What LinkedIn Tells Me About How You Should Prepare For Your Future

University career services operations and alumni associations have struggled for years to get good data on the employment experiences of their graduates. Mercifully, people voluntarily share on social media sites all sorts of things they neglect to tell their alma mater. So would it shock you to learn that one of our best sources of information on the employment histories of UCF College of Business graduates comes from LinkedIn? We have about 50,000 alums from the College of Business, 13,615 of them are on LinkedIn– that represents about 27% of the total.

These graduates tell us a number things: 70% of them live in Florida. Almost 60% of them are employed doing one of just six things: sales (15%), finance (12%), operations (9%), accounting (8%), entrepreneurship (7%), and marketing (6%). You might expect marketing people to be over-represented on LinkedIn– all that concern about developing your personal brand and stuff. But, if you add up those who work in sales, marketing or business development you get 25% of the total UCF COBA grads on LinkedIn. Almost sixty percent of our alums on LinkedIn graduated in the last ten years. This is a bit of an over-representation since only about 50% of our diplomas were issued in the last ten years. That said, it certainly appears that a lot of our young graduates start out in sales or another marketing function.

Given the vast majority of alums stay in Florida, it shouldn’t surprise us that the top employers of our grads are all in Central Florida: Lockheed Martin (150), UCF (140), Disney (106), Darden (58), Siemens (52). Only these five organizations have more than fifty of our alums on LinkedIn.

Most important is what our alums say they are skilled at–what presumably keeps them employed. Twelve percent report that they are skilled at Customer Service (1669), only slightly less–about 11.5% say they are skilled at Microsoft Excel (1570) and/or Office (1502). About nine percent say they are skilled at Marketing (1215), Financial Analysis (1178), Budgets (1170), Strategic Planning (1130), or Leadership (1126). Marketing Strategy (1065), PowerPoint (1041) and Sales Management (1004) round out the list with more than 1000. Again a very heavy dose of marketing skills with analytical and financial skills close behind.

If you do this same exercise for the University of Florida’s B-school you get a slightly different mix: a more geographically diverse alumni base has a higher concentration of people in finance with more analytic skills. USF looks more like us. The University of Michigan (my alma mater), looks sharply different because of the school’s location and probably the average age and geographic dispersion of its graduates.

The bottom line is this: if you plan to stay in Florida, especially Central Florida–you would be well served developing good sales, marketing and customer service skills. It is what we do here. Next comes finance and analytic skills (e.g. Excel). Having all four skills would greatly expand your opportunities to land a job locally. If your strengths or interest lie elsewhere, you need to be willing to look beyond what you can see out your window when searching for that first job.


How to Get Promoted

I once had a direct report who brought me every problem he encountered. He would describe them to me and then sit and wait for me to “give him the answer.” At times I think he was stumped. Most of the time he just wanted to cover his butt or be able to blame the decision on me if someone complained. This went on for about a month, when finally I asked him: “What is your recommendation for how we should handle this?” He looked surprised and said he didn’t have one. I told him to come back when he did–that if I had to solve all his problems for him, that I really didn’t need him. It took him a while, but he came back.

A wise man once told me that you get promoted by bringing your boss solutions, rather than problems. Think about it this way–every manager or leader has plenty of problems. They don’t need you to bring them more. What they are really short on is solutions. Providing people solutions gets you noticed. Being a reliable provider of solutions, gets you promoted.

This is why we put such a heavy emphasis on developing student problem-solving skills in business schools. The more difficult (and inherently risky) problems you can solve, the more they will need you, and the farther you will go. Don’t leave here without developing the ability to solve problems–the more wicked, the better.

Lonny Says We Have Baggage Fees

Last week, I got the following email from Lonny.  It was so good that I wanted to pass it on to everyone.

Ok, so this article has absolutely nothing to do with student advising, careers, and all the other stuff we’re supposed to do here…or does it?


