MBA Recruiter Interview: Kimberly Dotson-Brown, Vanguard |

MBA Recruiter Interview: Kimberly Dotson-Brown, Vanguard

By Nicole Willson

Updated February 25, 2021 Updated February 25, 2021

Vanguard Group, ranked 80th in the Universum Top 100 Ideal MBA Employer list, is the largest provider of mutual funds, and third largest provider of exchange-traded funds in the US. It is different from other financial services companies in that it is owned by its funds, and is therefore owned by the fund investors.

Vanguard hires MBAs for functions other than finance, including general management, marketing and operations. Not all of its MBA hires have a financial services background; indeed, they come from a variety of backgrounds, including consulting, teaching and the military.

Senior leaders participate in Vanguard’s MBA Leadership Development program and, clearly, they see the value in their MBA hires. “Even in down markets, we do not touch our hiring opportunities for our leadership program. We definitely see MBA hires as a pipeline for the organization,” states Kimberly Dotson-Brown, Vanguard’s MBA Leadership Development program manager.

In the below interview, Dotson-Brown discusses MBA hiring at Vanguard as well as the qualities the company looks for in its rotational program hires.

Vanguard group is ranked 80th on the Universum Ideal MBA Employer list.  Why do so many MBAs want to work for Vanguard?

I would say our reputation. We have really excellent leaders, and I think we're known as an organization that does the right thing.

For example, Vanguard has long been a low-cost leader, which can be attributed to our unique corporate structure and our relentless pursuit to operate more efficiently and productively. Vanguard is owned by our funds—and, in turn, collectively owned by the fund shareholders. We provide services at cost, returning profits to the fund investors. It’s a structure that enables us to pass along economies of scale—and reduce expenses— as fund assets grow. People are also drawn to us for our diverse experiences.

What are the most common job roles for MBA graduates at Vanguard?

The most common job path for recent MBAs is our Leadership Development Program. However, for individuals looking for a focus in a particular area, we do have specialist opportunities such as financial analyst positions.

MBAs coming through our program could have experiences that are more operational in nature, or more strategic in nature. They'll get a variety of experiences. They will get a well-rounded view of Vanguard and how Vanguard operates instead of being siloed into a specific business.

What does the Leadership Development Program involve?

It is a 15-month program. The participants go through three five-month rotations.

What differentiates us from other leadership development programs is that while some organizations will just rotate participants through marketing or rotate through human resources, ours is a corporate program. This allows you to rotate through all the various businesses within the organization.

The program is really tailored to the person's background, their areas of interest and our business needs at the time. Another important part of our program, besides the rotational opportunities, is the fact that individuals are matched with a mentor. The training curriculum is targeted, and we have learning and development throughout the whole 15-month experience.

We have a great alumni base; after participants finish the program, they do have the support of alums who have also finished the program and they have access to activities together as well.

I’ll also mention that after hearing about similar programs at other companies, one thing that stood out to me is that the numbers for Vanguard's program are smaller. One thing that's great about that is that the individual gets tailored development. I have monthly one-on-one development and coaching meetings with MBAs as a program manager. When they are in their rotation, they also have a manager there. So, throughout the 15 month experience, they're getting a lot of career development, whether it's coaching or on the job training in everything. It's not like you are one of 50. We really craft the program so participants get the individualized attention. That's something that stands out.

Participants get access to our senior leaders, and their rotations are very high impact assignments throughout their 15 month experience.

What are the different types of businesses where MBAs work within Vanguard?

We have a retail segment that specializes in the direct shareholder experience. We have an institutional business that works with participants and retirement plan sponsors. We have a business that supports financial advisors. And we have an international business.

How does the internship program work?

It's a 10 week internship and we look for exactly the same things that we do for full-time candidates. So again, we are hiring interns from a variety of backgrounds and leadership experiences. We tend to look for candidates with leadership skills, impact, strategic thinking, and analytical skills.

What do you look for when evaluating a candidate's résumé and experience?

We're not necessarily looking for candidates that have financial services backgrounds. We have hired individuals who have a variety of experience pre-MBA. So, some have had the typical financial services background. Some have been in the military. Some worked for Teach for America. Some have been consultants. Your background doesn't necessarily matter.

