Mason School Graduate Career Management Center Adopts Innovative Strategies to Serve Students During COVID-19

One Year After Shifting Nearly All Professional Development and Recruitment Activities to Virtual, Team Continues to Make Strides in Connecting Students with Employment Opportunities

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented shift in operations, the dedicated team of professionals from the Graduate Career Management Center (GCMC) at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business quickly adapted to the new circumstances to ensure a continuation of services for the graduate business student population.

Over the past year, the innovative GCMC team offered flexible, virtual alternatives to job-seeking students and developed a robust program of remote networking and professional development opportunities that aided job-seeking students as they sought to secure internships and full-time employment amidst economic uncertainty and a global pandemic.

According to Associate Dean of Career Services and Executive Director of the GCMC, Dr. Brett Alpert, “having to adapt to a virtual-hybrid model has posed both challenges and opportunities. We lost the ability to have chance encounters in the atrium or in the Boehly Café where students find out about hiring employers through fellow students, staff, and recruiters who would occasionally set up tables in the lobby. Most interactions need to be pre-scheduled and virtual now. However, on the other hand, the whole model that networking has to take place in-person has totally been shattered.”

Alpert explains that it’s now commonplace for the first touch-point between a student and a recruiter to take place via Teams or Zoom, versus the prior reliance on in-person engagement. This shift in format has opened up possibilities for both students and the Mason School in terms of the companies they connect with to secure employment.

“It has allowed us to engage employers, geographically, that previously were unable to participate in our recruiting events because they couldn’t fly out to Williamsburg for on-campus activities,” he explained.

Embracing Virtual Recruitment Events

In light of the university-wide shut down in March 2020, and the COVID induced economic challenges to follow, it became clear to Alpert and his GCMC colleagues, that the previously scheduled calendar of events, ranging from networking to recruitment to professional development, would need to shift to a virtual format, new programs would need to be added, and Mason School alumni would be more critical to the process than ever.

They quickly evaluated whether they had the technological resources and interest from hiring organizations to determine how and if these activities could continue. Despite uncertainty at many levels, the GCMC was able to adapt and deliver programing to job-seeking students who had yet to secure summer internships or full-time employment.

Just in Time” is the Mason School’s largest spring recruitment event for graduate business students and was the first to undergo a transformation from an in-person to virtual opportunity. Amy Moyer who serves as an Associate Director of Corporate Relations & Employer Engagement and the lead planner for the event, had to undo months of coordinated efforts to prepare for a new arrangement that was worthwhile for both students and employers.

“I thought to myself, ‘When the ship is sinking, what do you need to put on the boat?’ We knew we would need to embrace a new format so it became more about deciding what was most valuable about this event in particular and how we could save it,” she explained. “I was very pleased that the response level and participation in the employer showcase was so positive that we held a second virtual networking day to capture the enthusiasm. We used the video conferencing platform Brazen for the first time to facilitate conversations between students and employers. This was the best-case scenario that we could offer, versus not holding it at all, and we were able to creatively address our students’ and employers’ needs.”

As the year moved forward, the GCMC team looked at new ways to approach hallmark recruitment events to drive student engagement with long-standing Mason School corporate partners and employers, and fight the very real video chat fatigue they were experiencing by summer’s end.

They refocused the fall semester’s Graduate Business Career Symposium by leaning into the fact that Mason School alumni work with businesses around the country and created a “tour across America.” Following a keynote address delivered by Amit Desai, MBA ’98 and Senior Director of Brand Sponsorships and Experiential Marketing at Capital One, participants gained access to an interactive program featuring alumni from three different regions outside of the mid-Atlantic.

“In the past we were limited to who we could invite based on geography and whether it was feasible for alumni to get to campus, but with these new circumstances, we were able to take it a step further and engage alumni from all over the United States,” said Rosalyn Hundley, Associate Director of Corporate Relations & Employer Engagement and lead planner of the event. “They were invited to share their insights about navigating the MBA program, job searches, and career paths but it added the unique perspective of what it’s like to live, work and play in each of these regions.”

