Saturday, 30 August 2014

Pushing the employability agenda

Recently I was out for a beer (no photo, obviously) in Richmond with a group that included Albert, who is in advertising media buying and a former Royal Holloway international management masters student.   He was in the process of hiring for a starter position and said something along the lines of "the applicants we have are much the same, all bright, good degree, keen with oodles of motivation and with around twoish years of retail/customer service experience.  The problem is, it's really hard to tell them apart."  
Royal Holloway Ambassadors at UBC

To help reduce the odds of picking the wrong new hire, Albert and his colleagues had devised an assessment centre that sought to assess applicants performance in a group discussion.  Having whittled some down from the plenary session after lunch, smaller group exercises would be used to see how they performed in a problem solving role play.  The kind of thing I regularly get whinged at about, students seem to have an aversion to these kinds of activities, in spite of being told how important they are.  

Key criteria comprised; 
  (1) How do they work along with other people (n.b. team working) and 
  (2) Do they have the likability factor that makes the decision makers want to work with them ?

Reinforcement for me that my mantra of group work is medicine that you don't like the taste of, but believe me it WILL make you better...

Also out for the night was Tina, who studied for the Royal Holloway MBA five years ago,  currently BBC based, she noted that in the media industry it was who you know, how well networked you are and how you get along in a team that were the critical factors in career progression.  (Implicit strong role performance)  She has found that you can turn people off by talking too much about your higher education, and surmised that what is most important is how you draw on the learnings to help drive superior performance your projects and your wider teams goals. 

Sounds a bit like the X Factor, Louis Walsh 110% Irish tones, "I like you", and Simon Cowell assessing the acts likeabilty factor.  Recently I have been putting finishing touches to a paper I have been writing with colleague Donna on Business Engagement that draws on 20 collaborative partnerships with 10 global/local, huge, medium and small organisations.   One of the key benefits of this partnering approach,  that gives students a range of very practical challenges to apply their learning to, are the soft skills and experience gained from confronting problems as part of team.  

This really reinforces the importance of work experience, summer internships and business competitions, like the undergraduate University Business Competition (UBC) I mentor for (picture above)

Royal Holloway MBA students Packaging challenge in Sweden
My new (academic) year resolution, following a request for something similar from Tina and Peter, is using a social media crowd sourcing request for industry 'problems' that can be used for MBA dissertations (due 1 Sep) and my undergraduate marketing plan assignment (due Dec).  I hope that just a painless one page brief, with email contact to help connect valued enhancing opportunities for students to demonstrate practical application of their management learning.  I have been comforted and inspired by MBA Olga who has written her dissertation in conjunction with the exciting Big Data meets UK retailers Demographics User Group.  Examples of companies offering up challenging and sometimes leading edge meaty projects can be found here by way of example.  Do get in touch if this sounds interesting.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Signs say look east for your post-MBA career.


Every year, QS Top MBA carry out a survey of MBA employers to find out who’s hiring and where. The 2013/14 survey received 4,318 respondents from companies in 39 countries.


The good news is that there was an overall 14% increase in MBA job opportunities in 2013. The Middle East (21%) and Asia (20%) reported the highest growths in MBA demand. This is particularly led by countries such as India and China embracing the MBA qualification. Recent Royal Holloway MBA graduates have gone on to work in countries as diverse as Peru, China and Saudi Arabia as well as many staying on to work in the UK.
Dedicated MBA career advisor Emma Baker

Since 2011, India has overtaken the US in terms of volume of reported MBA jobs. I guess it’s no surprise then to hear that North America MBA demand was up just 2% in 2013, but the interesting news is that North American MBA hirers are forecasting a 16% jump in opportunities in 2014.

In terms of industries, the financial services sector market is growing again, with an increase of 11% in MBA employment demand in 2013. Consulting and technology companies reported a similar 11% jump in demand last year.

When asked what they look for in MBA candidates, employers say they seek candidates with international experience, combined with strong interpersonal and ‘soft’ skills. In fact, 67% of MBA employers seek international study experience. One of the strengths of the Royal Holloway MBA is the international make up of candidates. This year, students from 15 different countries are taking our MBA programme.

Whatever they decide to do after their course, MBA students have the full support of Royal Holloway’s Careers and Employability Service, with their own dedicated Careers Consultant, Emma Baker, author of this blog entry.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Dave's Bowl

I recently undertook some hedge cutting for my mother and the visit was notable for two short stories worth sharing with you all, Dave's bowl and being thrown out of a pub.

Dave's bowl


Dave's Bowl



Californian Dave, who lived just down the corridor from me, was on a University exchange at Warwick back in the eighties.  He visited my folks several times at their idyllic cottage garden in Sussex and got on with them rather famously (I've never been that good at trans-generational conversation making myself).  