The question is, do we have “baggage fees” that keep us from really helping students?  Yes, we do!!!

Do we have antiquated views (and rules) about the qualifications/duties of an advisor?Do we have College rules and pre-requisites that require us to process over-rides and waivers? Do we focus more on getting through classes to graduate than we do on what happens after graduation?

For example…the student schedule planning tool should help a student do their own schedule, right?  However, from what I’ve heard, the student has to go back and manually enter all 60+ of their hours before they can use the tool because it can’t/won’t/we haven’t taught advisors to/we don’t require people to/we haven’t asked it to/whatever the hell… auto-download prior classes.

No customer is going to manually key in their service history to make your job easier.  Besides that, even if they did, all a student has to do is miss one pre-requisite and they are barred from scheduling any CBA classes on their own…even though intro classes don’t really require that knowledge and we just jury-rig the system by processing waivers and over-rides.  That said, no matter how attractive we make the tool or how much we blame students/advisors/leprechauns for not using the tools at their disposal, we can’t speed up the boarding process.

These “baggage fees” keep us doing things the same way instead of looking at new, innovative, and/or more meaningful ways of getting students to their destination.  Have a cup of coffee and think about that this am.  Just because everyone else does it, doesn’t mean it’s right…  🙂

Aimlessly Seeking A Career

I shook more than one thousand hands on Friday as our business students got their degrees and moved on to the next stage in their lives. Sometimes I wonder where they all come from.

This year thanks to Lonny, I have a much better idea of where our undergraduate degree holders are going. Lonny took me up on my offer to buy lunch for cross- departmental groups wanting to discuss a college-wide issue. Actually in this case it was breakfast and the “lunch time roulette” group developed and implemented a survey of graduating seniors in our capstone course. Fittingly, I got the results on Friday afternoon about four hours after graduation.

More than 550 students replied to the survey. Forty-five percent of the students were looking for full-time work. And as Lonny puts it, among these job seekers only half report that they know what they want to do and less than 40% know where they want to work. At best, 40% have been to Career Services and most of that was just to meet with a counselor and have their resume reviewed. Less than a quarter have taken advantage of services such as workshops, company info sessions, mock interviews, etc. However, the same group is very confident of their skills to find that unknown job, scoring in the affirmative by 80% to questions about their interviewing and networking skills. In short, they don’t know what they want to do or where they want to work and have done little to hone their job search skills, but they are sure they will find something that suits them.

I don’t share their optimism. It is hard to look for work when you don’t know what you want to do. Will a skilled aimless search produce a better result than an unskilled aimless search? My guess is that both end with the first job offer. Only luck will produce a good match. A bad match hurts the alum, the employer and us. So how do we help students improve their career decision skills so that they do a more honest assessment of their job search capabilities and get a better start on landing the right job? Lonny and the group, looks like I’m buying lunch again..

Repost Wednesday: An Insider’s Take on Choosing an MBA Program

So you are thinking of returning to school to get your MBA. You google “MBA Rankings” and start looking for a top-ranked school in a good location at an affordable price. The rankings are a good place to start. Programs that score high deliver on their promises to students (and employers) and help graduates achieve their career goals. But realize that different programs make different promises to students. They attract different people hoping to get different things out of their MBA experience.

Most obvious is the difference between full-time and part-time programs. Part-time, or working professional programs as they are sometimes called, appeal to students that have great demands on their time and are looking for an efficient vehicle for gaining the credentials they need to move up in their current firm, change jobs or start a new career. These students tend to favor practitioner-oriented programs that play to their work experience and stress immediate relevancy over the development of a deeper perspective based on a rigorous conceptual approach. Some of these students will choose an on-line option because they are drawn to the combination of convenience and efficiency offered by such programs. In contrast, full-time students are making a much bigger commitment of time and lost wages and are typically looking for a more immersive experience that will up-grade their conceptual abilities and produce results over a longer time horizon.

