Thinking Like a Recruiter

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Before you get wrapped up in the nitty-gritty of recruiting let’s take a moment to explore what MBA recruiters are looking for. While a big part of the answer is they’re looking for a certain number of years of relevant experience, specific skills and maybe a threshold GPA or GMAT score, there’s a lot of intangibles that are within your control. Since you’re going to business school to learn new ways of thinking, read on in this section to learn how to think like a recruiter.

What’s in it for them?

We’ve seen innumerable MBA cover letters that say something like “Working at company x will allow me to grow both professionally and personally while learning new skills and moving from consulting to financial services.” Please don’t ever write that sentence. Why? It’s all about what you want, not what the company needs.

We get it. You came to business school to advance your career and get your dream job. There’s a lot at stake and you want to succeed. And when you’re talking to your classmates, friends, or career coaches it’s fine to talk about what you want to go on to do. But once you’re actually talking to recruiters, alumni, and other company representatives you’ve got to move beyond what you want and talk about what they want. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Begin to think in terms of your target company’s needs. Instead of saying working at company “will allow me to learn new skills” frame it in terms of how your previous experience and skills translate to what they’re looking for. Read job descriptions and company information to find links between what you’ve done in the past and what the job entails. You might end up saying something more like, “in my experience in consulting I worked with C-suite executives to gather and analyze data to solve problems, and those analytical and presentation skills will serve as a foundation for advising your clients in important financial matters.” Adopting this frame of mind early on will serve you well in recruiting, whether while working on your resume, practicing telling your story, networking, or interviewing.

A recruiter’s worst nightmare

What do you think think keeps MBA recruiters up at night? It’s not finding enough people to fill the role- some MBA positions get thousands of applicants. It’s not scheduling interviews and getting to campus- they have people in the career center to help them with that. A recruiter’s worst nightmare is a declined offer!

Think about that some. A declined offer is the worst thing that can happen to a recruiter. Why? Because that means they spent time, energy, and money to put a candidate forward, in some cases vouching for them personally to the hiring manager, only to look bad and have to start over. They thought they were done, but now they either have to go back to the beginning or take a candidate that’s not their first choice.

What does this have to do with your job search? It means you can increase your chances at getting a job by doing the legwork up front to find roles that are the best fit for you. By putting in the effort to explore, research, and network to narrow down your options you can make sure you’re applying to the companies with the best fit for you. That means you’ll be happy, the company will be happy, your school will be happy, and the recruiter will be happy. It also means you’ll have less of a mountain to climb because you’ll be focused on the companies and roles that are truly right for you rather than wasting your energy on opportunities that aren’t a good fit.

What is a recruiter looking for?

Recruiters are looking for three main things: Ability, fit and interest.

Ability is the most obvious here, and you’ve cleared a big hurdle by being accepted at an MBA program. Recruiters count on schools’ admissions offices to do a lot of the initial filtering of candidates. That said, pay close attention to job requirements. Some roles will require certain years of work experience, a certain undergrad GPA or GMAT score, or some specific knowledge such as SQL for a technology role, or valuation for finance.

That said, there’s a lot you can do to prove your ability to do the job. Technical or case interviews can be stressful, but you can also see them coming months ahead and begin to prepare. Your classes will help you out, too, as you learn about accounting, finance, and management. Also, don’t discount your previous experience, but look for ways to draw parallels between what you’ve done and what you want to do, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Working with career coaches, your classmates, and second year students can help you practice that.

Fit can be more nebulous, but is also very important. Some companies have strong corporate cultures and screen carefully to match candidates for that. For instance, some roles place a lot of emphasis on leadership skills, and they might hire someone with a non-traditional background who shows tremendous potential in that area. Other places look for self-sufficiency and filter out candidates who lack that. In your conversations and research, listen carefully to make sure the fit is strong.

Interest can be the dealbreaker. You have to show real enthusiasm for the company born out of a deep understanding of what the role actually entails. Plenty of people have the skills or background to do investment banking, for instance, but if they can’t sincerely convey why they’re interested in financial advisory they hiring manager won’t want to risk their burning out from the long hours and high pressure.

De-risk yourself

Since recruiters want to find the best people and want those people to accept the offers they give out, you can make your job (and theirs!) easier by de-risking yourself as a candidate. Do the work up front to understand the industry, the company, and the role. Network effectively to gain advocates within the company and to learn how to navigate the recruiting and interview process. From that, determine if it’s a good fit or not. If it is a good fit, work on communicating why you are the person for the role and make it clear that you’re serious about your interest. In the next sections we’ll go into more detail on how to gather and use that information.

Next: Telling Your Story>>