SOM ‘Careers’ class praised for encouraging self-examination

As part of an effort to broaden the Yale School of Management’s curriculum, the school is offering a new core class about career planning to help students plan careers in an increasingly uncertain corporate environment.

“Careers,” taught by professors Jonathan Feinstein and Amy Wrzesniewski, covers everything from personal, financial and social capital development to career transitions. Rather than emphasizing the importance of finding a post-graduate job, the Careers course — required of all first-year SOM students — encourages students to take a larger-scale view of their post-SOM careers to determine how their personal values and ambitions best can be served by intelligent career decisions. The class has been received positively by faculty, students and administrators in the two weeks since the course was launched, prompting many to praise it as a cornerstone of the school’s new interdisciplinary management curriculum.

SOM Dean Joel Podolny said he thinks career education in a business curriculum addresses a need created by the evolution of managerial careers over the past three decades.

“For much of the last century, the typical managerial career unfolded in the context of a large corporate bureaucracy, and a typical manager might spend his entire life moving up within one function within a single organization,” Podolny said. “Today, managerial careers span the boundaries of industry, geography and sector, and in this world it becomes increasingly important for aspiring managers to think hard about how they structure a career.”

The Careers course also speaks to SOM’s mission of educating leaders for both business and society and attempts to focus students on what kind of impact they want their careers and their lives to have on the world around them.

“Our mission calls on our students to think hard about the meaningful, positive difference that they want to make in the world, and the Careers course — which is an integral part of our entire new MBA curriculum approach — provides some grounding for that aspiration,” Podolny said.

Wrzesniewski said it is designed to promote a “big-picture” view of careers among students, many of whom might otherwise think of a career as a string of jobs one occupies during the course of his employed life.

“The purpose is to get students thinking in the much longer term to determine what it is they want out of a career and then figure out how they can attain that and how they might plan for different contingencies along the way,” Wrzesniewski said.

Interim director of career development Anne Coyle said her office has been in touch with the course’s two professors since its inception.

“Over the summer, we had extensive discussions about what this course would be and about what it wouldn’t be,” Coyle said. “The career development office is necessarily focused on helping students find summer internships and their first post-MBA jobs, and we even continue to work with some SOM alumni on continued career development. But this new course is really about a career as a lifetime trajectory.”

Administrators in the career development office have been supporting the new class by attending sections, continuing to communicate with its professors and even completing the summer reading assigned to students in the course, including biographies of Sam Walton, Ghandi and Warren Buffet.

Biographical readings for the course will be complemented by a formal mentorship program for first-year SOM students, as well as by a series of film clips to be shown in class featuring interviews with SOM alumni at various points in their careers. Coyle said these film clips — compiled by professors whom the career development office put in contact with alumni — demonstrate the high level of cooperation and interplay required to make the class and the new curriculum function.

“It’s about as interactive of a program as we normally get,” Coyle said. “It’s been very nicely coordinated, definitely challenging but very interesting.”

According to faculty and administrators, students have responded enthusiastically to the class. First-year student Sumana Chatterjee SOM ’08 said so far the coursework for the Careers class has done more to crystallize previous thoughts on her career than to actually change them.

“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the past and on my aspirations for the future,” Chatterjee said. “It’s an incredible thing to think through questions that broadly. A lot of people go through life from moment to moment, but business school gives you a chance to step away from all that.”

Wrzesniewski acknowledged that given the broad range of students, the Careers course might initially be more helpful for some than for others. But she said the philosophy behind the class is what drives the new core curriculum and therefore is necessary for all students regardless of where they are in the career planning process.

“Some of the students really do feel they have a certain idea of how the next several decades will unfold for them, and then there are some here for the very reason that they’re still exploring their options,” Wrzesniewski said. “But the focus is really on the career plans each individual wants to put in motion, how they plan to deal with transitions and challenges within that career, and that’s something everyone can benefit from.”

Feinstein, who also developed and teaches the Careers course, is currently out of the country and was unavailable for comment.

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