Helping Specialized Masters Students Gain Success in the Job Market Means Getting to Work Early
Discover how Vanderbilt helps its specialized master’s students succeed in the job market on a tight academic schedule.
Students apply to the Vanderbilt MS in Finance (MSF) program because they want to land a job in a competitive field such as banking, consulting, or investment management. They want to know that their investment – in time, money and energy – is going to pay off, and hopefully pay off big.
In many specialized master’s degree programs, students are on campus for one academic year, sometimes a few months more. Ten months on campus is not a great deal of time for career (and often self-exploration), extensive professional growth, industry research, and network development. In addition to the career aspects of attending a master’s program, students have rigorous academic schedules, are meeting new friends, and adjusting to living in a new location. The start of the academic year is intense to say the least.
Gaining a competitive edge in the job market means jumping in head first. Last year, banking analyst job offers for MSF students started coming as early as the last day of July. That was day one of orientation. How can we help our students be successful in the job market if we only have weeks (or days) to work with them before on campus recruiting and other hiring avenues launch? As my colleague, Blake Gore, senior associate director of career management and famed MSF career coach states, “Not only do you need to work earlier and harder, you need to work smarter.”
I’ll specifically address how we help our students to this earlier – harder and smarter may have to remain trade secrets. When a student commits to the MSF program by placing his or her deposit, the career engagement, and consequently, hard work, begins within days. Students receive communication from their career coach detailing services and guidance on refining career focus, and developing job search skills and strategy. The work really begins at that point. Transition coaches help incoming MSF students as they begin to navigate their professional search. Much emphasis is placed on landing a summer internship, as this has proven vital to full-time hiring for specialized degree students. These and other elements play into the “work smarter” category.
This model was not easy to develop. It has taken years of challenging hiring markets and many trials and errors, but we now have something that works. We are fortunate. We currently have the staff and resources to support this work. We also recruit a class size that lends itself to individual coaching. Many programs function under various constraints that make early career coaching and onboarding very hard, if not impossible. The admissions committee has also made a commitment to career success.
Vanderbilt’s Chief Admissions Officer, Tami Fassinger, encourages her recruiters to demonstrate deep career knowledge. By attending company information sessions, alumni events, and career treks across the country, our MSF interviewers have learned about the finance industry and know to ask career-focused questions in evaluative interviews. Career readiness and clarity are valued and sought after in the admissions review. We only make offers of admission to candidates who we believe we can help land a job.
Breaking into entry-level finance positions at prestigious banks and firms appears to be more challenging each year, but by taking a creative and smart approach, we are helping our students find success. Over the past four years, the program’s average placement rate within 90 days of graduation is 98 percent. Top hiring companies have included Deutsche Bank, Deloitte and Wells Fargo. By getting started early and working smart, our MSF students are seeing a return on their investment, and so are we.
About the Author
Maura Clark is Senior Associate Director, MS Finance Admissions at Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management.