How The Best Undergrad Programs Prep Students For The Job Market

Undergraduate students at a jobs fair

Undergraduate students at a jobs fair

Any savvy career services officer working with undergraduate business students these days knows that it is no easy task to gain the admiration of the dozens of recruiters who sweep through campus for the annual parade of career fairs and corporate presentations. Surveys like Bloomberg Businessweek’s recruiter ranking gives employers a chance to rate the best business programs from their perspective, letting administrators know how they view the school’s efforts to prepare the students for the job market.

The schools that receive the highest accolades from recruiters are not necessarily the top-ranked undergraduate business programs, but more often ones that fly under the radar, such as large state universities that need to prepare several thousand students each year for the job market including Mays Business School at Texas A&M University or smaller private schools such as Bentley University.

Other schools who earn plaudits from corporate recruiters include the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management and the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. There’s no magic formula to get ranked in the top ten, but the schools on that list do have some things in common: out-of-the-box thinking and a long-term view toward career services that at some schools starts the moment students set foot on campus, according to interviews with career services officers from about half-a-dozen schools that made the top of the list.


“We have to be creative. We have to be innovative and essentially prove ourselves so that we can justify students spending time with us,” said Amy Thompson, a career coordinator at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, who works with freshman and sophomores at the school.

Almost all of most highly schools by recruiters say they have managed to get career services implemented into the academic curriculum in the form of either an elective or a required class. For example, Penn State’s Smeal College offers a one-credit career planning and strategy elective that 700 students take each year. Smeal first offered it in 2009 with two sections, and it has proven so popular that there are now six sections each semester, said Meg Handley, Smeal’s director of career and corporate connections.

The curriculum covers topics like how to get an internship, resume skills, negotiating and evaluating job offers and ethics around the job search process. Students practice their 30-second “elevator pitch” with employers in class and at a mock career fair, an initiative the school unveiled for the first time in 2013. “We do a survey at the end of each class every semester and students say, ‘hands down, that it is one of the top most helpful classes,’” Handley said.


Velma Arney, director of BBA career services at the McCombs School, pushed a decade ago to have a career development class as a required part of the curriculum and a degree requirement, and succeeded. As a result, every year 450 transfer students and 850 freshmen take the class, which covers ethics, recruiting and decision making, amongst other topics.  “I’m able to get in front of every single student their freshman year, which is a bit unique,” Arney said. “Every time I go to conferences or meet with my peers, one of the topics is how do you get students to your event or get them to do what they need to do. At our school, whether students want to or not, they are forced to talk to us because of the required class.”

Leadership skills are at the top of most recruiters’ checklists when interviewing candidates, and career services offices at these schools said they want to ensure students have a strong grasp of these soft skills. At Bentley, that has meant adding a new component to the curriculum this year that teaches students how to use Gallup’s StrengthsFinder tool, which measures student’s talents in nearly three-dozen areas, said Susan Brennan, Bentley’s executive director of career services. Students spend one semester learning how to use the tools, and then they apply what they’ve learned the next semester in a career development seminar taught by career services staff, Brennan said. “It’s helpful for us when you have 1000 freshmen that are all familiar with a similar process and they not only know their own strengths, but can appreciate their peers’ and use those skills in teams, groups and even their own living situations,” Brennan said.

Another program testing the waters in this area is the Smeal School, which is encouraging students this year to take a Korn/Ferry assessment that helps them identify their unique leadership characteristics. The school offers mock interviews for sophomores, and any time a student signs up for one, they receive an e-mail with information on how to prepare, as well as a link to the Korn/Ferry test, which they can do on LinkedIn. Students are encouraged to discuss the results of the survey during the mock interview, an opportunity for them to practice talking about their leadership skills.