spring 2009

Jobs Headline

By Nancy Johnson

Chris Gibson counts himself lucky, and with good reason.

When he graduates with an MBA in May from the Mendoza College of Business, Gibson will not only have a job, it will be one that suits him even better than his planned field, investment banking.

Gibson, 28, had an internship with the New York investment banking arm of the Swiss financial giant UBS. But last fall’s stock market tumble sank his chances for a job offer from UBS, so he charted a different course.

“I looked into corporate restructuring. I focused in on helping companies try to get out of debt and refinance,” he said. The St. Louis, Mo., native accepted a job at FTI Consulting, Inc. in Chicago. He calls it “perfect for my skills.”

For this year’s business graduates, it’s the toughest job market in decades. Reverberations from last year’s subprime mortgage crisis are still being felt as dozens of major employers slash jobs and freeze hiring. The investment banking industry teeters near collapse. These developments have many business undergraduates and MBAs looking for jobs in areas well outside their original plans.

Administrators at Notre Dame took action as soon as they heard forecasts that hiring would be significantly down. In April 2008, Lee Svete, director of the Career Center at Notre Dame, learned through the University’s Employer Advisory Board as well as through jobs forecasts that recruiting would be cut significantly, though no one at the time could have predicted the financial meltdown to come in the fall. There was strong recruiting at career fairs until October 2008—when “on-campus recruiting came to a grinding halt,” Svete said.

Members from the Employer Advisory Board and the Mendoza College’s Business Advisory Council brainstormed ideas during campus visits in November. The result—seven strategies to boost placement— centered on  increases in Employer development and on- and off-campus career fairs, workshops and mock interviews; as well as online resources, alternative work options, individual career counseling and networking.

“We decided to diversify our portfolio to help students get jobs,” said Svete, whose office provides career services to undergraduate students as well as those enrolled in the Master of Nonprofit Administration and the Master of Science in Accountancy programs. The Career Center aggressively increased employer development, focusing on growth and stable industries. This action resulted in a strong interest from employers in consulting, defense contractors, retail, health care and technology. Notre Dame added recruiting partners such as the artificial joint maker Stryker, air conditioning system maker Trane, and agricultural and food companies including Cargill, Kellogg Co., ALDI and The Hershey Company.

Food companies are also strong because people are eating more at home, Svete said. General Mills alone hired eight Notre Dame graduates, who will work in areas such as brand management, distribution supply chain, and sales. Another strong sector that hired Notre Dame graduates included resilient retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores, Under Armour and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The federal government also has become a bright spot in job hiring, Svete said. It has an aging work force, and the new administration has brought an increased demand in the areas of accounting, budget and planning, Homeland Security, defense systems and high-tech jobs. The U.S. Department of Justice alone is targeted to hire 10 Notre Dame students from the Class of 2009.

Find a Plan B—and Plan C

This is the worst job market Ed Conlon has seen in years. As associate dean for Graduate Studies at the Mendoza College of Business, he sees some MBAs struggling to find employment.

“The very best students will have good offers. But if you are merely good, it will be difficult,” Conlon said. “Just good isn’t good enough anymore.”

A recent MBA Career Services Council survey found that about 50 percent of career offices said job postings were down more than 10 percent, and 20 percent said activity was down more than 20 percent. Conlon added that many firms such as Fortune 500 companies have not stopped recruiting altogether, but are cutting jobs and internships by more than half.

Typically, in the fall, many job offers come straight off summer internships. The most attractive candidates, in terms of their area of concentration, work experience and interviewing skills, were offered and accepted jobs last fall. But it is an extremely soft job market for the second tier of students—those who normally do OK in landing a job. “They are competing with people with a degree and job experience” who have been laid off, Conlon said.

Job hunting will be especially challenging for finance majors because of the ongoing trouble in the investment banking industry.  Some 40 to 50 percent of Notre Dame MBAs are finance majors, and they are divided into the investment track and the corporate finance track. “We tell the investment track students to think about corporate finance, and that they will be positioned to go back to investment” when that area comes back, Conlon said.

The MBA Career Development staff urges students to contact alumni, research companies, and have a Plan B—plus a Plan C.

“We make sure student expectations are realistic. If they dream of a Wall Street job, we say, `Put it on hold.’ A lot of firms do the same kind of activities that investment banks do. Look at regional investment banks or corporations,” Conlon said.