What we want to see is certain leadership skills – the fact that you have had an impact in your role. We are also looking for proven strategic thinking and analytical skills. Intellectual curiosity is important because our hires can work in an area of the business that’s unfamiliar to them.

MBAs that are coming into our program are coming in at the management level, so, we are looking for candidates with five to eight years of previous work experience.

It can be tough to assess leadership, because if you look at the résumé of a military veteran you can clearly see their leadership experience versus if we were looking at someone who was a consultant. We would focus more on their informal leadership through managing projects.

We look for different types of experience so the team can learn from each other’s experience.  So, they learn a lot from each other. You could have someone who was worked previously at a known consulting firm and someone who was an engineer working together. They start in one group together in the leadership program.

How many MBA students do you typically recruit each year from the US?

Between 15 and 20, including MBAs hired in roles not affiliated with the Leadership Development Program. I would say the same thing for our internship program.

How many interns leave with full-time job offers?

Our offer rate is really high. We go into the summer wanting to give all our interns full-time offers.

We don't begin the program with a set number of hires in mind. For example, if we brought in 15 people, we don't say "we're only going to give 10 offers." If they all do well, they will all get offers for the next year.

We definitely believe that it's great for us when our interns convert. If they all do well, that's a better program for us for the full-time program the next year.

How does the conversion rate make it better for future years?

Just by having that experience at Vanguard – experience working in our culture also the intern experience – allows interns to understand our business and the industry. So, those things will help them once they start within a full-time program.

Not to say that we don't also have folks who are hired directly into the program who weren't interns. The makeup of the full-time leadership development program is a combination of interns from the prior year and any new MBA grads.

Is MBA hiring up or down this year?

It's consistent. Our senior leadership really values these programs. Even in down markets, we do not touch our hiring opportunities for our leadership program. We definitely see MBA hires as a pipeline for the organization.

Which MBA conferences do you recruit from and why?

Our sourcing strategy is multifaceted. We have our key partnerships, our target schools and we do attend various conferences.

For instance, we go to the National Black MBA Conference as well the National Hispanic MBA Conference. We also have a partnership with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT).

Each year, we take a look at our strategy and revise it accordingly.

Because we go to the conferences, individuals can get hired from schools across the country. We do have target schools that we visit and hold office hours, but that is something that we revisit ever year. One of the things we look for is the cultural fit and the curriculum of the schools.

What steps should MBAs take in order to make a good impression on recruiters? Conversely, what are mistakes MBAs should avoid when contacting recruiters?

I think the biggest piece of recruiting is networking. So, when MBAs meet us at the conference or the schools, it's all about the preparation. You would think in this day and age that applicants would realize the importance of familiarizing themselves with the organization a little bit. I think that's the biggest thing that we notice at the conference – when folks come up to our table and they want to engage in conversations and they think that Vanguard is a ship company.

If you want to network with us, make sure you are prepared to tell your story. We have had successful hires with nontraditional backgrounds such as the air force or teaching. So, applicants should be able to translate their story and transferable skills to show how they are a fit for Vanguard. This is your chance to wow the program managers, so it is important that you are able to sell yourself by talking about your critical skills and explain why you want to work for our organization.

What are the biggest misconceptions MBAs have about Vanguard?

For those who are familiar with Vanguard, they'll find out that we're not your typical Wall Street firm. Our ownership structure is very unique. Because we're client owned, it means that everything action and decision is made with the client in mind. This allows us to be a more ethical organization.

What we're finding when we go to some of the business schools is that students who are familiar with Vanguard, because they think of us as an investment or financial services firm, they do not realize that we have great general management opportunities outside of finance.

There are some MBA job seekers who see jobs at Vanguard and think "I really have to want to be a portfolio manager or trader to work there." Or, they think that the only roles we have here are roles that are directly tied to the market. They don't understand that we have great marketing roles. They don't see Vanguard as an organization where they can run an operations group. Next year, we will be partnering with some of the university's general management clubs to raise a bit more awareness about our general opportunities.

I think MBA applicants may see us as an organization that mostly hires portfolio managers or they may see us more on the GM side, it just depends on how well they know the organization. They may not realize that we have opportunities across the spectrum.

This article was originally published in November 2014 . It was last updated in February 2021

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Nicole is the SEO manager of, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.