Recruiting in a COVID world: What skills do MBA students need to join the remote workforce?

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work, with many jobs going fully online in a matter of days. We spoke to Marcel Kalis, the Head of Career Services at ESMT Berlin, to find out how the pandemic has affected his team, what MBA students can expect when it comes to (online) career support, and what skills MBA students need to join today’s remote workforce.

In short

MBA Career – ESMT Berlin

50% corporate outreach, 50% career counseling: What MBA students can expect from the Career Services team at ESMT Berlin

The Career Services team at any university plays a key role in its students’ lives, especially when one of the most important factors students take into consideration when choosing a university is “the university’s perceived ability to boost later career opportunities.”

ESMT Berlin’s Career Services team is fully equipped to “work with the students to get them a little bit prepared for the next career move after the program,” Marcel says. “We organize a range of workshops, which goes from how to write a resume to networking, and [we] also give them an opportunity to meet mostly alumni from certain industries. What we would like them to do is to give them exposure to all the opportunities that..are there in the world for them.” (1:33)

In the full-time MBA, the team also offers one-on-one career coaching, “working with experts in coaching to help the students make a career development plan and support them [in] making the right steps.” (3:04)

“The other part of our job is that we work with companies,” Marcel adds. “We work on relationships with organizations who hire our talent, and we do that via combined events. We offer companies to do virtual presentations…We organize a lot of industry expert meetings, [where representatives] from certain industries bring on their experience to the current students.” (2:26)

Recruiting in a COVID world

“Last year – I will never forget the date – on 13 March 2020, we closed the school and we went online,” Marcel recalls. (5:50)

How did this major shift affect MBA students?

“For the MBA students…it was a little bit more complicated because they just graduated at the end of 2019 and many students were [just starting] their application process and interviews. In that class, we had some cases where the interviews were canceled or postponed; the process stopped,” Marcel says. (6:03)

“But, it was all [better]…than we expected. Actually, we were super happy with the results,” he reveals, remembering their recent career fair – their first-ever fully virtual one. “The fact that we had 43 companies at this virtual career fair at the end of January with…7,500 stand views and…almost 250 jobs posted. It gives a good feeling.” (6:28)

During the one-day career fair, MBA students had the opportunity to interview with companies in 30-minute time slots, attend company presentations and Q&A sessions, have coffee with the head of HR from various companies, and attend alumni sessions.

“Virtual is the now and we have to deal with it if you like it or not – so companies [have] changed everything,” Marcel explains. “The whole recruitment process goes online, you hire people you might have never met – but that’s the new world. In the end, we could attract 43 companies – local companies, but also international organizations.” (4:58)

What skills do students need to join the remote workforce?

“I just had a call with a…person who works in HR, who basically said that he’s missing his colleagues and interaction a lot,” Marcel tells us. “So, you also need to have a little bit more attention to your, let’s say, personal empathetic skills.” (7:03)

Students today will need to master a unique set of skills to join the remote workforce. The most popular skills required in a remote job include collaboration, communication, technical knowledge, resilience, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving.

“You really need to maybe be more creative in how you deal with the fact that most of the people may be alone at home, staring at a screen the whole day,” Marcel says. “I think that there is a lot to be done at the organization side; giving all the tools to make people at home comfortable and that they can do their job well. But also, you need to take initiative as a person yourself not to get lost in anonymous work because that’s also part of being a human being. We are social animals, right? We want to interact and we want to exchange and we want to have fun, and that should still be possible.” (7:26)

It’s not just the students: How ESMT Berlin’s Career Services team is adapting to COVID-19

“Everything changed,” Marcel states. “[For now], we moved from 100% live courses to 100% virtual interaction. We have a new MBA class [that started in January]…and I haven’t met them in [real] life. So, we put a lot of effort into connecting with people virtually. We still have – despite the fact that we have a large number of students – a very personal approach.” (10:19)

As you can expect, all of ESMT’s Career Services activities have moved online. As Marcel says cheekily, “Zoom is our best friend.” He explains, “We make one-on-one meetings with students via Zoom. We offer, for all the programs, what we call a ‘career cafe’: one hour on certain slots in the week for certain programs, where we simply open Zoom for everyone who would like to talk and we ask them how they are. We offer all our workshops online obviously. All the industry expert workshops are online, all the company events are online. And sometimes it’s a blessing because instead of booking a room [or] people driving to the school and taking the transport, they simply turn on the camera at home – and we have the same information.” (10:57)

What might be a challenge for students, however, is “how do you follow-up afterward if you have seen someone on a screen and not face-to-face?”

Working in Germany after graduation: The importance of networking

“If you are an international student and you want to study and work in Germany, Germany is super friendly for people outside the EU,” Marcel says. “If you have student status, you can stay in Germany after graduation for 18 months to look for a job and if you find a job, you can stay in Germany. You get a work permit…[and] you can work straightaway within those 18 months. And then within the 18 months, you can apply for [another] work permit. So, the visa part is super friendly.” (8:30)

“The other part [that] you need to know, however, is how do you impress the recruiter from the company you want to work for,” Marcel emphasizes. “Many of the jobs are not advertised. Many of the jobs – and we have proof of that – [students] get they network so hard and because…they have those networking skills [during the MBA]. So, I would say that that is very important: to realize that you really need to network.” (9:16)

Finally, Marcel advises that during the program, you need to spend time thinking about, “What are you good at? What would you like to do? What kind of companies do [you] fit? What is the company culture?” (9:58)

After that, Marcel says, it’s as easy as “simply applying.”

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