About a third of the two-year MBA program students received quality job offers they were interested in taking, but the one-year program students had no internships to build on, so it is especially tough for them. International students, too, have a disadvantage because to receive work visas, they have to be sponsored by a company. But in a buyer’s market, employers don’t want the extra paperwork, Conlon said.

There has been some frustration, “but the students have been marvelous,” Conlon said. “They are open-minded, reading and researching opportunities. Some have outright changed careers.”

Patrick Perrella, director of MBA Career Development, said his office has stepped up efforts by actively reaching out to alumni and recruiters, which has resulted in a good response from companies with last-minute slots to fill. They also are phoning potential employers in search-firm mode to promote individual students, and for the first time, are hosting a virtual career fair using a streaming video format that eliminates travel costs for recruiters and students. The office also added a number of workshops on improving networking skills and using electronic job databases.

There is no doubt the internship situation has changed. Last summer, 100 percent of the MBA students were placed in good internships, and companies were still hiring, Perrella said. “This year, we might have 100 percent placed, but there will be a percentage working for free.”

Today’s new graduates won’t have the luxury of being pursued by recruiters who come to campus, said Robert E. Reilly Jr., chairman and founding partner of the executive recruiting firm Reilly Partners in Chicago. In this market, he said, “You will have to find your second job first. The rest of your career, you will have to find jobs by networking, getting known in your industry.”

  To land a job, Reilly advised, “Network like crazy. Call your friends, classmates, uncles, neighbors. Network like you’ve never networked before,” said Reilly, a member of Mendoza’s Business Advisory Council. He said that job seekers shouldn’t quit their jobs if they have one. “Take a job, get known, work hard,” rather than sit around waiting for the perfect one. “Then the job you wanted may come your way in a couple of years,” he added.

A Two Year Wait?

Svete, at the Career Center office, believes the poor hiring market is temporary. “It is in a down cycle. Boomers will retire later, but they will retire.” He believes hiring will hit bottom in 2010 or 2011. Then, companies that weathered the storm will be leaner and will start hiring again.

In the meantime, some students may take a temporary job, freelance, teach or perform a couple of years of service work with groups such as the Peace Corps, until companies resume hiring, he said.

Perrella, in MBA Career Development, forecasts a tight job market for the next two years. But this will not be a disaster for Notre Dame graduates “because of the strength of alumni and recruiting relationships,” he said.

Gibson, the graduating MBA, noted that the situation has been frustrating for some of his classmates, but Notre Dame does open a lot of doors through its alumni base. “It is more work to find a job, but spirits are so up here—there are a lot of helping hands.”

  —NANCY JOHNSON is a South Bend-based writer.


Widening the net
Here are some steps Notre Dame’s career services
offices have taken to help students land jobs:
1.  Sent e-mails to 24,000 alumni in growth or stable industries to identify job opportunities
2.  Developed recruiting relationships with smaller, mid-sized and family-owned companies to post jobs and internships
3.  Added five off-campus career fairs in major U.S. cities. Gave a $200 travel stipend to students attending the Big East Career Fair in New York City
4.  Gave career counselors additional training to help students search for jobs with federal government or public service
5.  Found alternative work options and fellowships with a wide range of organizations such as the St. Vincent Pallotti Center Catholic volunteer organization, the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the United States Golf Association
6.  Increased the number of recruiters conducting mock interviews and doubled workshop offerings, including “How to Recession-Proof Your Job Search”
7.  Organized alumni networking workshops to provide students and recent graduates with access to key contacts
8.  Boosted access to online employment resources, research directories and job sites. Irish Online gives seniors and graduate students access to the Notre Dame Alumni Association, with 68,000 active e-mail accounts
9.  Created an International Student Virtual Career Fair, with employers looking for students to return to their home countries
10. Implemented “Recruiters in Residence,” a volunteer program in which employers assisted in reviewing resumes prior to the Winter Career and Internship Fair in January
11. Established the Global Internship Initiative to provide funding for internships, focusing on China and the United Kingdom
12. Sent resume books—a collection of resumes of students who want to work in a certain city—to Notre Dame Alumni Clubs in select cities
13. Established a LinkedIn Notre Dame alumni online networking group, which currently has more than 8,980 members


© 2008 University of Notre Dame • Last Updated: May 14, 2009