Jennifer Johnson on multiple careers, prepping for interviews and her favorite Cleveland athletes
Jennifer Johnson is associate dean for undergraduate and integrated studies and is also an associate professor of marketing and policy studies. In the classroom she draws upon her 25 years of experience as a management consultant.
W: You worked with the global consulting firm Accenture for a number of years. Could you explain for the layperson what it is that consultants do?
JJ: The short answer is that a consultant works with an organization to help it achieve something that it couldn’t do as well or in as timely a manner on its own. It can be hard for people outside the industry to understand what a consultant does, because it’s purely a service—there’s no product. At Accenture, we used to joke, “Does your mother understand what you do for a living?”
W: What was your area of expertise?
JJ: I guided organizations to successfully make complex, large-scale change. I worked primarily in two industry groups. One was healthcare; I spent my first six years working with large outpatient clinics. From there I moved to telecommunications. Each industry was going through mandated change, which created excellent opportunities for consultants. An example opportunity that cuts across both healthcare and telecommunications is becoming more customer-focused. The organizations I worked with were struggling to better serve their patients or customers, yet in more cost-effective ways.
W: It seems like customer orientation has gotten a lot of attention in recent years.
JJ: Often, becoming more customer-focused is one piece of a larger puzzle. For example, my first telecommunications consulting project was when every company in the industry was preparing for deregulation. Our client had to shift from having a monopoly across its wireline territories to operating in a deregulated environment where any other provider could compete with them directly. What if another company offered better services at a better price? Good customer service was an essential part of being competitive.
W: Where were you based?
JJ: My home office was Cleveland, but I spent lot of time traveling to and living in other cities.
W: Because you spent so much time on-site with client companies, did you sometimes feel like you worked for them as well as for Accenture?
JJ: A consultant represents his or her own firm, including its standards, ethics, and culture. But the consultant has to understand and respect the client’s organizational culture. For example, I consulted to a large phone company with a geographically distributed headquarters. Because it wasn’t always practical to drive from building to building, they would provide teleconference capabilities for most meetings. Half of the people in the meeting might be dialed in. The client executive we worked with got so comfortable participating in teleconferences that sometimes she would dial into a meeting in her conference room from her office next door! It was funny, but it demonstrates that you have to understand the unique aspects of the client’s organization.
W: You are a Weatherhead alum, having gotten your MBA here. Now you are both a faculty member and a member of the administration. What insights have you gained from your multiple roles?
JJ: One thing that is helpful in my current role working with undergraduates is having a multidimensional view of preparing for one’s career and going through the interviewing process. After going through the process myself as a graduate student and joining Accenture, I participated in recruiting at Weatherhead. I reviewed countless resumes, conducted interviews regularly, and as an executive made job and salary offers. My recruiting experiences gave me insight into the characteristics professional services firms look for in a candidate. I use that knowledge to make sure we’re giving sound advice to our students.
W: What would be a piece of advice you might give a student interviewing with Accenture?
JJ: Focus. When recruiting, we’d often meet students who would tell us about all the things they wanted to or could do. But what any employer is looking for is someone who is interested in doing what they do. Gain focus by doing your homework to understand what the organization does, how they do it, and how you would be an asset to the organization.
Some students arrive on campus and know what career they want to pursue. Others are interested in many things, and have a hard time focusing on a post-graduation career path. These students may be very talented, but a lack of focus could hurt them in a job interview.
W: And their focus could change over time.
JJ: It’s very common today to have several careers. This is my third career; I was in marketing and business operations in academic publishing before earning my MBA. Another piece of advice I give students is: Don’t worry about finding the perfect job opportunity. Sometimes, students stress over choosing one employer over another. If both are great employers, stop worrying! Get out there, get the experience, do justice to the role--in other words, put in the effort so your organization benefits from your being there--but if in a few years you are interested in doing something else, pursue something else.
W: What are some of the best things about working with CWRU undergraduates?
JJ: I enjoy watching our students make progress in their programs. They arrive as recent high school graduates and leave as business professionals. It’s so gratifying to see them develop, gain the focus we were talking about earlier, and succeed at CWRU and beyond. Also, it’s fun to see them as alumni coming back to campus. Currently I’m confirming alumni as guest speakers for a course I teach. How fun is that! They were in my classroom a few years ago and now they’re coming back to share expertise with our current students.
Something else I love about our undergraduates is that they’re capable and motivated scholars, yet beyond that intensity in the classroom, many are engaged in the world around them. Campus life offers multiple options, including Greek life, athletics, clubs, student government, and community service. In particular, a student’s desire to be connected to the community makes me feel good about the future.
W: If you had a couple of hours to yourself with no classes to teach or prepare, no administrative duties to perform, no research to conduct, what would you do with that time?
JJ: Fitness is important to me, and I make an effort to walk at least three miles a day. Walking to meetings on the Quad certainly helps! But if I’m really busy, I have to cut my off-campus walks short, so I would use my free time to reach my goal of a daily minimum of three miles. I also like sports and enjoy sitting down to watch a game. I’m a fan of the CWRU and Cleveland teams.
W: Do you have a favorite sport?
JJ: Probably baseball. I am a die-hard fan who is excited about the Cleveland Indians’ spring training performance over the past few days.
W: Who is your favorite player on the Cleveland Indians team?
JJ: It’s hard to say, because the team has made so many personnel changes. My favorite players to watch are their setup man and closer, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez.
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