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Career Services Tightrope?

We scratched our collective heads at Eduvantis the other day when we read the lead on a Wall Street Journal article headlined “Career Services for the Executive Set.”

The lead read: “Career-services offices at business schools have a new job these days: catering to executive MBA students.”

The head scratching part came from the fact that this is hardly new. Business schools have been walking the tightrope that has been slowly but inexorably emerging during the past 10 years in EMBA programs–the “unspoken conflict of interest” defined by the “real” career aspirations of EMBA students, their desire to also get as much financial support as possible from their employers and their employers desire to, well, not throw a lot of money out the window in support of helping their best talent leave the building.

EMBA programs have taken many different approaches to balance these seemingly conflicting incentives–from delivering somewhat “covert” career services to a variety of linguistic summersaults, such as calling them “career advancement” and other such things. None of this masks the core issue–EMBA students go through the trouble, mostly, to advance their careers, with the full expectation that it may mean leaving their current employer. (Having done countless focus groups with EMBA students, we can tell you that is pretty much the punchline. Not to mention if you have ever attended one of the many cocktail parties that go on throughout an EMBA program, you can’t help but notice that getting a new job, or starting a new business, is pretty much all anyone in attendance talks about).

So, if EMBA programs want to recruit students, particularly at the typical EMBA program price point, no doubt they must create the value-added outcomes students demand. With employer support continuing to fall (even though that paradigm shifted radically quite a few years ago), EMBA programs are, and perhaps this is what is marginally “new,” at a tipping point in deciding to more overtly focus on helping their EMBA student find new jobs, despite the associated risks (according to the EMBA Council data featured in the article, employers are still paying–whether fully or partially, a substantial amount of the costs of EMBA programs).

That’s certainly a possible business model decision schools might increasingly make. Some things Eduvantis advises its EMBA clients to consider, based on our Eduvantis Market Insights analysis:

1. Make sure you first listen very carefully, and formally, to your “corporate sponsors” behind still a majority of EMBA students in your program–and don’t forget that they (the employers) are still the market makers in this product category.

2. Consider carefully (really do the math) on what would happen to your program if employers got fed up and took their business elsewhere (that is an entirely other matter we’ll cover soon–which is the growing number of other choices companies have for educating their high potentials).

3. Don’t insult your market by working to hard to mask the reality of services designed to enable successful job change among EMBA students through clever linguistic choices. All stakeholders involved are far too smart to not know what is actually going on.

4. Don’t mistake these services, no matter what you call them, for “brand differentiators.” These are sales and service mechanisms, not value added differentiators in the substance and quality of the product and experience you offer—the things that really make a difference in the brand.

At the end of the day, the students that get into top EMBA programs are more than capable of getting a new job if they want one…….what will most matter to them is the distinctive quality of the brand (and the quality of the learning and, yes, most importantly, the quality of their fellow participants in the lifelong network that goes with it).