Carlson Sees Shift In Students’ Job Interests

Mark Sorenson-Wagner is director of the Undergraduate Business Career Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Courtesy photo

P&Q: What are some of the key concerns you have in your role?

Sorenson-Wagner: It goes back to how do I make sure our students don’t come across as robots or that we’re turning out the same students over and over? We want students to show off what makes them unique. I’m always concerned if students can showcase themselves as an individual.

Also, I’m always worried about the stress of it. Mental health is really important to us here. When it comes to careers and jobs, there’s a lot of stress and many students come to us without failing at many things. There’s pressure which could be from family or students around them.

There’s certainly anxiety that can go into connecting your major to life after graduating from college. What we’re trying to do is normalize it. There will be stress — and it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad stress — but it’s about helping them learn how to navigate it so it’s not so overwhelming that impacts other parts of their lives.

When they look at first job after they graduate, they’re going to ask, ‘Was it worth it?’ I want students to be excited about internships, finding the right fit, finding the right culture. So how do we focus on that rather than the anxiety and stress because it can be a stressful process getting rejection for applications, going to career fairs, etcetera.

P&Q: Switching gears a bit, what are some changes you’ve seen among employers and the recruiting process in general?

Sorenson-Wagner: There has been lot of change in last 20 years. When I started, we still had a wall of job postings. We were just getting started with web-based practices and software to find opportunities. Things have changed drastically, which is exciting.

What’s changed a lot is the recruiting timelines. Banks and finance have changed quite a bit and put a different type of pressure on students, but it’s really across the board. It used to be many companies would hire full-time students during fall semester then backfill with interns in the springtime. As we’ve seen HR and recruiting structures get more and more robust, they’ve built much stronger strategies.

It’s basically an arms race to get to campus as early as possible to get to the best talent as fast as possible before some of their competitors. Things are very intense, very early during fall semesters now. This means a big change in how we prepare students in terms of who’s coming and how to be prepared. It’s almost like a full-time job for students for six weeks as they’re going to prep events, career fairs, first and final round interviews, and so on. We’re doing the best we can to help them understand what’s about to happen and how to balance it all.

P&Q: You mentioned this being a trend that’s seen across the board. Does that mean it’s not just banking and finance?

Sorenson-Wagner: No, it’s all of the disciplines and all of the industries; for instance, manufacturing, biotech, and others. They’re not necessarily as early as finance and banking — which can be almost a year out — but the whole continuum has shifted towards earlier and earlier.

P&Q: In the past, you and others have talked to Poets&Quants about accelerated recruiting. Do you see this trend subsiding or slowing down anytime soon?

Sorenson-Wagner: I think all of us are challenged by it. Universities and firms would acknowledge and we realize it’s a really different process. It’s such a competitive atmosphere right now for finding talent. What’s the chicken and egg that is going to change that? Are we going to put our foot down which could potentially impact our relationship with employers? Where does the solution come from?

I think we’d all like to find some compromise if possible. It’s putting a stress on students that we’re trying to understand. Some students would be great for these firms, but they’ve missed that early timeline and it’s hard for students to commit to something that early on.

For me to walk in and say fall of freshman year, ‘I need to start teaching you about networking and having the perfect resume,’ I think we’re still trying to figure out how to react to this trend.

P&Q: Which industries are most popular among Carlson students?

Sorenson-Wagner: When I look at where they go after they graduation, we have a pretty even distribution. Consulting, manufacturing, healthcare; all of those are in the 13-15% range of our graduating population. Also, consumer packaged goods and biotech are in the 5-10% range as well.

A lot of students may come in thinking they want to go into one big named company, but for a lot of other students, it’s finding what actually makes most sense for them. We’re proud of the different relationships we have across a lot of industries.

P&Q: What do you enjoy most and least about your role?

Sorenson-Wagner: I love the students. I don’t know how to say it another way. I got into this work because I wanted to work with students. It’s fun to work with someone freshman year who says, ‘I have no idea what I want to do or how I fit in here.’ Then you see them graduate and be successful.

They challenge us everyday. College students are filled with high expectations of themselves and with us so we have to come up with the services to meet and exceed those expectations. It’s fun to see students who thrive when you open the door for them to some different experiences or opportunities.

I also love that I work in the Twin Cities. It’s such a great location for corporate partners. A lot of what we do wouldn’t be possible without those relationships. For me to bring in a recruiter from a company, it brings more validity to the work we’re doing and enables us to use those relationships to bounce ideas off of, identify trends, and learn what did or didn’t work for our employer partners.

What I enjoy least is when the small, day-to-day things get you bogged down and you wish you had more time to work with students and to create ideas.


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