success largely depends on whether NUS, or a particular Asian business school, is on the firm’s list of target schools for recruiting. Beyond that, it is really about the candidates’ pre-MBA work experience, educational background and potential fit.

NUS Business School Career Services does not specifically target opportunities in the US and Europe, however, we are able to put our MBA students in touch with NUS MBA alumni in Europe and the US as needed. The school also has robust exchange programs with more than 40 partner schools (mainly in US and Europe), so students interested in exploring opportunities in a particular geography can choose an exchange there and use that experience to build their networks, better understand the market and try to access opportunities on their own.

Also, some of the companies that we work with in Singapore have international management or leadership development programs that take our students overseas, while other companies may hire an NUS MBA in Singapore, then send them to the US or European headquarters.

However, in recent batches, the majority of our students have been focused on finding opportunities in Singapore and the region, rather than accessing opportunities in Europe or the US. All eyes are on Asia now.

What are the top 3 trends in the MBA job market that you are observing for the graduating class of 2013?

There is proliferation and predominance of sales, business development and account management roles, and decrease of strategy and marketing roles. Nowadays, it’s all about adding to the bottom line, and fast!

Directly relevant experience is trumping other qualities in hiring. We are seeing this time and time again – when things are down to the wire and employers have to choose a candidate – we continue to see past experience being weighed more heavily than future potential.

We now also observe the pervasive use of case interviews across sectors – apparently, cases are not just for consulting anymore.

Is Singapore becoming too crowded with business schools? Do you worry that at some point in the future there would be too many b-schools in Singapore but too few jobs?

While Singapore is a relatively small market, MBA students in Singapore are accessing opportunities throughout the ASEAN region. As long as South-east Asia remains attractive, and remains a center of growth, there will continue to be plenty of jobs to go around. The challenge will continue to be the types of roles that employers are trying to fill as their needs in the region evolve, and the expertise that employers are looking for in candidates.

How will NUS deal with competition for jobs from students of new and emerging Singaporean schools such as INSEAD, Chicago GSB, ESSEC, etc?

NUS Business School has a unique perspective and value proposition that is unmatched by any other school in Singapore. We are part of the “National” University of Singapore, based on an internationally lauded, highly respected University. NUS Business School has a unique combination of local knowledge and locally-based research and scholarship, combined with world-class faculty who have studied at top institutions across the globe, and have brought that rigor and excellence to bear as they live, work and teach in Asia. The strength of our alumni pool is unparalleled – between BBA and MBA graduates of NUS Business School, it is rare to approach a major company in Singapore and not find many NUS Business School graduates among them. We believe that the role and positioning of NUS Business School is very unique in Singapore and the region, and unlike any of the other current, or proposed, MBA or EMBA programs being offered in Singapore.

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-  @DEVILISHANGEL  ·  21 Feb, 2013
@joja Please pardon my naive ignorance but I don't think you got the idea of what Apurv tried to say. His reply was to your comment that what the NUS career services head said was an absolute lie - What apurv said is that its not a lie rather its ...
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Apoorv Pandit @Apurv  ·  21 Feb, 2013
@AbhiOfficial @joja - The local Indian job market works differently in two ways: the offers are of entry-level nature for people with average one year experience, and international mobility is rare. At schools abroad, the average class work experi...
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