The alumni panelists represented companies from the northeast (New York and New Jersey), the south (North Carolina and Georgia), and the west coast (San Francisco and the Silicon Valley). In addition to sharing insights about their careers, industries, and job functions they answered questions about “things to do” in their respective areas, their favorite restaurants, and more.

“We tell our students it’s important to align their career with an industry or job function they will enjoy, but where you live also needs to align with your personal values. They should be happy with what the area has to offer them as a person beyond their job,” Hundley said.

Innovative Preparation for Job Seeking Students

The Mason School’s GCMC is unconventional compared to some other universities because it is organized around two pillars, the corporate relations and the advising teams, who work concurrently on behalf of each student as opposed to one dedicated career counselor per student who serves in both capacities.

The advising team is responsible for professional development and preparation, offering a portfolio of services that include mock-interviews, resume feedback, and individual consultative sessions. To facilitate the continuity of services, the GCMC adopted a series of new initiatives in addition to moving existing programs online.

“We moved all of our one-on-one meetings to video chat with intentional outreach and ensured there were opportunities to check-in with each student on a regular basis,” said Patrice Lincoln, Director of Career Advising & Education. “Each workshop was retooled to keep the new virtual world in mind. We also offered in-person, drop-in advising for those students who chose to return to campus in the fall and continued some of our signature recognitions like the Ball Drop Ceremony to celebrate the successes of students who accepted either internships or full-time employment.”

A new initiative that was positively received by students was the one-page student bios the advising team worked with full-time students to develop. Each bio acted as a showcase of the students’ skills, linking to their LinkedIn profiles and full resumes, and conveyed to hiring managers and decision-makers their accomplishments, certifications, and professional and academic highlights.

“This is an easy way for us to post the talent that we still have looking for either full-time or internship opportunities,” said Lincoln.

Despite the challenges, the advising team successfully executed against one of its core objectives, which is to build relationships with students and get to know each and every one on an individual basis.

“The advising team knows which students want to go into a particular industry, function, or geographic area and they aim to share that information with our employer relations team,” said Colleen Lynch, Assistant Director, Recruiting & Operations.

Lynch, whose role often serves as a bridge between the two teams explains that overall student employment interests “change every year and it shifts the focus for employer relations on what kinds of jobs they need to be sourcing. Without that information from the advising team, we would not be able to provide the right talent to the employer.”

To build these relationships in a virtual-hybrid environment, Lincoln and her team leveraged the expertise of other students, Executive Partners (EPs), Mason School alumni, and valued partnerships in the business community.

“We found both students and EPs missed out on the ability to naturally meet each other in the course of merely being in Miller Hall so we held multiple ‘speed-networking’ events where Executive Partners would meet with two or three students at a time to get to know them better and then rotate to a new group of students. Many who participated mentioned this was one of their favorite events we offered this year,” said Lincoln.

The GCMC also sponsored a peer-to-peer mentorship program between first-and-second-year full-time MBA students. Students were strategically paired based on industry and function preference, interests, years of work experience, and other self-reported metrics. First year MBAs learned from the experiences of second-year MBAs in terms of preparation for conferences, networking, internships, and overall student experience.

The GCMC additionally offered many technological tools to support students including artificial intelligence to assist with resume building, LinkedIn profiles, and other relevant job-seeking assets.

“Although it is not meant as a replacement for a real person to review, it really helps bring the resumes into great shape before the advisor review process,” said Juliana Olm, FTMBA ’21 and Associate Director of Graduate Career Advising.

But perhaps the most unsung benefit the GCMC advising staff provided to students across the portfolio of programs was the concentrated support and pre-event preparation they offered to those who attended virtual recruitment and networking events.

“In the past, GCMC Advising has had a big presence at both William & Mary and at regional and national career expos. During COVID we had to pivot to online support. Prior to the opening of a virtual event and continuing through the entirety, our advisors were on hand for a quick check-in, pump-up, or to serve as company to students as they waited their virtual turn in line. We offered breakout rooms for private or sensitive conversations, and a general room where students could share information and their experiences with each other and with staff. We heard from many students that they appreciated not having to go it alone and found it helpful to have other people close by while they waited,” Lincoln explained.

