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As a third-year commerce student at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, Marcel Glaesser spent an academic semester at the University of Mannheim last year. After completing his studies in Germany, he decided to stay longer and landed a six-month contract with BMW in Munich.

A worker puts an emblem on a BMW 5 series car at the plant in the Bavarian city of Dingolfing.

“The coolest thing is that I got to do so many things,” he recalls, citing marketing-related assignments that included preparations for the company’s annual meeting held in a stadium, complete with a display of prototype cars.

His experience typifies a growing trend among undergraduate and graduate business students to study and work abroad while earning their business degree. For Mr. Glaesser, Germany held appeal because he was born there before his family came to Canada 10 years ago. He took his classes in English at Mannheim, but had to brush up on his German to work at BMW.

His advice to other students is “go abroad, go abroad. It will set you apart.”

The same message comes from Canadian business schools, some with formal and informal arrangements to promote international experience opportunities for students before they graduate.

For example, Beedie recently signed an agreement with the British Columbia and Caribbean branches of the Certified General Accountants for an accounting student to spend a work term in Barbados every year.

“We feel it is a great opportunity for students because they get to work and learn,” says Andrew Gemino, associate dean of undergraduate programs. “We would love to do more,” he adds. “It is a matter of finding those opportunities and working on them.”

About 1,700 Beedie commerce undergraduates – about half of the enrolment – are at one stage or another of the school’s co-op program, either completing a prerequisite semester, applying for a placement or actually on the job. Every semester, between 170 and 240 students are actually working, with about five per cent choosing to go abroad.

“Through a variety of different ways, the students are becoming more comfortable and more interested in working internationally,” says Shauna Tonsaker, co-op education program director.

Her office provides financial and other assistance to students before, during and after their work stint. Prior to departure, all students complete an online course to minimize culture shock. This summer, students have chosen placements with major firms in half a dozen countries, including China, Japan and Germany.

“They get the experience of working in a culturally diverse work environment, gain experience for the first time of living on their own and get a global perspective,” she says. “It is of huge value when they are out there to apply for careers, locally and internationally, and can bring that [experience] to the workplace.”

Now completing his fourth year at Beedie in business marketing, Mr. Glaesser says the biggest bonus of working abroad was his new level of confidence. “It was the first time working in any big organization and seeing how it works from the inside,” he recalls. “For me, it was really valuable.”

excerpt from The Globe and Mail, by JENNIFER LEWINGTON

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Amir Ziv, Vice Dean at Columbia Business School

Amir Ziv is Vice Dean and Professor of Accounting and Samberg Faculty Director at Columbia Business School. Professor Ziv teaches Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting in MBA, Executive MBA, various Executive Education programs, and in Doctoral programs. He taught in Executive Development programs for, among others, Goldman Sachs, Philip Morris, Lafarge and Ziff Brothers. Professor Ziv has received various honors and awards. Most recently, he won the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 “Award for Excellence,” awarded by the graduating EMBA Global class — a joint program of London Business School and Columbia Business School.

In this interview, Amir talks about why he feels that business school is for everyone, how to stand out in the admissions process, how to make the most out of graduate school and more.

Do you believe that graduate school is for everyone? What types of professionals should avoid it and who should consider it?

I can only speak to business schools, but yes, I believe it can be for all professionals, regardless of their background or industry. An MBA isn’t like an MD, where you obtain a very specific skill set and knowledge base in order to enter a narrow, specialized field. An MBA is far more open-ended, and one can truly do anything afterward. The skills you gain, not only in multiple business areas (like economics, accounting, marketing, operations, management, and more), but also in the ability to analyze a problem and integrate different perspectives, are relevant to just about any career.

Here at Columbia Business School, our students are incredibly diverse, both in terms of their personal and professional backgrounds and what they do after graduation. This mix of people and backgrounds really is the cornerstone of the Columbia experience, both in terms of the education our students receive and the lifelong, ever-evolving network they gain. The skills, networking power, and approaches to management gained by an MBA—at least, by a Columbia MBA—prepare all kinds of people for the next act in their professional lives.

How does an applicant stand out in your admissions process? What do you look for?

