It’s not uncommon for Judy Kostin to receive messages from alumni as far away as Russia and Australia. And earlier this spring, when word spread that Kostin was retiring this month from her position as director of corporate strategy and international advising after 18 years at the School, the thank-you letters from students, alumni, recruiters and career management colleagues began pouring in.
A leader in international-career-management education who has helped thousands of Columbia MBAs prepare for all aspects of the job-search process, Kostin’s many accomplishments include facilitating more than 2,500 career-related presentations and serving as a member of the MBA Enterprise Corps, a nonprofit consortium that matches graduates from leading business schools with organizations in emerging markets and less developed areas around the world.
In the following Q&A, the “miracle worker of the Career Services Office” — as she was dubbed by a student in a 1997 Bottom Line profile — talks about the evolution of MBA career advising at the School, the particular challenges faced by international students and the pleasures of teaching children to cook.
When you first arrived at Columbia, your department was called the Placement Office, and your colleagues numbered a dozen or so. Today, the Career Management Center is staffed by more than 20 people and serves both MBA and Executive MBA students. How has your work at the School become more challenging over the past 18 years?
There’s really been a sea change in the work that we do. The resources that we provide have expanded and become more technology-driven to keep pace with the needs of students and recruiters. Today, we really partner with students to assist them with all aspects of the job-search process, and we work with recruiters in many industries to help them interface at an appropriate time in the recruiting process. It’s a much more collaborative effort.
When I started here, no professional office at the School held responsibility for company presentations and events; instead, these were organized by student clubs. In 1990, I established a prerecruiting program to provide strategic direction to recruiting organizations offering campus presentations. Today, we have requests for more presentations than can possibly fit into students’ packed schedules.
In addition to there being more students, the student body in general is much more international today than it was in 1990. In turn, we’ve sought relationships with more non-U.S.-based companies as well as with global recruiting organizations. We’ve also expanded our cross-cultural preorientation and other sessions for international students, and the resources in our career library, which includes historical information on international alumni by home country and employer country, allowing students to build customized networks for their global job-search outreach.
And we’re seeing more industry diversity. We’ve always been a strong finance school, but today we have many more graduates going into general management, real estate and media. Also, more students are venturing beyond the tristate area, taking positions from Silicon Valley to Hong Kong, and we’re building connections with a wider range of industries. For example, a number of years ago I helped initiate an MBA retail-and-luxury-goods seminar and have since advised many students in the Retail and Luxury Goods Club on careers and club events, including two successful conferences.
You’ve developed programs and advising sessions for international students and those seeking work outside their home country. What are some of the unique challenges faced by these students?
It’s often very hard for students to understand another country’s implicit cultural expectations, such as arrival time, responding to authority and even the expression “business casual.” In some countries, for example, a student might arrive at a dinner much later than the invitation states or might never consider questioning an interviewer or a professor.
Even résumés and cover letters definitely vary by country. For example, American résumés are very accomplishment-driven. We tend to pat ourselves on the back and list all our qualities and qualifications and show results obtained, whereas CVs in other cultures are more restrained.
These sorts of nuances are often the most challenging for international students. In advising meetings, I often have to encourage students to give themselves permission to respond a certain way in order to make them feel comfortable enough to transcend their own cultural norms and indicate what skills and background they can offer to a potential recruiter.
Before joining the administration at the School, you developed creative cooking courses for children, in addition to holding several positions in education and living abroad in both the United Kingdom and Japan. What are your plans now?
That’s right, I created and taught a series of cooking classes for 10- to 12-year-olds — they were the first of their kind and were featured in Bon Appetit magazine. Enabling children to feel the sense of accomplishment that goes along with preparing a meal was very rewarding. Maybe now I’ll have the time to help introduce many more children to cooking and good nutrition through programs like Spoons Across America.
I love art and design, gourmet cooking and also traveling, so I hope I’ll also be able to work with some special programs at museums in New York and plan some international trips, too.
I’ll certainly miss being part of the fabric of a leading business school, helping students shape their careers and getting to know the needs of companies. I’m always thrilled to hear from students and alumni — it’s very moving to learn about the successes of students with whom I’ve worked.
Judy Kostin plans to continue to work with the Career Management Center as a part-time consultant. She welcomes updates from alumni and can be contacted at her lifetime Columbia e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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