You can see these differences in the rankings. The top of Business Week’s full-time program rankings is a list of elite schools presented largely in the order you would expect. Academic prowess and reputation rank supreme. The part-time rankings, on the other hand, offer several surprises. The number one program, Elon has students with very average GMAT scores and almost ten years of work experience taught in very small sections. Number three, Carnegie Mellon has students with half the work experience of Elon, who are taught largely by non-tenure track faculty (i.e. practitioners) in much larger class sizes.

But other differences matter too. MBA programs don’t have a commonly-defined set of pre-requisite experiences, required undergraduate majors, or selection criteria. The general applicability of the degree (MBAs are employed everywhere) attracts a broad range of students with a wide range of interests, talents, and aspirations. Some MBA students hope to start their own business or work for a small firm. They are likely to be drawn to more generalist programs, that stress entrepreneurship, strategy and a comprehensive view of business. Other prospective MBAs are looking to move up in the corporate world. They tend to have strong technical skills in engineering, finance, or the sciences and are looking to augment those talents with managerial skills. Still others want to change careers. They may be liberal arts majors with creativity and strong communication skills who have never taken a business course in their lives and are looking to improve their data-driven decision-making abilities in one or more functional areas of business.

And then there is the fifth year business school “senior” who simply can’t leave the fraternity house and thinks an MBA might be the best way to stick around for another year or two. Unless you too want to join the unambitious, run from programs who admit these students. If you are a fifth year senior go get five years of experience before enrolling in an MBA program. If you won’t listen to that advice, at least go to a different institution from the one where you got your undergraduate degree. Otherwise, you are likely to hear many of the same professors share the same insights with you that they did when you were an undergraduate. It’s not like they were keeping secrets from you until you became a graduate student under the belief that “you couldn’t handle the truth.” Yes, they will offer you material in a more sophisticated manner, but the difference is rarely enough to justify you going to that same institution immediately upon graduation.

The bottom line is this: Your MBA experience will be heavily influenced by the students around you. Be wary of programs that claim they can be all things to all people. Diversity in students’ industry backgrounds, types of work experience and cultural perspective are big plusses. Diversity in student expectations about program goals, approaches, and outcomes tends to breed dissatisfaction and dissent. Look for a program that has a strong sense of itself, the type of student it wants to attract, and what it is trying to accomplish. Take the time to dig deep and ensure you are joining a program that draws the kinds of people you want to be around and compete with both today in class and tomorrow in the business world.

TweetBack Thursday: What to do when you have no idea what you want to do.

@Klandress asked me…”What do you do when you have a business admin degree and no idea what you want to do … Sell insurance?”

Sure, why not? It is good honest work and beats doing nothing. Whatever you do, don’t go back to school. Sounds like you just finished your degree and didn’t find the answer the first time. No reason to believe going back right away will help. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. No use continuing to ask your friends and family either: sounds like they haven’t been much help.

I have to admit that I have never been in your situation. I have changed what I wanted to do several times over the years (e.g., cowboy, baseball player, astronomer, professor, dean) but I have never had no idea what I wanted to do. In many ways my advice to you is similar to the advice I gave @chrisjreagan in a recent post. Albert’s definition also gives you a clue to solving your dilemma. Whatever you have been doing hasn’t helped figure this out, so you need to do something different. Create a plan that you can implement in a proactive manner. Do not wait for destiny to find you. It isn’t coming.

Step 1, assuming you need a job to eat, get one. (If not, a walkabout might work, but it’s not likely). Step 2, realize that this is an entry level job, not your dream job. So ask yourself, what you can learn in this job that will allow you to take these skills and use them somewhere else if you don’t like it here or don’t perform as well as people might expect. If you can’t answer that question, the job is likely to be a dead-end (last resort) job. If you think the job has the potential to expand your skill set, move to Step 3: dive in. Step 4: while working this job, look to expand your professional network. Make a conscious effort to get to know and interact with people who are doing different things than what you are doing in your current job. Jobs that allow you to meet a wide variety of different people (see step 2) are good jobs to have when you don’t know what you want to do. Step 5: when meeting people, ask them lots of questions about what they do, how they got into this line of work, what the best parts of the job are and what the worst parts of the job entail. Step 6: when you find something among your contacts that interests you, ask them to mentor you so that you make good decisions about how to get into that profession. Maybe then going back to school would be a good thing to do.

