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Blair Sanford

Coaching for Success

by Blair Nelson Sanford, Assistant Dean of Wisconsin Full-Time MBA Program Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Coaching for Success

Soft skills are the new core skills, and MBA programs across the country are beginning to acknowledge this idea more emphatically. Year after year, strong oral and written communication skills finish at or near the top in the Corporate Recruiter Survey Report published by GMAC on the 23 attributes employers consider when hiring MBAs, ranking second and sixth respectively in the 2015 survey.  

With communications skills becoming more than an essential competency but also a differentiator, the Wisconsin MBA Program is supporting MBA students with a unique approach. At the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, every MBA student has a trio of coaches. They are assigned a personal career coach, a communication coach, and a peer coach to enhance their development.  

The coaching 360-approach helps develop critical soft skills holistically—career readiness with a career coach, public speaking and writing skills with a communication coach, and real-time feedback with a peer coach. Millennials—the demographic group of students entering most full-time MBA programs—“want to feel in control of their careers,” according to a 2016 Deloitte Insights survey. The Wisconsin MBA Program provides the resources to make that happen.

Career Coach

The coaching partnership begins the summer before students start the Wisconsin MBA Program, when career coaches emphasize self-assessment, resume preparation, personal branding, early interview training, and learning techniques to help students shape their career story. Then during the program, first-year students sharpen their skills through mock interviews and opportunities to engage with alumni in functional or industries of interest. Our career coaches provide individualized career coaching across a range of areas, such as exploring professional interests, determining target companies, navigating online resources, and developing comprehensive job search strategies. Personal coaching and support continue throughout the second year, often including offer reviews and negotiation practice. 

Communications Coach
Billionaire Warren Buffet once provided a class of business school students some advice: master the art of public speaking. We equip MBA students to heed that advice by providing personalized access to a communication coach who helps students improve both their public speaking and writing skills.  Communication coaches provide support to each student cohort in the first-year class. This practice assures employers that Wisconsin MBA graduates are good communicators, while moving students’ communications skills from good to great to exceptional. 

Both writing and speaking skills are assessed during orientation through practical real-time scenarios, and individual meetings are required during the first half of the first semester for sharing of personalized comments and tools. Our communication coaches offer significant assistance as students prepare for their Integrated Company Analysis (ICA) project, where analysis and the ability to communicate that analysis in a 25-minute PowerPoint presentation to a mock board of professors are critical. One year the requirement for each team to rehearse this presentation with their communication coach was dropped, and the result was dramatic enough that the requirement has never been questioned again.  

Peer Coach
The third coach in the trifecta is peer coaches. The second-year MBA peer coaches offer support to the first-year MBA students as they progress through their first semester, which culminates in the ICA project. The peer coaching benefits both sets of students. First-year students receive assistance and guidance as they tackle new challenges, resolve conflict, and create charters. At the same time, the second-year peer coaches, who are specially selected, also benefit from the unique opportunity to take on a leadership role. 

By taking a comprehensive coaching approach that complements the curriculum and co-curricular activities, our trifecta of coaches support Wisconsin MBA students in developing the necessary soft skills to propel their success. It’s this fundamental communication competency that helps make our graduates stand out.

Career Coach
Career coaches provide individualized guidance to prepare Wisconsin MBA students for the future. PHOTO: PAUL L. NEWBY II

Communications Coach

MBA students improve their verbal and written skills with the help of communication coaches.
PHOTO: PAUL L. NEWBY II

Peer Coach

Second-year MBA students serve as peer coaches to provide advice to first-year MBA students. PHOTO: PAUL L. NEWBY II