Columbia Business School looks for intellectually driven people from diverse educational, economic, social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds. Our students share a record of achievement, strong leadership, and the ability to work in teams. Although we receive literally thousands of applications, we feel strongly about giving each candidate full consideration and careful review. That being said, the applicants who stand out are those who can tell us about themselves and their goals in a straightforward, compelling manner.

Business  school is a big investment of time and money and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s essential that one has a clear, concrete understanding of how an MBA will benefit his or her future, as well as how he or she will contribute to the Columbia community. Also, we look for students who are excited about living in New York and taking full advantage of the city as a classroom and living laboratory for business. The Columbia experience includes unique opportunities such as practitioners that teach as adjuncts, preeminent guest speakers, community service activities, and so much more. We look for students who will flourish in that kind of fast-paced, unique environment.

During graduate school, what skills and experiences should students acquire before moving on?

At Columbia, our goal is to provide an educational experience that bridges theory and practice, so that our students hone their entrepreneurial mindset, making them ready to identify, capture, and create opportunities for themselves, the entities they work for, and society at large. That means providing exposure to the latest concepts and research in business, as well as encouraging students to learn by doing. We have curricular initiatives that encourage this, such as our Master Class program, where students work on real problems for real companies.

In addition, we have a host of extracurricular programs run by the administration, which provide students the opportunity to put the lessons they learn in the classroom into practice. One example is the Small Business Consulting Program, where a group of students recently helped a New York theater company hit its highest ticket-sales mark ever and another group helped a local clothing designer decide whether to open a brick-and-mortar store or pursue online sales. Such opportunities to gain practical experience solving problems are invaluable. In terms of specific abilities to acquire in business school, I would say that leadership skills are the most important attribute for any business professional to possess.

At Columbia, we have the Program on Social Intelligence (PSI), a series of courses and other activities designed to impart techniques and frameworks for managing individuals, teams, organizations, and even yourself. Self-awareness, communication skills, social skills, and sound judgment are a huge part of leading effectively, which is why we’ve made PSI such a prominent feature of our MBA program.

What are some resources that students should take advantage of?

Columbia Business School has a wealth of resources available to students. Because of our location in New York, we’re able to attract top business practitioners to teach as adjuncts and to visit campus as guest speakers (more than 500 each year). Our Executives in Residence program gives students the chance to be mentored by retired and semi-retired senior executives and our Career Management Center provides unparalleled recruiting and networking opportunities. Our network of 40,000 alumni in more than 120 countries is the most accessible in business education, with alumni ready to offer career advice and mentoring to students.

In addition, there are over 90 student-run clubs and organizations and more than 100 events offered in a typical week. Conferences—many designed and organized by students—feature business and government leaders on panels and in workshops, and available for networking and socializing. Our students also have access to the countless resources of the greater Columbia University community. Beyond these resources, students are encouraged to take advantage of their peers. By working so closely with such an intelligent, ambitious, and diverse group of leaders, students create relationships that will pay dividends, both personally and professionally, for the rest of their lives.

Taken from Forbes.com by Dan Schawbel

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“Profits improve only when our correspondence is read. No sale is made when a business letter ends up in the wastebasket.”

There has always been a need for clear communication in business. A poorly worded letter will either cause confusion or leave a poor impression. A muddled memo can result in misunderstanding or lead to employee grievances. A sloppy report will often result in lost business. Part of the challenge of clear writing is the nature of business communication. Business writing is often necessarily technical and complex. This kind of writing makes special demands on a writer.

A writer who has not yet learned to have sympathy for the reader is bound to create problems for himself or herself. Has something like this ever happened to you? It’s a true story. An accountant sent a letter to a client explaining a service that had been performed for the customer. A few days later the client called. “Thanks for the letter,” the client said. “Now tell me what you said.” Embarrassing? Yes. And worse. No wonder business executives are concerned about the effect of poor writing skills on profitability.

But isn’t writing ability less important in today’s high-tech world of computers and electronic data processing? Don’t we now depend more on machines for precise, accurate communication? The experts say no. They maintain that good communication skills are more critical than ever. The spread of electronic communication devices makes better writing imperative.

Size, too, is having an impact on today’s business needs. As Business Week pointed out (July 6, 1981), “the ability to write simple direct prose that says precisely what you want it to say in the fewest words…has become rare—just when business and social organizations have grown too large for anyone to be effective face-to-face.”

taken from e-book: Writing Fitness by Jack Swenson

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