So let’s evaluate a position in insurance sales. Sales skills are very generalizable, so the experience gained could be used in a wide variety of positions and careers. Also to be successful in this position, you would need to become knowledgeable about a range of financial products: a chance to add to your knowledge base. The job should allow you to interact with clients from a wide array of experiences and backgrounds and build relationships with people: Also a plus. Finally I would want to know what the potential for promotion within the company would be (what my options are if I like the work and want to stay), what educational requirements attach to these opportunities and what people typically make (not the top performer, but the median one) over their first few years. If the company promotes from within, provides a living starting salary to the typical performer and has a clear set of criteria for advancement it seems like an appealing place to start, especially if I haven’t found my passion.

TweetBack Thursday: Plan to Gain Better Access to Fortune 500 Recruiting

Today’s question focuses on gaining better employment opportunities for students. More specifically, William Thomas Van Hest asked: “I’d be interested to hear what the plan is to gain better access to Fortune 500 recruiting.”

Career Services does a good job of attracting a lot of companies to campus for their Fall and Spring Career Expos. Many of these firms are Fortune 500 companies. The list from the Fall 2012 Expo can be found  here. The College also has a list of companies it is targeting to bring to campus and Lonny Butcher spends much of his time trying to do this.

More generally, any plan to increase campus recruiting begins with an understanding of the company recruitment process. Campus recruiting is expensive so when a company decides to recruit on campus, it regularly evaluates its outcomes to ensure it is getting a good return on investment. Key points in this evaluation process include:

  1. How much does it cost us to send a recruiter(s) to campus?
  2. How much interest does the recruiter get during the visit (number of students showing up for info sessions, coming by their booth at the job fair, signing up for interviews (e.g., is my day full?), and if students do research and know about the company)?
  3. How many offers do I extend for an interview at our location (Am I finding what I’m looking for)?
  4. What percent of students accept my offer to visit the company (Are the students serious about us)?
  5. What percent of students survive the next steps in the interview process and get hired (i.e., what is my yield rate)?
  6. How well does the new hire perform (out of the gate and over the first year or so)?
  7. How long do they stay with my company?

Realize too that companies do not go on an unlimited number of recruiting trips. So to become a regular part of a company’s recruiting process, a school may have to displace another school on their calendar. This means they are going to have to outperform at least one school on the last three items above.

Now let’s apply those steps to UCF. Not very many Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Central Florida. Our region is dominated by small and medium companies that serve either the defense industry, a growing healthcare segment or the tourism/hospitality industry (or as Lonny calls it, the 500 pound gorilla). This has two implications for a plan to attract them here: (1) we are not near them, so it costs more to visit our campus and they will want to get above average returns for visits here. (2) Students need to be willing to relocate in order to pursue jobs with these firms. Yet, roughly 80% of our graduates, including 75% of a Cohort MBA graduates remain in Central Florida. Firms tell us many UCF students do not want to leave the region.

So, we are disadvantaged in the recruitment process for many Fortune 500 companies on items 1,2 and 4. This is problematic, but it doesn’t need to be deadly. We can overcome these challenges if the company finds a large number of students with the qualities they want, that high numbers of those who accept interviews survive the next steps in the recruiting process, do well on the job and stay for a long period of time (items 3, 5, 6, and 7). So to the extent that we can work to attract those firms that are looking for the exact qualities in their employees that we foster in our students, the better the “match” we will be and the better we will perform on items 3, 5, 6 and 7. This is one of the reasons why I am such a strong advocate for building a culture in the College that fosters a distinctive set of qualities in our students: it will help attract the right employers to campus and increase everyone’s yield rate: theirs and ours.

