The HEC Paris Career Center plays a major role in supporting students throughout their MBA journey. In fact, a whopping 72 percent of the HEC Paris MBA’s Class of 2019 reported that the school facilitated their post-MBA job opportunities. To learn more, we recently sat down with Marie Courtois, Director of the HEC Career Center, to ask her about the center’s approach and what changes she has seen during her 15 years of working with MBA students.
Give us an overview of how the Career Center assists MBA students.
MBA students have a clearly defined career journey that begins even before they arrive on campus and continues up until graduation. It begins with a series of video presentations on how to prepare a management-level CV and cover letter. We also provide them early access to our databases, so students know the application deadlines for internships and MBA-level leadership programs, and can start boosting their knowledge of specific sectors and industries.
We are here to help students really define their project all along their career journey. A project that fits themselves, their personalities and their needs.
During orientation, there is a formal presentation with our Careers team, as well as ‘Coffee and Careers’ mornings where they can meet informally with the team. Next comes a mandatory, 3-day career workshop and a one-to-one meeting with their career advisor. Our career advisors also have weekly time slots throughout the year to meet with students.
The career journey continues throughout the 16 months, with both mandatory and facultative workshops and advice sessions. Our approach is very pragmatic, and it includes a combination of actionable steps and coaching. Step-by-step, we help students build their career path and strategy.
We realize that career strategy can change as well. You might join the program thinking, ‘I really want to go into consulting,’ and then after a month, you decide, ‘I’m not really interested in consulting at all. After attending these consulting workshops, I realize that it’s not for me.’ We are here to help students really define their project all along their career journey. A project that fits themselves, their personalities and their needs.
Our goal is to be pragmatic, action-oriented, but tailored to each individual. We have put in place a framework that works for everyone and is easily tailored to individuals. We give students the tools to reach their goals.
Do students need to arrive at the HEC Paris MBA with a clearly defined career path?
For someone who enters the MBA knowing exactly what they want to do next, we backtrack and make sure that they are fully prepared for that career. We work with them to make sure that their goals are solid, and that they have all the bases covered to reach those goals. For example, we make sure their CV and their pitch is solid; that they understand the sector and all the opportunities that exist within it; that they have great networking skills; that they know the sector’s jargon; etc.
For students who start the MBA without a clear idea of what they want to do afterward, we encourage them to explore and discover. Be curious. Go to a McKinsey presentation and a Google presentation. Attend workshops. Talk to alumni and other students from different sectors. There is no rush. Little by little, through the career program and the MBA’s academic program, they realize what they like. That’s the beauty of it. For most of us, only about 20 companies exist in the world. But there’s literally millions of companies, and millions of opportunities.
You have over a decade – 15 years, to be exact – of experience working with MBA students. What has changed?
Literally, everything has changed. To give you an example, Uber and Airbnb were startups in 2009. When they were recruiting at the business school where I used to work, they were attracting very few candidates. On the other hand, Groupon used to be a massive campus recruiter. Today Uber is so prevalent that we talk about the uberization of the economy, and there’s not much talk about Groupon. There’s no way to predict the future impact of a company.
Another trend I have seen is that the MBA degree used to be only about working in finance versus consulting. Today the career opportunities for MBAs are much more varied and diverse. Many companies are now hiring one or two MBAs each year, to add those skills to their talent pool. MBAs bring a well-rounded skillset and experience to companies. They are valued for their international perspectives and their management skills, which often come on top of technical skills that students gained pre-MBA.
Has the function of a career center changed as well?
What has changed is how we view careers. During our parent’s time, careers used to be about getting a good job. Today, getting a good job is not enough. Now it is about getting the right job. The job that is right for you and your career development, keeping in mind that we, on average, all change jobs every four years. Today’s right job might not be full time either, because professionals can now thrive with a portfolio career in the gig economy.
The Career Center focuses on the individual, on coaching and professional and personal development. It is no longer just about being prepared for interviews and being able to go into a certain sector such as consulting. It is also our job to make sure that student really wants to go into consulting or into whatever field they have chosen as a goal.
You have worked at many different business schools, both in France and around the world. Is there something you have seen that makes the HEC Paris MBA unique?
The thing that has struck me is how incredibly international the HEC Paris MBA is. In general, it’s very easy for MBA programs, wherever they are, to label themselves as ‘international.’ That said, the HEC Paris MBA is truly international in every respect: its students, its staff, its faculty, and its curriculum. The internationalization of the program is not reduced to a classroom or an event or two. It has top students with extremely interesting backgrounds coming from all over the world to succeed in the program.
What is the most exciting thing for you that is happening in HEC careers?
I want to start out by saying COVID is a tragedy, but it has also been an opportunity for us. As a manager, I am very proud of my team, because we were ready to go digital from Day 1. Going digital has made it easier for international companies to reach out to our students. For example, Bain’s UK office participated in the MBA Career Week in September, and that wasn’t the case in previous years. The flexibility of attending from a distance also has made it so much easier for students. It’s also making us look closer at our offering, asking what is best done in person, and what can be better offered by video or online. There will be very exciting developments around digital in the future.