- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Patty Buchek usually works with senior managers in her position with an executive-search firm. But her recent clients included University of Maryland MBA candidates in need of coaching and some hand-holding as they went off to job interviews.

“Get a good night’s sleep; have a good breakfast,” Miss Buchek told one student anxious about having to make it through three interviews with a pharmaceutical firm.

The university’s Robert H. Smith School of Business hired Miss Buchek’s firm, Stanton Chase International, to give its graduates an edge as they compete for positions with top companies. Like other business schools, Smith is resorting to extraordinary measures because of an unrelentingly difficult job market.

Cornell University used four loaned corporate jets to fly recruiters for free this year to its Ithaca, N.Y., campus. Indiana University and Purdue University, traditional intrastate rivals, held a joint job fair in hopes of attracting corporate recruiters who might pass over individual campuses.

“In a market like this, our challenge is to put the product in front of the customer because right now the customer is not going to come to the product. Whatever spin we can use is critical,” said Mel Penn, corporate-relations executive at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business and president of the MBA Career Services Council, an association of business-school counselors.

Counselors say the job market has shriveled since three years ago, when those receiving master’s degrees in business administration often left school with multiple offers and seemingly unreal salaries. Many students now find sectors such as investment banking and high-tech have fewer jobs and are highly selective, with much-less-generous pay packages.

“There are things out there; we are getting interviews,” said MBA candidate Brandon Griesell after meeting last week with Miss Buchek and several other Smith students to discuss job-hunting. “But people are really slow to pull the trigger.”

Statistics suggest the tight market may be driving down salaries offered to MBAs, said Camille Luckenbaugh, employment-information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit group that tracks hiring trends for college graduates.

Last year, among 67 offers to MBA students that NACE surveyed, the average salary was $65,497. This year, the figure fell 12 percent to $57,402 in a sample of 60 offers, Miss Luckenbaugh said.

The small-group meeting is part of Stanton Chase’s approach to job-seeking — getting students together to share tips and experiences and to get advice from the four Stanton staffers working with Smith. The firm also goes to companies, often with resumes in hand, to promote students.

The school signed a 120-day contract with Stanton that runs through May. Miss Buchek and two other Stanton employees work full-time out of offices on Smith’s College Park campus, while another in Silicon Valley connects students with tech companies.

About 100 of this year’s MBA class of 220 are taking part free of charge, said Michael E. Agnew, assistant dean of the school. Stanton’s fee is being paid by a private donor.

“For us, it was the right strategy for turbulent times,” Mr. Agnew said of hiring Stanton.

The extra steps are not taken solely to help students get jobs, Mr. Penn said. The ability of a school to place students in jobs and their average starting salaries are big factors in the business-school rankings. Top schools wary of slipping in the rankings work hard to keep their places, while other schools jockey to break into the Top 25.

More important than rankings to Mr. Griesell and the other students who met recently with Miss Buchek was getting any kind of job leads they could.

Miss Buchek coached them on how to prepare for a full day of interviews, reminded them to send follow-up notes and talked about the importance of making eye contact during group interviews.

She soothed a discouraged Jay Gelfman, who hadn’t heard back about the telecom job he really wanted.

“If companies aren’t hiring, they’re not hiring,” Mr. Gelfman said. “But they’re [Stanton] doing all they can.”

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