Munich as a business location
"It takes initiative to make a career"
Munich is Germany’s No. 1 business location. But does this help students to find jobs? “Not necessarily,” says Dirk Erfurth of LMU’s Career Service, “finding the right job requires initiative.”
In recent years, universities have increasingly played on the advantages of their locations with respect to the availability of job opportunities for their graduates. This has sometimes led to a structurally disadvantaged region being portrayed as a thriving metropolitan area. Does this mean that LMU should place more emphasis on Munich’s undoubted importance as a business location? Not really. “The economic advantages to be found in the Munich area are the icing on the cake, part of the whole package. But it takes more than that to make a successful career,” says Dirk Erfurth of LMU’s Career Service, Student und Arbeitsmarkt.
Let’s take a quick look at the economic case for Munich, nevertheless. The city’s economy encompasses a wide spectrum of sectors, organized into what are sometimes referred to as ‘clusters of clusters’ – or as Erfurth prefers to put it, it possesses “a colorful and variegated bouquet of businesses”. However, depending on the indicators employed, comparative statistics relating to the region’s economic performance are mixed. The fact that seven of the 30 DAX-listed German firms with the highest annual turnovers have their headquarters in Munich cannot be overlooked. It certainly tells us something – but what exactly? According to the latest report issued by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) for Munich and Upper Bavaria, firms located in the region particularly value factors such as the quality of the local infrastructure, opportunities for networking, proximity to customers, and the availability of qualified personnel very highly. The survey gives the region an overall rating of 1.7, good but not outstanding.
“Statistics give us a very one-sided picture. The other side of the picture is real life,” says Erfurth. “Quite simply, Munich is a nice place to live in, and firms tell us so again and again.” It’s the real-estate agent’s cri de coeur: ‘Location, location, location’. “Whether your firm’s postal address is ‘Am Güterbahnhof 2, Gummersbach’ or ‘Medienallee, Munich’ does make a difference,” he adds. Not so long ago, and despite strong competition, yet another well-known firm chose Munich as the site of a new venture – when IBM decided to set up its new center devoted to research in artificial intelligence in the city. As soon as the decision had been taken, the company called the Career Center at LMU.
The LMU Career Service: Exploiting networks
Students often come to see him in the Career Center, Erfurth tells me, simply to draw reassurance from the latest statistics. It is true that the unemployment rate among academics is very low. “But students who are thinking seriously about their professional future need to ask themselves – above all – ‘What is my goal?’” The next question is: “What practical steps can I take towards achieving that goal at the moment?” Erfurth sees his role as providing a platform for the exchange of information, and facilitating communication between students and employers – because “success depends on the network”, on being in the loop.
This is the reason why the LMU Career Service dispenses advice in so many different formats. Take, for instance, the online reports on internships abroad – first-hand accounts written by students who obtained their international placements with the help of Student und Arbeitsmarkt. What happens when such evaluations are less than flattering for the firms involved? “That’s something those concerned just have to accept. Nothing in these reports is faked,” Erfurth replies. – Then there are the classical formats, such as the online recruitment portal listing between 70 and 100 jobs and practicals per week (this is one of the most frequented sites on the University’s webpages) and the career fairs with renowned international firms. Mind you, participating companies don’t get all this for nothing, for “what we have to offer is highly valued,” Erfurth says. In this respect, LMU‘s Career Service differs from many others: The income earned is used to finance programs that far exceed normal standards. For example, the Careers Office organizes not only standard courses in Excel and the like, but provides instruction in topics such as the editing of technical texts and instruction manuals – a skill which is great demand. “In many cases, today’s firms are not especially interested in what the candidate has studied – that’s just the wrapping. What counts is the individual’s personality and what one has learned – the content. Employers want to know what job-seekers can actually do.”
The LMU Mentoring Program: Getting to know the business world
The Career Service’s Mentoring Program is one of its great successes, having set up approximately 1000 tandem partnerships since its inception (although of course many mentors share practical tips and insights with more than one student at a time). One of those who have benefitted from the program is Nathalie, who is studying Business Administration. When she began she was primarily interested in personnel management, and her first mentor was familiar with that area. Meanwhile, having completed her Bachelor’s degree, she is now doing a Master’s in Management Consulting – and in LMU graduate Dr. Anette Klett-Steinbauer she has undoubtedly found an ideal mentor. Although this tandem has not been in existence for long, the partners obviously get on very well. “I also developed a friendly relationship with my first mentor,” Nathalie tells me. “A good relationship also makes everything that much easier,” Klett-Steinbauer adds. The two of them talk – on equal terms – about Nathalie’s recent interview for an internship, and the course of their conversation soon reveals what the mentoring program is all about: The experienced mentor can provide valuable tips, feedback, specialist information and insights that are not otherwise easy to come by. “It certainly would have done me no harm if, when I was a student, I had been able to chat regularly with someone with practical experience,” Klett-Steinbauer muses. Now an independent business consultant, she enjoys acting as “a sparring partner for the student”. And, of course, the mentoring program serves as an interesting recruiting tool for participating firms. Dirk Erfurth finds the program particularly interesting because, unlike the case with conventional coaching sessions, the relationship between mentor and mentee is not a hierarchical one. “Both partners in a tandem interact as equals. Mentor and mentee need each other.”
What skills do I need?
The most frequently asked questions that Erfurth is confronted with have to do with the nature of the market’s current requirements: What qualifications, qualities and soft skills do I need? Are employers looking for the global player or the local hero? What abilities must one have to succeed in this or that sector? There are no simple answers to these FAQs. But one thing is clear: “The world of business differs fundamentally from the academic world from which the graduate emerges. It follows entirely different rules. While students chase after credits, what counts in the world of work is time, money, personality, know-how… A good academic record is only one element of what job recruiters are looking for.”
Christian Jost is such a recruiter, and works for the international personnel agency Hays. His advice to students is not to follow the lemming strategy, but to take an honest look at oneself – for instance, by carrying out a personal SWOT analysis. “What employers now ask for is not the sleek, streamlined individual, nor is it the much cited non-conformist, who slashes his way through the jungle with a machete,” he says. “Businesses are looking for are problem-solvers – people who are flexible, capable of cooperating with others and focused on getting results. Given this “softer profile”, the demand for graduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences is rising, he adds. Experience of life and work abroad is no longer seen as a differential marker. This is partly because it is now expected of the younger generation, “but also because many people discover in the course of their lives that they would prefer to be with their families and old acquaintances than in Singapore”. The grade cited in one’s academic degree is also less significant than many students believe. “Young people should work more on themselves than on their CVs. – It’s perfectly OK to take time out to do a voluntary social year or some other activity that helps build character,” Jost says. “Tugging the olive is not going to ripen it quicker.” So how does one find the right job? “Play to your strengths, don’t bend over backwards to fit in,” says the recruiter. It doesn’t work in the long run. “The match is the important thing. Students should therefore face the challenge with a sensible mixture of self-assurance and diffidence.”
LMU students do have one definite advantage. In Jost’s view, the German university system increasingly resembles that in the English-speaking world, in which one’s alma mater plays a very significant role in determining one’s career prospects. Dirk Erfurth agrees with this assessment: “Recruiters are focusing on target universities, of which LMU is one. This is not only a function of the numbers of graduates it produces. It is mainly because of its broad curriculum, its international character, and of course its academic reputation,” he says. However, in the last analysis, a student’s attractiveness for employers is determined very largely by the individual concerned.