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Producing MBAs Fit For Purpose

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“The big recruiters will often have thousands of applications. We have to tailor our support to fit these needs.” 

Lessons on resilience from an Olympic rower are not part of your typical MBA course. But for London’s prestigious Imperial College Business School, welcoming guest speakers, such as six-time world champion Dame Katherine Grainger, is an increasingly important part of the MBA career delivery. 

So-called “soft skills” such as resilience, teamwork, and adaptability are in high demand among employers, says Sarah Ranchev-Hale, Imperial College Business School’s assistant director of careers. “The technical skills you can learn on the job or in school, but the soft skills are more challenging to get right,” she says. “Our guest speakers support our students by discussing how they’ve pushed themselves through hard challenges and inspiring them to do the same.” 

"Employers are getting a good return on investment."

It’s part of Ranchev-Hale’s job to ensure that the Business School is producing graduates who will remain fit for purpose for years to come. She oversees a seven-strong team of employer relations professionals who each look after a particular sector, such as finance, consulting, or fast-moving consumer goods. “We are industry experts who know what employers are doing in that sector and how they are recruiting,” says Ranchev-Hale. “We understand what trends are impacting the industry and share that information with our students.” 

This feedback is now informing the MBA curriculum much more so than in the past, and it’s also changing the type of career services Imperial College Business School offers. Recent additions to the roster of support include the industry speaker series, which compliments the school’s long-standing consultancy projects, in which the MBAs work with real employers on an opportunity or challenge they’re facing. 

“The work we do compliments the curriculum,” Ranchev-Hale says. “We gather feedback from the employers and share it with the program directors, and our advisory board does the same, too, with people from firms like JPMorgan and McKinsey & Company.” 

Increasingly, the career team’s focus is as much about ensuring graduates have career longevity as it is about getting them through the doors of top employers. “We’ve changed the balance of what we’re delivering,” she says. “We still support on the assessment and selection process, but we also want to help students succeed when they arrive at their new job.” 

That means maintaining a close relationship with employers. Ranchev-Hale’s team meets regularly with leading companies. Being located close to them, not far from the City of London financial hub and the Silicon Roundabout cluster of London tech companies, makes that easier. But each employer has unique goals. 

“We act in a bespoke way,” says Ranchev-Hale, the former Morgan Stanley Campus Relationship Manager. “The big, high-volume recruiters will often have thousands of applications. We try to help them find the right talent rather than just quantity. We often partner with employers to offer more personalized activities and inventive ways to engage with our students. Apple, for example, asks for an 'expression of interest,' not a cover letter. They are looking for candidates to show some kind of creativity. We have to tailor our support to fit these needs and deliver what’s best for the client.” 

Success for Ranchev-Hale means more than high employment and salary increase percentages. She wants to ensure a lasting relationship with employers—and alumni are key to that. “Alumni often feel gratitude toward the Business School. They feel like their MBA has helped them get their job and they want to give back,” Ranchev-Hale says. “Some come back to us and volunteer to talk to students and also to hire our graduates. That provides credibility, for us and the firm.” 

This creates a virtuous circle, and a continuous pipeline of high-performing MBA talent. “At the end of the day, the proof’s in the pudding,” says Ranchev-Hale. “Employers are getting a good return on investment.”