A major university asked me to submit a proposal. The school is interested in hiring “a career placement professional” to “bring jobs to the table” for its newly-minted Executive MBAs (EMBAs). The school “has career placement but it does not meet the needs of the EMBA program.” The school also has “career coaches,” but it wants “to do something apart from the ordinary.” It wants to “raise the bar.”

In summary, the school graduates EMBAs. It has career coaches for them, but the coaching isn’t yielding jobs. And it has a career placement service that doesn’t yield jobs, either.

This school wants to know if I’m interested in being “embedded” in its EMBA program. The “career placement professional” it brings on “must bring jobs to the table.”

Here’s the response I sent:

It sounds to me like [your school] is looking for something quite ordinary – a “career placement professional.” Today’s economy is awash with them.

Here’s the problem: You hire a placement professional to put your EMBAs into jobs. What is [your school] going to pay this individual? $50k? $100k? $150k? With a bonus every time he or she places someone?

Here’s the competition: Every company that’s trying to fill top executive slots is working with contingency headhunters who are paid 25% or more of the exec’s new salary upon placement. The headhunter that places 4 or 5 execs will earn around $200,000. Inside a year, the headhunter will earn fees in excess of $1 million.

Your “placement professional” will be competing with headhunters who have far more at stake than a salary or even a bonus. The headhunters will leave your “career placement professional” in the dust. How is that doing something apart from the ordinary?

(You could try to get a headhunter to come place your EMBAs, but a good headhunter will not limit himself to just your pool of EMBAs. The best headhunters don’t find jobs for people. They fill positions for their clients, and a headhunter would soon put your EMBAs into competition with other candidates, because that’s what the headhunter does. That’s what he’s paid to do.)

I’m concerned about the statement, “This organization must bring jobs to the table.” [Your school] is graduating EMBAs who are ready and able to run corporations. And someone has to bring jobs to them?

A mother lion brings meat to her young cubs, but to perpare them to survive she shows them how to go out and hunt on their own. Your school must teach its EMBAs how to hunt.

How is an EMBA who can’t find himself a job going to survive, and recruit and hire people for his own company?


  1. Dear Nick,
    I think you made your point quite clearly but missed a step. How about a counter-proposal? I’d propose that you or your embedded substitute hold a seminar along with a practicum, every semester, to show the cubs how to hunt.

  2. @Lucille: I offered to meet with the school to discuss just that! However, I think this would take more than a seminar and a practicum with me. It would require that each course in the program include a “job hunting” component. Bring in someone from a real, live company to serve as a mentor for an hour, discussing how to create, field and develop opportunities all the time.

  3. Nick

    You’re spot on about the EMBA instruction. I can tell you first hand that the programs do not provide enough focus on key skills business needs.

    Core to any business is selection and recognition of the best-fit people. Why does Southwest Airlines thrive and Delta slowly decline – same industry, same challenges, different outcomes – people make the difference.

    Two years ago I completed an EMBA from a Big 10 school. There were no classes on IT, no classes on operations, no classes on HR/Legal issues – the focus was Accounting 101, Corp Finance, Strategy and Marketing. In lieu of a class on HR selection, top-grading, conflict management…… we had a class on presentation skills.

    God help us if we’re to continue competing in the global economy with presentation skills!

  4. Sadly, the school misses the point.

    While the universities were sending representatives to “The Clinton Initiative” to bolster their social awareness bona fides, someone gutted the US middle class.

    The MC are the poor souls who spent $50-100K on an MBA to better themselves, only to find out that they are “Too old, too overqualified, not specialized enough, not a targeted demographic, etc.” for the paucity of mid to senior roles available.

    The sad fact is that hunter lions become scavengers when there is no live prey.

    Career search skills aside, I think what you are seeing is the growing realization by higher education that the financial “realignment” the US has been experiencing over the past 10 years is going to fundamentally change their industry too.

  5. A core problem is universities have lost touch with providing education as it doesnt pay the bills. Major universities focus more on research, the majority of their annual funds come from grant monies and endowments than tuition or state/federal dollars.

    Let me give you two first hand examples. I was an Adjunct Professor as well as EMBA Grad

    Point one – As a Prof. there’s no standard on what material to cover, no linkage to other classes/concepts and no accountability other than student evaluations. What this drives is a lack of students thinking about how a marketing concept impacts operations, or how an operational decision impacts accounting/finance. In the real world these are exactly the skills that are valued.

