by: Jamie Belinne, Assistant Dean, Rockwell Career Center
C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston
MBA CSEA President and Founder Jamie Belinne reflects on MBA CSEA’s roots and how far we’ve come.
When I first got into MBA career services back in the early 90s, it was a fairly small, but growing community of frustrated and overworked professionals whose lives were dominated by unrealistic expectations from Deans, unreasonable survey questions from the media, and giant MBA recruiting budgets. So you’re probably thinking, “not much has changed except the recruiting budgets.” But you’re wrong.
Have you ever said to your kids, “When I was your age, I had to go to the library and check microfiche, so don’t complain about your wifi problems.”? That’s how I feel when people complain about the challenges of MBA career services today.
Let me tell you about walking to school uphill both ways (with bricks tied to our feet for warmth) prior to MBA CSEA …
When I first got to UT-Austin in 1992, they handed me a team of two people, one of whom was a faculty spouse placement with no work experience and the other was a full-time actor/yoga instructor. We served 900 full-time MBAs and 300 campus recruiters. Oh, and we were doing resume drops manually with weekly FedEx shipments of resumes to employers. The entire process was manual. (Yay! Lots of late night bonding time for the team!) Every rankings media outlet asked different questions about our outcomes, and we never knew what they would ask, so most of the time the data they wanted didn’t even exist. So for many schools, (not mine, of course, right?) the Dean or Communications Director would just . . . make something up! <gasp!> And the invented number became your new baseline to beat in future data collections. (Yay! Manual data collection, too!!) And if the real number wasn’t as good as the invented number the following year, and if coincidentally your school dropped a place or two in the rankings, then guess what position was blamed? That’s right. Career center directors around the country were constantly being fired as sacrificial lambs to the media rankings gods just prior to satisfaction surveys being sent to graduating classes. (“Yes, we know our school was imperfect, but it was clearly career services’ fault, so we fired them all and fixed the problem. Remember that when you complete your satisfaction surveys that help us in the rankings!”)
The first few gatherings of career center directors in the early days before MBA CSEA reminded me of what it must have been like during the advent of a new religion being formed. The 30 or so schools in the Top 20 (you know who you are), had annual meetings, but for most schools, it was unofficial meetings in dark corners at NACE, AACSB or GMAC to compare notes and provide emotional support. We were all like-minded, but we needed to carry our messages of consistency, transparency, professionalism, ethics and accountability to the masses (or at least to the Deans and the rankings). NACE turned us away, because they didn’t see a real need for what we were doing. (Seriously, it was so much like “No room at the Inn” that I just have to go back to my new religion analogy.)
Fortunately, both GMAC and AACSB saw value in what we wanted to accomplish, and they were wonderful partners in helping us organize, focus and then promote our message to their members and the world (or at least the media). They even helped us host our first few conferences and hired the consultant that walked us through the incorporation process. We wouldn’t be where we are now without the support both groups provided us in the early days.
Fast forward more than 20 years and it’s a brand new profession, whether or not you realize it. It may seem extreme to say that MBA CSEA has done for MBA career services and recruitment what the internet has done for my kids’ homework, but I’m sticking to that story. The Standards for reporting and the AUP process have given me the legitimacy and authority to have more autonomy and resources to collect and analyze our employment data completely and accurately. Nobody messes with my numbers, because now somebody is (finally) paying attention to how schools all do this.
The CSEA benchmarking reports have allowed me to grow my staff levels and my budgets, because I can show HR and the Provost’s Office how our staffing and spending compares to other schools. But most importantly, we’re no longer having secret meetings in dark corners of other groups’ events. We are a recognized and respected profession with three annual conferences around the world and a strong organization to support us. How cool is that? When I talk to the founders of the group, we’re all thrilled, and somewhat amazed, that this has come as far as it has.
I used to spend hours agonizing and researching how to help students who wanted to work in specific areas of the world where I had no experience or expertise. Now I can e-mail a member from that region to ask for their advice – and they’re happy to share their ideas with me! I love that when a department chair surprises me with a new degree program to support (that never happens, right?), I can call up friends around the country to see how they’re marketing and placing that degree program at their schools. (Or sometimes I can just sit on the phone with them and cry or laugh, depending on how far I’ve fallen into complete hysteria.) Best of all, the organization provides not only a great resource for recruiting new leaders in my organization, but also an ideal way to train my new hires. And all of this is while we’re networking with employers and career services professionals to learn best practices that make my life easier and my efforts more effective. And I haven’t even mentioned the networking benefits of karaoke!
By the way, nobody ever asked me to hire a yoga instructor to do MBA career counseling again, because they take the work we do way too seriously now.* So, thanks to MBA CSEA, we all lived happily ever after (except for the recruiting budgets, which would still be nice to have back at their 1990s levels).
*(Note to yoga instructors: I’m not disrespecting you. I’m a former aerobics instructor (Yay 1980s!). But seriously, that was the only paid work experience the guy had.)