When I first received an admissions letter from my target MBA program, I was so excited to have been accepted that I did not give much thought to what I should be doing to prepare for school. But early contemplation and preparation for academics, social life, and recruiting can pay off in spades once school begins and your time is precious. Let’s look at some of the basics of the MBA recruiting process in particular and what you should know before you enter school in the fall.
It’s important to keep in mind that your MBA experience will be unique to you, and your approach to business school will determine a great deal about your educational, professional, and social outcomes. Having said that, the below should provide a useful framework to begin thinking about recruiting, particularly as you begin your planning and start building your target list of firms this summer. Be sure also to take advantage of all of the resources provided by Forté for Pre-MBAs and MBA Students looking to connect with employers (and make sure to add Forté to your profile on RelishMBA).
You’ll (almost definitely) get an internship
We’ll start with the good news. The 2015 global MBA hiring market was the best that it has ever been, according to research from GMAC and reporting from Poets & Quants – and 2016 might be even better. 84% of global firms in the GMAC survey reported plans to hire new MBA graduates in 2015, so you’ll have plenty of options to explore when you start your recruiting process. Where I received my MBA, At Darden, we called this set of circumstances a “firehose of opportunity,” and it comes with its own challenges.
We’ll talk more about some of them later, but the biggest question facing you as you prepare to enter the MBA recruiting process is this: when most employers in the world want to hire you, how do you make sure you’re finding, targeting, and converting the best opportunities?
Recruiting starts on your first day of business school (or even earlier)
The process of finding those best-fit opportunities is complicated significantly by the timeline of graduate business school recruiting. For all intents and purposes, recruiting begins as soon as you arrive on campus, and certain industries and firms extend internship offers all the way through May. Even at schools with moratoriums on recruiting early in the first semester, students are well-advised to start the exploration and discovery process as early as possible.
Consulting and investment banking tend to have the earliest timelines (and are the most competitive recruiting tracks) with resume drop deadlines in early December; roles with other large corporate recruiters – like general management, marketing, and corporate finance – are generally the next in line, with drop dates anywhere from December to March; and the late spring is when start-ups, nonprofits, and other nontraditional, just-in-time employers post their open positions.
Time management will be a serious challenge
Current MBA students and alumni are fond of talking about the tripartite obligations of business school: academics, social life, and recruiting (not to mention physical health and family). The amount of time a first year MBA student will dedicate to each of these pursuits will vary from week to week, but time itself will remain in short supply for most of your time in business school.
And while class and socializing are both critical to a successful graduate business school experience, if you are like most of your classmates you’re getting your MBA primarily to advance your career opportunities (check out this GMAC survey for more info on why people go to business school). The easiest way to deal with this time crunch will be establishing reliable systems and processes for managing each of these obligations.
This is especially important for recruiting, during which you’ll be networking with dozens of alumni and employees at your target firms, and will be expected to leverage this networking and data-gathering in an interview setting in a manner that makes you maximally attractive to potential employers. At RelishMBA, we designed our Company Relationship Management tools to help facilitate the tracking of these networking interactions during the recruiting process, but no worries if notepads or spreadsheets are more your thing; finding a tool that works best for you should be your priority.
MBA recruiting is a sales and marketing operation
Whenever you start the recruiting process and whatever firms and industries you target, you’ll engage in more or less the same steps: research and identify qualified recruiting leads, establish advocates within your target organizations, make an appealing value proposition to the decision-makers, and convert as many opportunities as you can. If you have ever worked in B2B sales, this process will sound familiar. From lead generation (company research) to closing the deal (receiving a job offer), the MBA recruiting process is much more like being a salesperson than it is like being a typical job candidate.
At RelishMBA we talk about four distinct phases of the recruiting process: Source, Filter, Engage, and Convert. Each of these steps is critical for different reasons, but with its emphasis on in-person events and countless networking calls, MBA recruiting is disproportionately focused on Engagement. Students often lack the time or toolkit to properly Source (find companies that hire MBAs) and Filter (build a target list based on your personal preferences and experience) recruiting prospects, which means that they are often Engaging with a limited number of insufficiently vetted companies.
The best way to avoid this pitfall is to make sure you start your exploration process as early as possible, preferably in the summer before school and social life take up all of your free time. RelishMBA’s Filtered Search tool is designed to help with exactly this process, and unlike many other recruiting platforms it’s available to students for free in the summer before school starts.
On-campus recruiting is reliable, but off-campus is where you’ll find the broadest types of opportunities
Your admission to a top business school makes you an all-star job candidate, and employers all over the world know it. As a result, there will likely be hundreds of firms visiting your campus and posting jobs at your school, all hoping to attract the best and the brightest students. But only the largest and most active MBA recruiters are able to recruit at multiple campuses, and the expense associated with in-person recruiting means even industry behemoths can only afford to focus on a handful of schools.
That means that the hundreds of employers you’ll encounter recruiting on-campus will represent only a fraction of the available opportunities, and if you’re interested in starting a career in private equity or joining a growing early stage startup you’ll need to look off-campus. While the broad availability and institutional support of the school make on-campus recruiting a predictable process, off-campus recruiting is much more student-driven, and connecting with interesting opportunities often requires persistence and creativity.
Employers look to organizations like Forté to connect with students search off-campus, and the Career Expo at the Forté Conference is a great place to get started early. That sort of head start will save you time later, but be prepared for more of a marathon than a sprint: many off-campus recruiters have erratic or just-in-time hiring schedules, and many off-campus internship or job offers aren’t extended until the late spring. This late timeline makes off-campus recruiting a bit riskier than the traditional on-campus model, but the pool of available jobs is exponentially larger and more diverse.
It’s best to hedge your bets by putting effort into both on- and off-campus recruiting, but again the most important thing is to find and pursue only those opportunities that are a good fit for you and your career aspirations.
Zach Mayo is the chief operating officer of RelishMBA, the marketplace for MBA hiring. Available to incoming and current students from network schools, RelishMBA gives candidates early access to employer branding and MBA-specific career opportunities before the hectic pace of first year MBA life begins in the fall. Admitted MBAs who sign-up for before the end of May get a sneak peek at featured employer content aimed at this year’s recruiting class. Have questions, feedback, or nice things to say about the author? Visit us at www.relishmba.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.