“I don’t know if students are aware as to just how much time the GCMC spends pulling together valuable intel prior to events taking place,” added Lynch. That information ranges from who the employers are, what jobs they’re bringing, whether the representative is a graduate from a Mason School program, to what are the requisite skills for a specific role, if a student has transferable skills or experience, or if the student and recruiter share any commonalities to help facilitate their conversation.

“The advisors work with the employer relations team to pull together information that is helpful for students to have ahead of time. They are very focused on preparing students to be able to effectively interview, and search out and apply for a broader range of positions they may not have considered,” said Lynch.

And from the student perspective, the efforts made by the GCMC team were incredibly successful. Shassata Fahim, FTMBA ’22 shared that “through the workshops, virtual networking events, information sessions, and one-on-one consultation sessions, I was able to make a lot of valuable connections and have some very engaging conversations. My advisor was a great resource for me when it came to interview prep, and talking through my options and my approach to different professional settings.”

Implementing New Engagement Models

The GCMC has also worked over the last year to implement mechanisms that address the economic paradigm shift. The employer engagement team worked with their strategic network of corporate partners, and built valuable new relationships with companies and alumni who are actively hiring graduate business students. Additionally, the annual spring “Just One” campaign focused on connecting with Mason School alumni who were willing to give back by supporting students impacted by COVID-19 through internship and full-time job leads, mentorship opportunities, and access to HR and recruiting contacts at their workplace and beyond.

“William & Mary alumni are so instrumental to student success. We have discovered that behind every great employer partnership, there is typically a passionate alumni champion working behind the scenes to support our students, programs, faculty, and career team,” said Michael Ryan, Director of Corporate Relations & Employer Engagement. “Alumni are willing to partner within the classroom as thought leaders and speakers, as well as share helpful information about their employee referral programs, growing industries and regions, and top hiring companies.”

To help educate job-seeking students more about these organizations, the GCMC hosted a series of industry-specific networking events called “Mason Career Circles” in which current and recent graduates from all of Masters-level programs met with alumni and recruiters who shared more about their career journeys, interviewing and professional development advice, and their company’s hiring plans during the pandemic.

“We are not a placement agency but we are connectors. We have people who are boots on the ground every day trying to connect students with alumni and companies they would not have known about otherwise,” said Moyer. “I find that to be incredibly valuable to the Mason School student experience.”

The GCMC has also sought out the support of the EPs who have facilitated a myriad of events and mentorship opportunities for job-seeking students. The GCMC team is continuously looking at new ways to incorporate their valuable expertise into their programming.

“We will keep thinking outside of the box and going above and beyond to ensure the connections between employers and students are still happening by using all of our available resources,” said Hundley. “We have not stopped in seeking out opportunities to highlight our student talent and I’m proud to be a part of a team that has demonstrated this wonderful spirit of resiliency in facilitating partnerships and hiring activity.”

A Strategic Move Forward

As the GCMC looks to complete its second recruitment cycle under this new normal, the team is looking to apply the lessons they’ve learned across the board as it readies to launch a new strategic plan which will include renaming and rebranding the center, launching a new website, exploring and adopting new technology platforms to meet the evolving needs of students and employers, enhancing its staffing model to account for the rapid increase in the number of students and degree programs the GCMC is fortunate to serve, and piloting new programs and initiatives.

“We have tried to be very intentional in what we offer,” said Alpert. “As we look at what’s to come, we hope to expand efforts to engage alumni and Executive Partners in initiatives to enhance employer relationships. We want to develop a strategy to expand awareness of and access to opportunities for international students. We are looking to establish greater clarity as to which career-related services and programs are available to online graduate students, while staffing accordingly. And we plan to implement a continuous review of offerings to ensure that graduate students from every demographic group enrolled at the Mason School feel equally supported, cared for, and served by our team.”

But he says ultimately, their goal is to “ensure world-class career outcomes for all students by connecting them with the educational resources, tools, people, and opportunities necessary to foster a lifetime of career success.”