For most MBA students, the recruiting process is the single most grueling experience of their entire MBA careers. Academics are still important, and your enhanced social life will be fun, but whether or not you consider your MBA a success will depend mostly on how well you do in recruiting.
Recruiting is typically a difficult journey with several emotional ups and downs. It’s not easy going from having a full time job to being at the very bottom of the totem pole of the company you want to work for. Having gone through the experience, I personally have several bumps and bruises that I will remember for a long time. But from that I’ve gained greater wisdom, and I know that succeeding in the MBA recruiting process will make it much easier to succeed the next time I need to apply for a job.
The following tips represent advice for recruiting at a general level. For more detailed recommendations on the topics of networking events, resume writing, and interviewing, please click on the appropriate links.
Don’t Fall in Love With One Company
Most people come into business school with an open mind. But as we progress through the recruiting cycle, it’s very easy to get attached to certain companies. Company presentations are designed to generate interest and put recruiting companies in the best possible light. When you start attending networking events, you’ll undoubtedly meet people you really like and can relate with. And you’ll hear about projects from those people that fascinate you. Eventually, you start picturing yourself working at said company and before you know it, you have a dream job you’re recruiting for.
The problem with being focused on one company is that the recruiting process can be fickle and subjective. You could spend months researching, networking, and preparing to interview with your dream company. But all it takes is a single negative thought from an interviewer to crush those dreams. Even if you do everything right, there’s always the possibility that an interviewer simply won’t like you.
In the world of MBA recruiting, the hiring companies definitely have an advantage: each company is going to screen several students and will only actually hire a select few. But regardless of your background, on any given MBA campus, there are plenty of companies you can recruit for. Don’t make your MBA experience entirely focused on one company. If you limit your possible outcomes for success, you’re definitely more likely to fail. Your MBA experience should be about the skills you develop, the contacts you obtain, and your overall improved professional candidacy; not whether a single company likes you.
Have a Backup Plan
There are a number of MBA students who target their top company at the very beginning of the recruiting season, nail the interviews, and get an internship offer right away. While we all dream of having this experience during our first year, the majority of MBAs will not have this luxury. It is statistically impossible for every student to get the number one job they’re recruiting for. Take the consulting industry as an example: many students will walk into the recruiting process wanting to work for one of the Big 3 (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG) even though on a percentage basis, they have some of the lowest hiring rates in the market.
So what happens if things don’t go your way? Let’s say you interviewed for your top company and they decided to ding you in the very first round. The first thing to remember is not to let this devastate you. As difficult as it may sound, you really can’t afford to let a single setback dampen the rest of your recruiting efforts. Oftentimes during the recruiting process, you’ll have several interviews within a week.
The next thing to focus on is having a backup plan. While this obviously won’t be your ideal outcome, it’s a necessary precaution to take. The more robust your backup plan is, the better prepared you’ll be. You should also take into account the recruiting schedules for different industries when you create your plan. For example, consulting firms usually come to campus early on in the year, while entertainment firms start interviewing later in the year. Therefore, pursuing both is a good way to balance out the recruiting workload.
While you may have in your head a set plan, there are probably fifty other people coming in with the exact same idea. Regardless of who you are, the odds are against you. And while it’s okay to be surprised, it’s not okay to be unprepared. Don’t put blinders on and focus solely on your top goal. For most people, the key to success in recruiting is about having emotional endurance and being flexible.
Don’t Overextend Yourself
The opposite extreme of focusing on two few companies is to focus on too many, which is a problem I ran into during my own recruiting process. Because I scored well on the GMAT and came from a consulting background, I looked great on paper. My resume drop to first round interview ratio was extremely high, especially if you consider that some of the companies I dropped for ended up not interviewing at Anderson. I basically got interviews for most of the jobs I applied for.
However, you’ll notice that after getting a first round interview, my second round interview percentage was significantly lower. Now putting aside my interviewing skills (or lack thereof), one of the main reasons for this huge drop-off was because I was too much of a generalist. I overextended myself by applying for finance, operations, marketing, and consulting positions across several different industries. While I was good enough to get an interview, during the interview rounds, I wasn’t always the best candidate who walked in the room. And most firms who come to do on campus recruiting aren’t looking to meet some sort of hiring quota; they all truly want to hire the best students from school.
The lesson you can learn from this is not to apply to too many industries or functions that are either out of your area of expertise or represent something you’re unable to prepare for by the time of the interview. You should focus on a limited set of fields that you are truly passionate about and pursue those with earnest. Getting into the interview room simply isn’t good enough; you need to put yourself in a position to be the best candidate who walks into the interview room.
Setup Google News Alerts
One of the easiest ways to start ramping up on the companies you’re recruiting for is to setup a news alert through Google News Alerts. Once you tag a company related search phrase, Google can automatically update you on the latest news from that company. Most of your actual company research will be done through industry and analyst reports. But before you walk into an interview, you’ll definitely want to know if that company has recently announced a merger or made change of leadership.
Work Your Connections
With the rigor and level of time investment that companies put in, it may appear that the on campus recruiting process is fair and impartial. But just like the recruiting in the real world, the connections you have will matter. If you know someone at the company you’re recruiting for, or even worked there in some capacity, you’ll clearly have an edge over all of the other candidates.
Before the recruiting process starts, reach out to your network just to remind them that you exist. You may not know anyone at the company you’re recruiting for, but as a backup plan, it’s good to know people that are willing to hire you unconditionally. If you have contacts at a smaller firm that won’t be recruiting on campus, it could easily become a job that you recruit for without any competition. Additionally, before any informational interviews or networking events, you should perform a Linked In search to see if you know anyone at the company you’re targeting. Name dropping works and will make recruiters remember you.
You shouldn’t assume that your peers are going to try and get their jobs “on the merits” – i.e. based solely on their resumes and how they interview. Given the competitiveness of the MBA recruiting process, you need to use every advantage you can get. It’s not just what you know, or who you know – in the MBA recruiting process both factors will matter.
Keep a Backup Kit in Your Locker
The non-recruiting responsibilities of your MBA experience won’t ramp down when the recruiting season heats up. With a busy schedule, it’s very easy to forget to prepare for a company presentation or an important networking event. That’s why at the very least, you should keep a business casual outfit, an extra tie, your business school nametag, a padfolio, and a stack of business cards in your campus locker. If your locker is big enough, then you should consider leaving a formal outfit as well. (And if your school doesn’t offer lockers, then this advice probably doesn’t apply to you) Anyway, having a backup kit in your locker gives you a chance to “Superman” into the proper outfit whenever you forget an important recruiting event. It can also save you if you forget to bring something to an interview.
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