    Point two – the establishment fears what it does not understand and the inertia resists rapid response to changing needs. Two examples; I proposed a class on Manging the Socially Networked firm to the Dean(I’d read social networking could be a hot topic :) The idea was rejected “because we have too many electives already” The irony of the situation is they then asked me to teach a class on “Quality Management” which while valuable is a bit passe for new grads looking to get hired.

    Second, I worked with PMI (Project Management Institute) to establish a student chapter. The last hurdle was to have a Tenured Professor sponsor the chapter – no one would step up!

    Net net, Universities are not about teaching students skills that can help address our labor needs. They are about P&L and there’s no P in Teaching.

    EMBA programs are pure P a huge profit center for the schools. In some Universities all proceeds go directly to the School of Business

    As you can tell, I’m passionate about education and learning – we’re on a rapid slide vs the rest of the world given the structural factors in place to reward those in the University system.

  6. “This school wants to know if I’m interested in being “embedded” in its EMBA program.”

    Nick, perhaps you have replied, “I only embed code on my blog.” ;-)

  7. We Americans need to free ourselves from the idea that more education automatically equals more money and a better position. Street smarts, hustle, ambition, and creativity are devalued here. No wonder the American middle class has been gutted! We need a return to common sense and entrepreneurship, instead of simply waiting for companies to hand out jobs because we bothered to get yet another degree.

    I’ve been all around the world. There are places where it seems that everybody is an entrepreneur. They can spot an opportunity and act in the moment, earning their own money.

    We Americans are educated to come in 5 minutes early, to have our feet on the floor and butt in the chair, and to obediently take orders from someone else. How’s that working?

    There are many successful people in my family. Yet, none have been nearly as successful financially as my uneducated, immigrant grandparents (grandma orphaned and head of household at 13, grandpa the “man” of the family at 15.) They came here from Southern Italy: different language and culture on top of it all. They had qualities that are hard to explain and definitely not taught in any business school. They owned many rental properties, owned their own restaurants (grandma worked there too sometimes) and grandpa was a top union official in charge of 3,000 men. There were no project management classes or MBAs, executive or otherwise. Yet they died with millions of dollars and came here with nothing.

    In the end, we must all learn to hunt for ourselves. No one can “make us” successful. School needs to stop being a “hideout” from the real world. We need to engage with the real world and not be afraid to try out our ideas, cautiously, and see what flourishes. In the end, many of us will have to work for ourselves and create our own opportunities.

  8. “I’m concerned about the statement, ‘This organization must bring jobs to the table.’ [Your school] is graduating EMBAs who are ready and able to run corporations. And someone has to bring jobs to them?”


    As a career services professional, it is understood in our profession that we don’t “place” people. We introduce them to opportunities to meet employers but it is up to them to place themselves. This is the continual struggle of expectations for career centers. We don’t act as headhunters nor can we recommend specific students (I get this request a lot). We have to make opportunities available to ALL students. As Nick states, we teach them how to hunt and coach them on the best ways to find jobs. I agree that a class on job search/career planning would be good. Some schools do this. We also get criticized for not getting certain organizations to recruit-however, many of said organizations don’t do on-campus recruiting and really, the way to get into them is via networking.

    An EMBA really should not be relying on the career center to find them jobs frankly. At that level, networking is key.

  9. @EDR:

    Well said.

    My grandparents were also from that part of the world. Have you ever thought of sharing their story? Young people (and the rest of us) need to be reminded of examples such as those.

    Seth Godin echoed your thoughts in “Linchpin” with regards to common sense, creativity and education. One quote that I recall was about a CEO was, “He succeeded despite his education and not because of it.”

  10. There are two things going on. One is that higher education has no accountability for poor outcomes, kind of like health insurance companies not being held accountable for the future health of those they deny services to today.

    The other is they don’t have a clue as to how the real world works and they have no interest in learning about it. Insted of learning about how careers actually take shape, they make up a job title like “career placement professional” and expect jobs magically appear.

    I give up, whenever I try to talk to academics about this, they always say it’s because they don’t have enough money – in terms of inflation, nothing compares to tuition costs and that’s only one source of their revenue. What a racket.