Stephanie Trierweiler: Prioritize mental health in recruiting

Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 5:28pm

Recruiting season for the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business undergraduates is essentially over. Winter break offered much-needed room to breathe for the many upperclassmen who have secured an internship or full-time job offer for the upcoming year. While students, in general, are at significant risk for developing mental health issues throughout college, each fall at the Ross School of Business poses a unique kind of stress for upperclassmen as their recruiting schedules and academic lives strain against one another.

On paper, employment outcomes for Business students look incredible. Ninety-eight percent of undergraduates receive a job offer within three months of graduation, their starting salaries average at $72,500 and they secure internships and full-time positions all over the United States and abroad. The program clearly provides students ample resources to excel in their early careers.

The journey from arriving on campus as relatively inexperienced freshmen to achieving those impressive numbers as upperclassmen, however, can be a rollercoaster. This is especially true during the notorious junior fall semester in which students compete with each other and aim to land coveted internship positions. These positions ideally translate into full-time return offers, and while most students do end up re-recruiting as seniors, the pressure to perform specifically for junior year internships is immense.

Mind Matters is a student organization within the Business School that raises awareness about mental health and wellness and works to decrease stigma against seeking help in the community. At junior convocation this year, members of the group showed the results of a survey administered to business undergraduates — they reported a significant spike in anxiety and depression during the junior fall semester.

Forrest Cao, founder and president of Mind Matters, explained in an interview that these experiences are common during recruiting.

“For students in this situation, the worst thing is for them to think they’re the only ones,” Cao said. “We’re trying to get people thinking about how this is something most people deal with. There is a community that understands and is going through what they feel.”

I believe some of the stress that induces or exacerbates mental health problems in students is unavoidable due to the generally difficult nature of any job search, regardless of the program they’re enrolled in. But recruiting at a business school is uniquely systematic, extremely competitive and placed at a crucial academic moment in the college careers of students.

Of the factors that contribute to mental health problems, “The issues of culture, classes and recruiting are interlinked,” Cao said. The Business School can do more to mitigate these negative outcomes by balancing its curriculum with its recruiting schedule and increasing mental health resources available to students.

The most common process by which Business undergraduates find employment is the Business School’s on-campus recruiting system, which is highly regimented and combines an assortment of formal activities. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in activities the Business School coordinates such as individual company presentations and networking hours, career fairs for those applying for a position in a particular function or industry, resume drops on the school’s intranet and a bidding system for first-round interviews that take place in the Ross School of Business Building.

These various events are condensed almost entirely into the months of September through November each year and consume a significant amount of students’ time. In addition, on-campus interviews routinely take place during the same hours as class sessions and companies also frequently fly out students for final round interviews during the school week.

This process — combined with the inherently competitive nature of attending the same recruiting events and applying for the same positions as peers — is a huge undertaking to balance with existing academic and personal obligations.

As someone who had not worked at a large corporation before or previously experienced such a stringent sequence of networking events, the months during my own recruiting process last year were difficult. I frankly had no idea whether I was asking the right questions to truly get the best feel for a company’s culture, attending the right presentations (since many occurred at the same time) or even wearing the right clothes to fit the mysterious and ill-defined expectation of “business casual” attire at my events.

Week by week, I felt a whirlwind of anxieties over my qualifications, made tough calls between completing work shifts for my part-time job and attending endlessly available recruiting events and tackled the biggest career decisions of my life so far. It was a period of tremendous learning and self-growth, but it came with emotional and physical tolls I hadn’t anticipated in myself. I saw my own experiences reflected in my peers as they moved through many of the same decisions, obstacles, realizations and struggles throughout the semester.

While I was exploring my career so intensely, I was upset to find that the Business School incorporates its most rigorous academic experience into this semester and strictly assigns the junior fall course schedules for students. It plugs an entrepreneurship challenge mid-semester on top of normal coursework and schedules it in the same week as a significant number of on-campus interviews. These frictions, among others, made me constantly choose between dedicating my efforts to courses and recruiting.

The school itself doesn’t implement any systematic support channels or follow-ups about how students can best approach recruiting and prioritize their mental health. The Business School does provide psychological services from one of the University's CAPS counselors and occasionally emails links to articles like tips for managing stress. Cao has also found that the Business School has been responsive to Mind Matters’ efforts — it provides space for the organization’s meditation sessions and is working with group members to establish an “Identity and Diversity in Organizations” session focusing on mental health.

But I believe the lack of initiative from the administration itself demonstrates a passive position toward students’ well-being. I encourage the school to consider its students more in its program’s structure, reconcile its recruiting schedule with its curriculum as much as possible and continue to boost mental health resources. The Business School should recognize the unique position we are in as students, as job seekers and as people throughout these recruiting seasons and, more broadly, throughout our time in an undergraduate business program. It should build upon the work its students are already doing to promote mental health and well-being, and take direct action to alleviate some of the pressure on its community of students in such a critical moment.

 

Stephanie Trierweiler can be reached at strier@umich.edu