Dean’s Q&A: Mike Roberts, BYU Marriott

The N. Eldon Tanner Building, home of the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott School of Management

After 26 years in the industry — including more than two decades at Hewlett-Packard — Mike Roberts went back to Brigham Young University in 2013 to serve as Assistant Dean of the undergraduate student program and Director of the Marriott School of Management Business Career Center. The last time Roberts was on the Provo, Utah campus, it was as an undergraduate student himself. Today, he works with students to develop and kickstart their careers.

“It’s fulfilling to see them grow and help them understand the importance of starting their career development early on,” Roberts says. “They’re mature and bright, and many of them come to Brigham Young with impressive life experiences.”

For last year’s graduating class, 89% of BYU Marriott graduates seeking employment had secured employment within three months of graduation with an average starting salary of just over $55,000. Some of the school’s recent top employers include Goldman Sachs, Qualtrics, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte.

In a wide-ranging interview below, Roberts shares what the school is currently doing to inspire and guide its students as well as advice for high school students and their parents considering studying business in college.

Mike Roberts of BYU Marriott. Courtesy photo

P&Q: What do you love most about being dean and director of career services?

Mike Roberts: Unlike students at many other business schools, more than 70% of our students have gone on a couple of years of service missions with their churches before applying to join our school. This makes them both mature and interesting as they have stories to tell and have lived different experiences. On average, we accept about 50%of applicants into the program, with an average GPA of 3.7, and most of them can speak a second language.

Also because of their time abroad, our students are used to being challenged to do tough things because they’ve led fairly disciplined lifestyles before starting college. We’ve found that because of their background, our job is to help them further their potential. What we do in the classroom is critical, but we add a lot of extracurricular activities to create an impact outside the classroom as well.

One of the main programs we have at the school is an on-campus internship program where freshmen and sophomores work with companies both locally and throughout the country. Having real projects to work on connects well with the student population that has already experienced learning from life, while at the same time getting employers familiar with the students.

From identifying business opportunities and penetrating new markets, to improving profitability and cutting costs, our unique student body allows us to introduce them into the real world early on and they aren’t usually surprised by anything.

At the same time, it costs the companies nothing to engage Marriott students, all they have to do is appoint a sponsoring manager to work with the students and design the team they think will best solve this problem and we build the team.

Whether it’s a team that needs marketing, engineering, finance, or computer science students in it, the school helps to connect the right students with the right projects, and they then put in the equivalent of 40 hours of work a week.

Having tough students allows us to push them to be tougher and some teams do so well in their final presentations to the executive managers that they are invited back to the company’s headquarters to present.

The students come to us bright, mature, and ready to develop, and it’s fulfilling to watch them grow from the experiential learning opportunities we design.

How does the school inspire and guide its students?

At our school, we make it clear early on that we are developing students for careers, not jobs. And we help them understand that a career doesn’t mean staying in the same job for 20 years.

On top of getting students exposed to the industry, one of my biggest jobs is to guide them to look for organizations, not positions. We want to study company cultures and develop a strategic approach to looking for the company they want to be a part of. I sometimes question them on what they think of a company’s business model. It’s really about pursuing a company.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen students make is to run after a job as long as it’s in the industry they’re in. We see it everywhere — finance students applying for anything that comes up in the finance sector. But that’s not going to work in the long run.

The key is to start early and identify the companies you think you want to work for. It takes research, exposure, and smart networking. Above all, it takes time, so don’t wait. Begin by making contact with the company, probably the alumni, and ask questions about career progression and culture. You should consider if it resonates with you and if you’re inspired by the products and services you’ll be providing.

Inspiration is just the beginning, it’s also important for students to aspire, dream, and be OK with feeling discouraged along the path. Students don’t have to drive it to the end, but they need to be moving forward.

It’s easy to get caught up in a job. Sometimes, students tell me they don’t know if they’ll want to do something for 20 years, and I have to tell them that if they’re still doing the same in 20 years, something’s wrong.

Students should be prepared to start their careers in a functional area. But sometimes, they need reminding that the beauty of business is that it’s easy to pivot. Try out different roles, and take on different challenges. You could start in finance, move into business development, and end up in business strategy. I moved across a variety of business models and capabilities and that’s how my career expanded.

Careers are very dynamic and you need to enjoy being with the company and the way they operate.

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