Whether these are Fortune 500 companies or not isn’t as important as whether these are companies that are attractive to our students and vice versa. So, I would ask you: what companies would you like to see recruit here? What qualities do they have that you find appealing? And what research have you done to lead you to conclude that you want to work in these firms?

Hey, Lonny what do students tell you?

Beating the Unknown Applicant

I have served on many search committees and have made a lot of hiring decisions over the years.   I have hired some great people and some that didn’t work out.  I have even been involved in searches where we didn’t hire anyone.  This last outcome may seem odd, but it happens more often than you think.  It is especially common in academia, but I also regularly hear from business people that they just can’t find the right people to fill their job openings.

One of the ironies about being an applicant is that sometimes your greatest competitor for a job isn’t the other people in the pool with you. It is the unknown applicant.  That person hasn’t applied, but the decision-makers believe his or her application is just around the corner.  What makes the unknown applicant so formidable is that he or she has all of the qualities the decision-makers want, even when the decision-makers themselves don’t really agree on those qualities. In short, they are perfect for the job. 

You on the other hand, have issues.  This is because as my father once told me (his greatest insight really) everybody’s got issues: You are too experienced or too ambitious, or too quiet, or too risky, or too dynamic, or too straight-forward, or too much like the last guy (who they grew tired of) and made some decisions some people somewhere didn’t like –yep, it is a potentially long list.

So, how do you beat the unknown applicant?

Realize that competition with the unknown applicant isn’t about you: it is about the people hiring you.  The unknown applicant enters the compettion when the hiring committee can’t agree on the most important tasks (three, not forty) that need to be done and the qualities necessary to perform them.  So if during an interview people are telling you very different things about what the job entails or offer only vague responses to your questions about the most salient challenges and expectations, take this as an opportunity to tell them what you think needs to be done based on your prior experiences and why you are the right person to accomplish those tasks.  This may seem presumptious, but if you can lay out your vision for the job in clear and confident manner you can ground the hiring committee in reality and beat the unknown applicant. That candidate, by the way, doesn’t get to address the selection committee in this manner.—it is a huge advantage to you.

If you take this strategy and don’t get the job don’t fret, chances are they didn’t hire the other candidate either.  And you should be happy because until they can agree on what they need, that unknown applicant isn’t going to win the position either -it can’t be won.

Don’t Be Replaced by Google

This is the time of the year when professors get asked to write letters of reference for students who are searching for a job or applying to graduate school. I have written many such letters over the years, but really I just have two basic templates that I modify depending on the student and how well I know them.

The first letter says something like: “This student was in my class. He or she got a decent grade. This was a pretty hard class so getting a decent grade required some work as well as an ability to grasp concepts and apply them with some precision to solve business problems. I really don’t know the student very well, but he or she seems like a decent, pleasant person who showed up prepared for class and participated in discussion. I see no reason why you shouldn’t hire them or admit them into your graduate program.” I would estimate that eighty percent of the letters I write look something like this. It isn’t that I don’t want to do more to help the student out, it is that I simply don’t have more information to share with the reader that they can’t already find on the student’s resume.

The second letter says something like: “I have gotten to know this student very well over the last couple of years. He or she was in my class a couple of years ago and regularly attended my office hours. He or she got a decent grade in my class, but I was most impressed with the student’s maturity, drive and leadership potential. We have stayed in touch and I know that he or she has a strong interest in pursuing a career in a highly competitive environment. This is an engaging, high-energy person who has what it takes to perform at this level so I recommended that they consider pursuing an opportunity with your organization. This is someone who is going places and you want him or her on your team. If you want to know more about this student, give me a call.” My letter backs up my claims with specific examples of how the person demonstrated these qualities to me inside the classroom, at office hours, and through extra and co-curricular activities. The letter complements the student’s resume by bring their accomplishments to life for the reader, making the candidate claim’s much more credible and giving them greater impact.

