I started RelishCareers as an MBA student to help solve some of the inefficiencies I saw in the graduate hiring market, and part of the driving force behind the business was interest both from MBA candidates (my classmates at the time) and from the dozens of MBA recruiters I interviewed while building a business plan. Four and a half years later, in my role as CEO I still talk to MBA recruiters every day, and I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice from recruiters:
Get Comfortable Getting Uncomfortable
At Relish we often talk about how MBA recruiting is like dating, which means it involves plenty of awkwardness and uncertainty, particularly at the beginning of the process. Recruiters know to expect this, and in many cases are looking for candidates to embrace that uncertainty.
Business school is an opportunity to explore a huge range of different opportunities, and staying securely within your comfort zone is both a missed opportunity and a red flag to recruiters who are looking for dynamic candidates willing to stretch themselves.
Get Personally Invested
Like dating, recruiting is all about relationships, and candidates who don’t take time to build and nurture real relationships will be at a severe disadvantage. Recruiters can tell when candidates are just going through the motions, showing up to recruiting events and networking only because it’s what they’re “supposed to do.”
One of the best ways to ensure your success with a recruiting target is making it clear just how personally invested you are in your future with that firm, and that’s a tough thing to fake.
Do The Research
The sheer volume of opportunities available to MBA grads is not lost on MBA recruiters, and they want incoming students to actually take the time to explore all of the options available to them. Too often, MBAs will “follow the herd” into the industries or firms that predominate on their campus, when additional research and exploration can reveal opportunities that are a much better fit for their experiences and preferences.
And even if your research yields no compelling new targets, it can provide greater clarity (and a better narrative) for why you’re fit with your initial target industries or employers.
Think Seriously About Fit
Candidates, particularly the sort of high-achieving individuals who fill the halls of graduate business schools every fall, have a tendency to scoff at things like “fit” when considering their career options. And it’s tempting to prioritize criteria like ROI or prestige while surveying the innumerable options available to MBAs.
But candidates would be well-advised to give some weight to “fit”, because recruiters certainly will.
The reality is that most firms have their pick of extraordinarily-qualified candidates, so the important distinctions are often abstract and have more to do with personality than achievement. Recruiters also tend to have a good sense for when candidates are being disingenuous or artificial in the way they present themselves, so you’re better off spending some time doing the research to find a firm or industry where you actually see yourself fitting in.
This is a straightforward piece of advice for life in general, but a lack of follow through in MBA recruiting can have all sorts of negative consequences that one might not encounter in other arenas.
Telling an employer that they are your number one choice and then accepting another offer doesn’t just reflect poorly on you: it also tarnishes the employer’s reputation with your school, and can have detrimental effects on your career years down the line in case you encounter the same recruiters or firms again. And this rule doesn’t just apply to big commitments: recruiters have noted to me the recent rise in candidates RSVPing to events and then failing to show up.
Why this maneuver has become so common in recent years is a bit of a mystery, but there is little to be gained and much to be lost from such behavior. There is a simple fix for this: just stick to events and opportunities you know you’re interested in.
Those are some of my favorite pieces of advice from MBA recruiters, but I want to leave you with one last idea: practice empathy.
Again, this is great advice for life in general, but it’s easy to forget in the rush and competition that recruiters are people too. This seem like an obvious observation, but chances are that you will have at least a few classmates who see recruiters as merely a means to an end. But that sort of utilitarian approach ignores the importance of personal connections in the recruiting process.
Engaging in some empathy with the recruiters you’re networking with is not just a nice thing to do – it can also improve your recruiting prospects substantially!
Sarah Rumbaugh is the CEO of RelishCareers, an online platform that helps master’s-level business school students connect directly with corporate recruiters. Available to students and alumni from network schools, RelishCareers gives candidates access to employer branding and MBA and MS-specific career exploration resources (including exclusive webinars).