MBA Recruiting Prep: Why Self-Assessment Actually Matters

As you’ll learn in just a few short months, business school can be a life-changing experience in a number of ways, but career change is perhaps the most common and achievable for the large majority of students. In fact, career change or advancement is routinely the number one reason for applying given by prospective MBAs when asked about their interest in MBA programs. And for those looking for something new and different, there are certainly a lot of options: according to GMAC, 84% of global employers planned on hiring an MBA in 2015. In other words, if you play your cards right you will have plenty of opportunities to find a new employer.

The crowded field of MBA employers is great news for incoming students, but it also brings its own challenges. Chief among these is determining which opportunities to pursue, given that students will have only a few months after arriving on campus to discover, investigate, engage with, and win over potential employers. Given that hundreds of firms will visit campus during this time, and thousands more MBA employer will be waiting off-campus, it’s virtually impossible to interact with more than a small fraction of recruiters who might be interested in hiring you.

This set of circumstances makes it very important to make sure you start out on the right foot; if you limit your search to industries or firms that are a bad fit, you could be going back to square one several months into the recruiting process. Whether you already know which industries or firms you want to target over the next two years, or you’ve been so busy with applications that you haven’t thought about it at all, there is still plenty of time to prepare for the start of the official recruiting process this fall.

The Actual Process of Self-Assessment

You will likely encounter a number of formal self-assessment tools once you arrive on-campus this fall, and these tests can useful in informing your overall process of self-assessment. But employers are far less concerned with the outcome of your MBTI test than they are with whether they think you’re going to be a happy and productive member of their team. The easiest and most effective way to give a recruiter this impression is to have an honest enthusiasm about the opportunity, which in turn means first getting a firm grip on where you could be happy and productive.

So the next time you’re commuting or bored at your current job or just have a free half hour, ask yourself some questions about what you want to use your MBA, now that you’re actually going to get it. Ask what sort of employers could be drawn to your blend of experience and interests and personality, and start to identify roles and industries where you would add value for employers. Think about who in your personal and professional networks could be helpful, and then talk through your plans and ideas with people who know you well and incorporate their feedback into your recruiting strategy.

The Entrepreneurial Approach to Career Discovery

Contemporary entrepreneurship education is heavily influenced by the concept of effectuation, which takes a deliberately logical and scientific approach to starting a business. One of the key tenets of effectuation is the bird-in-hand principle, which states that entrepreneurs should begin the process of building a business by taking inventory of the resources and assets available to them. This helps ensure that any opportunities that arise during the process are filtered through this lens and entrepreneurs pursue only those opportunities which they are able and willing to capture.

Adapting this concept to recruiting is fairly straightforward: instead of starting a business, you’re finding a job, but in both cases you’ll need to know what you’re bringing to the table before you can figure out which opportunities to pursue. By taking stock of your experiences, preferences, and other differentiating factors, you can avoid wasting time pursuing too many incompatible prospects and focus your time and energy on firms where you not only meet the baseline criteria but project a strong cultural fit.

Keep Your Options Open

The goal of this process is to develop a broad list of hypothetical matches, use research and engagement to identify the most promising prospects, and then convert your targeted opportunities. A narrow focus can be a boost in the latter stages of the recruiting process, but not taking time to explore multiple options in the early stages can mean even less time to recover if offers at your initial target firms don’t materialize. Given the volume of employers and the range of industries that hire MBAs, making a backup plan (or several backup plans) is relatively easy – provided you cast a wide enough net at the beginning of the process.

However, it’s important to balance the pragmatism of contingency plans with consideration of more subjective, abstract factors. Identifying first, second, and third options in your recruiting process is only helpful if you have a good chance of matching well with all or at least some of those options. This requires both honest self-assessment and a deep understanding of your audience, and if this sounds like a waste of time or simple sentimental nonsense, just know that recruiters will not see it that way.

The What and Why of Cultural Fit

At RelishMBA, we spend every day talking to recruiters from MBA employers of all shapes and sizes, and far and away the most important consideration for all of them is something you’ll hear a lot about over the next two years: cultural fit. Though a great deal of ink has been spilled over its true meaning, cultural fit is essentially about whether you will like your job and whether your coworkers will like you. This is important for all sorts of obvious reasons, but there’s a real economic cost to bad cultural fit for firms that totals over half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity.

Recruiters are also really good at figuring out if your heart’s not in it, so incoming students considering their recruiting options only on the basis of objective measures like compensation or location would be well-advised to at least give some thought to what sort of work they would enjoy doing. Not only will this help ensure you make more informed decisions when building your target list, it will also help make your recruiting process more effective and less stressful. You’ll be spending a lot of time talking to recruiters and alumni at your target firms over the coming year, and having a genuine interest in the business and passion for the work makes those conversations much easier and leaves a far better impression.

So whether you’ve already got your heart set on a particular recruiting track or you have no idea where to even begin, you’d be well-advised to set aside some time before you arrive on campus to assess (through self-reflection and discussions with friends and family) what sorts of opportunities are a good fit for you and your particular combination of traits. Given that recruiting will take up a huge amount of your time at business school and will determine how you spend the proceeding years of your professional life, it’s worth taking a deep dive into your own occupational ambitions this spring and summer while you still have the time to do so.