By Heream Yang
From one-on-one sessions with a seasoned Career Coach to industry-specific Career Treks in cities like New York and San Francisco, the Career Management Center (CMC) prepares Vanderbilt Business students for maximum success throughout the recruiting process. One of the most impactful touchpoints for incoming MBA students is the Peer Coach program, which carefully matches first-year MBA students with a second-year Peer Coach who helps students refine their resumes and prepare for the recruiting process.
“Essentially, the Peer Coach program is an opportunity to create a network for incoming students to connect with existing students,” explained Sandy Kinnett, Senior Associate Director at the CMC.
Preparing for Competitive Recruiting
Peer Coaches are one of the factors that can help give students an edge in competitive recruiting fields. Since the Peer Coaches have recently gone through the same processes themselves, they are very familiar with the practice and knowledge it takes to succeed when recruiting for MBA internships and jobs. This is especially apparent in consulting, one of the most popular and competitive career paths for MBA students. A key component of consulting recruiting is the case interview, in which candidates solve hypothetical business scenarios in order to demonstrate their problem-solving skills. Vanderbilt’s Peer Coach program equips students for consulting success by pairing rigorous case prep with individualized mentorship.
After successfully pivoting to consulting and landing an offer at Deloitte after 6 years working at ESPN, Stephanie Jones (MBA‘21) now uses her consulting know-how to help first-year students navigate the recruiting process. “I felt like I could really make a difference in the first years’ lives through peer coaching, and I knew I wanted to pay what I had learned in my first year forward,” Jones said. “To recruit for consulting, you have to case prep, and so we case with the incoming first years as part of the Peer Coach program. I knew I would already be casing and meeting with first years since I was going to a well-known firm, and so officially joining the Peer Coach program felt like a natural transition.”
Much like Stephanie, Keith Jones (MBA‘22) also entered consulting from an unconventional background. Having worked in healthcare technology for over 7 years, his most recent role – Senior Application Coordinator at Dayton Children’s Hospital – and its responsibilities inspired him to pivot into consulting. “I came in to pursue consulting, so Stephanie was able to kind of tell me what the roadmap was for that,” Jones explained. “There are very specific steps that you have to go through — for example, you have to set up coffee chats. Working with Stephanie on how to navigate that coffee chat experience, because, working in healthcare, you don’t do a ton of coffee chats, at least not on the IT side, was a big difference for me, and something that she really helped me to navigate.”
Another Peer Coach who helped a student make a career pivot was Julie O’Mara (MBA‘20), who helped smooth Bernardo Simoes’ (MBA‘21) transition into brand management. Born and raised in Brazil, Simoes spent about 5 years at Procter & Gamble in Sao Paulo, working his way up from Intern to Senior Category Manager. He came to business school in the U.S. to be near his then-fiance (now wife), who was based in Florida at the time. Simoes decided that it wasn’t just time for a geographical change, but also an industry shift, and O’Mara helped him secure his dream internship at Mars Petcare, where he will be returning full-time.
“Mars, right from the beginning, was my number one company,” he said. “Julie helped me through that process of defining what my priorities should be, and then she really helped me prepare for the interview process because she’s been through it. She also put me in contact with 3 of the past Vanderbilt MBA interns at Mars, so I got to chat with them about how their experience was and really make sure that’s what I wanted. They helped me go through the interview process and gave me names to reach out to inside Mars. Pretty much, I got to do all that because Julie, in the beginning, really helped me figure out what I should do and who I should reach out to and start those conversations.”
Coaching Through the Ups and Downs of Recruitment
Recruiting is a very stressful process and often full of ups and down, so Peer Coaches need to be able to help their mentees develop the resilience necessary to weather the recruiting cycle. “The recruiting process is an emotional roller coaster,” said Raj Majumder (MBA’19), a former peer coach and current Digital Marketing Manager at Amgen. “To have (a Peer Coach) there by your side to just be like, ‘Listen, we understand what you’re worth, we’ve worked with you’ — just to have that checkpoint through a crazy emotional roller coaster of a season is super important. I’m glad that Owen has that.”
Majumder had previous mentorship experience, including working as a jiu-jitsu instructor and an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Suffolk University (he received his Master’s in Biology at Harvard University). While he enjoyed working in the healthcare field, he decided that business would be a better fit than academia. As he transitioned into the corporate world, Majumder found a way to carry his mentorship impulse into his time at Owen by becoming a Peer Coach.
“Working in mentoring has been something that I value a lot, so having a chance to do that again is what drove me to become a Peer Coach,” he said. “I think additionally, just knowing that I came from a different background — I came from academia — and I needed help to understand the corporate world, to understand how to transfer my skills over, I felt like it would put me in a unique position to be able to help other people coming from that same science and academic world and help them break into business, just like I did.”
Getting Ready for the Real World
In some cases, working as a Peer Coach doesn’t just prepare students for recruiting — it also prepares them for the work that they will do after they graduate. This is especially true for students in the HR concentration at Vanderbilt Business, who often go into roles that require them to act as either formal or informal coaches to other employees. Take, for instance, 3 generations of Peer Coaches — Emily Busse (MBA‘19), Ryan Smith (MBA‘20), and Kathryn Pelino (MBA‘21) — who have all joined the Colleague Experience Group at American Express.
Busse credits her Peer Coach experience with preparing her to deliver impactful feedback as an HR Manager at American Express. “I think being both the Peer Coachee and the Peer Coach is a great entryway into that skill,” Busse said. “It can be a little bit uncomfortable to look at your peer or your colleague and provide something that sounds like critical feedback, but at the end of the day, it’s a really important skill to know how to do and also to know how to receive. The earlier people practice getting comfortable with it, the stronger that muscle grows.”
Smith, who recently began his full-time role at American Express, still carries the storytelling skills he developed with Busse into his new position. “I think that one of the benefits of working with your Peer Coach is developing your story and being able to practice that on a peer who, one, is a judgment-free zone, but then, 2, has gone through the process really recently and has very tangible feedback that they can give based on their experience,” Smith explained. “I think that continues to play out when you move into a new role at a new company and you’re constantly meeting new people. They may not say, ‘Walk me through your resume,’ but they definitely want to hear about your background and what you were doing prior to joining the company. I’ve had numerous occasions in the last 6-8 months where I’ve been able to employ that and to put that into practice.”
Pelino, the latest to join the American Express lineage, decided to become a Peer Coach to pay forward Smith’s legacy of mentorship and guidance. “Each company has their different way of recruiting and each company, of course, has different things that are important to them,” Pelino said. “Ryan really helped me understand what was important to one company versus another and how I could elevate what was relevant in cover letters and conversations while still presenting my true self and being honest about my interests. Because I found so much value out of my experience with Ryan, I wanted to provide some value to first years going through a similar experience, so I elected to be a peer coach this year to hopefully pay it forward.”