If your best reference letter looks like the first type I write, it is of little help to you. If all of your reference letters look like this or come from a family member, the best the person reading them is going to conclude is that you are pretty ordinary. If you are seen as ordinary you are going to get an ordinary job in an ordinary company. Ordinary jobs in ordinary companies are being replaced by Google and similar computer algorithms that break these jobs down into their simple steps and process those steps  faster than you can at a fraction of the cost. Don’t Be Replaced by Google. Work now to get the reference letters you will need to standout from the crowd.

A shout out to Dr. Brad Wimmer for the “Don’t be Replaced by Google” line.

Where are all the IT Students?

Recently, I spent the morning with President Smatresk, Provost Bowers, four other deans, three faculty, the State Director of Economic Development and six top IT employers from around Las Vegas. The four hour long meeting had to cost more than $10,000 in salaried time.

What brought so many people with impressive titles into one room? The search for IT talent. The State of Nevada has identified the business information technology sector as one of its targets of opportunity for diversifying the Nevada economy. But local employers from Switch Communications to Caesars Entertainment to Zappos tell us they cannot find enough local talent to meet their needs. They recruit IT people from other states and hope they can keep them in Vegas. If Nevada is going to become a haven for segments of the IT industry, the state is going to have to develop more talent, offer incentives for IT professionals to move here, or both

The meeting focused on whether UNLV was graduating the type of students that meet the industry’s needs, how we could get on the forefront of IT education, and how we could graduate more IT students. Currently, UNLV offers degrees in both computer science and management information systems (MIS). The undergraduate programs in computer science and MIS each graduate about 30 students a year, the masters programs about 20 each, for a total of about 100. The numbers are small, but graduates do get jobs, suggesting the programs are meeting some part of the industry’s needs.

Meetings about IT curriculum, student numbers and industry needs make my head hurt. I can never understand exactly what we are talking about. While I consider myself a pretty sophisticated IT user, I have about as much knowledge of how this all works as I do about quantum physics. And while people talk about IT as if it is a single industry with a common set of required skills, I doubt that. So to put the discussion in terms a Michigan boy can understand, I keep saying things like: “If someone came to me and said auto industry professionals are hard to find, I would want to know if these were people who were needed to design the car, assemble the car, sell the car, race the car, service the car, or provide the garage. I wouldn’t offer a single degree program to accomplish all these things. So, which people are we talking about?” Sometimes I get an answer. Mostly I make people irritated. You can imagine what I would engender if I said: “Maybe you just need to pay more?”

That said, we don’t graduate many students in these areas. Curriculum may be part of the problem. The industry people at the meeting all agreed that graduates need to have strong technical skills, a good understanding of business and the ability to communicate with non-technical folks. That is hard to accomplish in just one degree program, especially with the rapid pace of change in this industry. A cutting-edge program would be a source of competitive advantage in both attracting students and helping them get jobs. But the small number of students going into IT programs is an issue at many institutions not just UNLV.

So why aren’t more students choosing IT degrees and careers? Many techies are entrepreneurial spirits who may not like the formality of college. Everyone wants to create the next Google or Facebook and some IT entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the movement to encourage students to skip college and start companies instead. Creating more technology entrepreneurship programs that focus on business start-ups, might draw a different type of student. Yet I doubt that would satisfy industry. They want employees. It is also possible that the IT industry follows the cobweb model whereby demand ebbs and flows quickly and the supply of talent takes longer to adjust to changing wages and job opportunities. If so, we don’t need to spend money on program development, just help students see the emerging opportunities and watch them respond. (Hint: If you are undecided on your career, consider becoming an IT professional: employers are waiting to hire you.) My greatest fear is that we will create a greater variety of IT programs all of which will be sparsely attended: More program cost for the same results. So help me out here: how can we make IT programs more attractive to you? Your thoughts please?