For those newly admitted MBAs just starting to plan through their first semester of graduate business school, it can be hard to know what to expect. The transition back to academia after several years in the professional working world guarantees a certain amount of culture shock, and the typical MBA experience bears little resemblance to the now-distant memory of undergraduate studies. Complicating matters further is the short timeline of traditional MBA programs, which leaves incoming students without much margin for error to figure things out.
Given the importance of these early months in determining the success of your MBA experience, we decided to ask a select group of our users from top programs around the country about their experiences with recruiting during the first Fall semester of their full-time MBA programs. The following is a sample of the feedback we received – and what this feedback means for stakeholders of all kinds in the MBA recruiting process.
Big Surprises: Adjusting to the Unknown
Ross First Year Sam Donaldson was most surprised by “how quickly [recruiting] started at the beginning of the year.” Even though graduation is nearly two years away when classes start, making sure that you are gainfully employed at the end of your program starts at the very beginning of your program – or even earlier. “We started networking before school began and corporate presentations started during the first week of classes,” says Donaldson. Fortunately, all of that early effort paid off: he was able to secure an internship before the start of winter break, ensuring himself a decidedly less stressful second semester than many of his classmates.
While most other students we heard from had not yet secured an internship, they hit on many of the same themes: the “many job opportunities in the market” and the corresponding amount of required activity in the form of “networking, cold calling/emailing, and general information gathering.” This “firehose of opportunity” is a familiar experience for many MBAs, and so the fact that it continues to catch incoming students by surprise is itself somewhat surprising. Despite the fact that schools have often resisted the increasingly early timeline of recruiting, the students we heard from seemed to wish they had even more time to explore the options.
Roadblocks and Obstacles
When we asked other student users about their biggest challenges in recruiting, one of the biggest takeaways from their feedback was that those challenges depend mightily on things like target industry, previous experience, visa status, and even student’s personality (cold-calling networking leads is a lot easier for some people than others). For instance, while on-campus recruiting for industries like consulting offers a structured but intense process, off-campus recruiting tracks are characterized by ambiguity and high fragmentation.
As a former tax lawyer, Brian Balduzzi entered his first year at Cornell’s Johnson MBA program looking to shift to a career in finance; like many career-switchers, he found that just figuring out the best way to approach the recruiting process could be tough. Balduzzi says his biggest challenge was the “lack of a clear path or trajectory for the recruiting process,” which meant he often had to rely on what he called “trial and error” for figuring out the best process for him. And while each student develops their own system to fit their recruiting needs, schools and employers can distinguish themselves by making information and resources easily available across a range of channels (especially online). A number of students also mentioned second year MBAs as invaluable resources throughout the process, and school and employer programs that specifically support and incorporate second years can be especially effective.
The Early Bird And The Worm
There was a common thread in the advice we solicited from students fresh off their first semester of MBA recruiting. “Start recruiting hardcore from Day 1,” suggests Rajat Parashar, in his first year at Johns Hopkins Carey School; Nupur Banerjee, a UConn MBA, echoes the same sentiment, advising new MBAs to “be ready with your story from the time you begin your [program].” Given the quick start to official recruiting activities for many, there simply isn’t much time to figure out what you might want to do once you get to campus.
“Prioritize your goals for the MBA experience early and have a good idea what industry you would like to enter,” says Donaldson, the Ross MBA with an internship already secured. Balduzzi, the former tax lawyer at Johnson, seconds that notion and adds: “Set benchmarks; follow up with individuals; use your peers as a sounding board; ask lots of questions; and think long term about what you want to know or need to know to succeed in your career.” All sound advice for those entering an MBA program this fall – and pretty great advice for everyone else as well.
The first semester of the first year of a top MBA programs does not allow students much time to adjust. “Hit the ground running” is a phrase that came up more than once in our discussions with current MBAs, and those who prepare themselves early would seem to reap the benefits during the times when their classmates are at their busiest. The students we talked with have a long way to go in their MBA programs, and they are sure to learn much more over the coming year and a half. But they seem to have already learned some of the hard lessons of the MBA recruiting process, and their advice to next year’s class is simple: give yourself a head start. Trust them, it’s worth it.