At the end of the exchange year Dave needed to down size and kindly gifted me his eating utensils, a matching set of one plate, one bowl, one cup, most likely procured from the Tesco store that was located just off campus.  Gifting or off loading, perhaps a bit of both ?  Of course, after graduation, I left to work internationally (Germany, then Russia) so somehow the bowl made its way back to my parents house.  You can see from the photo above - it is a good size, functional, but neither beautiful nor ugly.  What is amazing about the bowl is that more than 25 years down the track my mum still uses this bowl every day.  She has two or three sets of different dinnerware, all of it more appealing than this particular bowl.  But somehow, this generic, low value item, with a strong personal link to 'cousin' Dave as we called him, has endured, and I was delighted to be reacquainted with it again.

Dave was very instrumental in my life.  Knowing of his programme and insights into various cross cultural challenges ("divided by a common language"), I ended up winning a scholarship to attend University of Illinois in Shampoo-Banana (Champaign-Urbana), three hours dead flat and due south of Chicago, in the American mid-west.  Which lead to working as a travel rep in Italy and joining British Airways graduate trainee scheme and a fantastic 16 year career as a global citizen of the airline industry that included opportunities to immerse myself as an expat in Moscow, Frankfurt, Mumbai and Toyko.

The bowl is photographed on top of a real Mexican blanket, a purchase again inspired by Dave's love of South America (Argentia in particular).  I thought Dave's bowl was the kind of summer blog story I should be sharing with you.  

Link here to Dave's blog


Being Thrown Out of a pub 

On the same trip 'home' (my wife does not like me to refer to the place I grew up in, Sussex, as home)  we were thrown out of a pub.  Being solidly middle class, I don't go to the pub very much.  But in my mum's village the pub we used to hang out in on a Friday as A level students has received an amazing make-over, carries 8 (yup - eight ! that's 5 more than most pubs) real ales on hand pumps and boasts an authentic Thai restaurant.  You know I'm writing and researching real ale beer & the craft revolution in particular,  and love Thai food - so this is an ephiphany that makes choosing this pub a no brainer.

As I have been learning about the ale industry I have discovered most people involved in it are very hospitable.  On our recent MBA Stockholm visit I met up with two independent breweries who were a-maz-ing.  The guys at SAB Miller and Windsor and Eton have opened their doors and generously engaged with my student visit groups.  

The Thai kitchen is excellent, producing beautifully flavoured meals that clearly benefit from a range of fresh, authentic raw ingredients, including generous chunks of lemon grass in the Tom Yum soup.  My oldest son was rapturous about his first experience of a Tom Yum (his usual order is a bland chicken noodle soup).  

Hence we (mum, me & my two boys) wandered around the corner for some tea after blasting phase one of the hedge trimming.  On arrival at 19:10 I opened a tab with my credit card and ordered some drinks.  Having indicated we were looking to eat, the barmaid stated that children weren't allowed in the pub after 20:00, but if we ordered quickly the kitchen would deliver in 15-20 mins and we'd have time to eat and still leave by 20:00.  We ordered quickly, requesting that the kids starters and the adults mains arrive at the same time.  Around 19:50 the starters appeared and at 20:00 the mains were put on the table.  

At 20:15 the self-same barmaid re-told us that children were not allowed in the pub after 20:00 and effectively kicked us out.  I mentioned that our food had not arrived until 20:00, the response "I didn't know the kitchen was so busy".  So it was my fault that I had ordered quickly and got food late ? I should have known.  As it happened we were just about done, and an unusually easy going me had to deliver some blunt feedback around the treatment we had received.  Said barmaid was not subtle enough to come and ask if I'd like to pay the bill even.  I was indignant & now have a major conundrum on my hands  - will I ever visit again ?

Over night and the next morning I was still indignant at being asked to leave, I even took time out to discuss the situation with my customer service oriented wife.  What should I do ?  Wander back down and catch the landlord and explain my displeasure ?  Or call ?   Or better still vent my anger with a damming review on trip advisor ?  Or just fester annoyance and never go back ?  In UK you are allowed to leave your contact details with the business and leave without paying if you believe you had sub-standard service.  Now that is an interesting option !

On reflection, I noted that barmaid two didn't know how to order food on the computer and neither of them knew the barrel size that was supporting the extensive array of real ales (which also included the US 'faux' Blue Moon imitation craft beer that hails (discreetly) from the Coors brewco).  Thus they were probably lacking the appropriate training expected at a restaurant and still on a learning curve for their bar duties.

Blue Moon from Coors: Big corporate credentials obscured


Perhaps the appropriate approach (note that I have not identified the location) that I will take is rather than to rave about the fantastic Thai food and wonderful collection of beers (it included the CHOICE of two summer gold ales) as I have done previously,  I will talk about the poorly trained staff and the bad customer experience I received, despite complaining.  (note, no follow up...).

The next day, on seeing a cutsie "Jars wanted for Jam making, please leave behind the bar" hand written note in said pub window, I swallowed my 'oh - isn't that a nice community request' with the bitter taste of being thrown out two nights before.  

A brilliant experience for the next batch of MBA's methinks, who will be invited to critically analyse two service experiences and perhaps note issues around training, communication and customer service ?