In business school, a student's first assignment sometimes falls outside the norms of classroom work. Instead of assessing a company's profitability or working on a startup's marketing plan, administrators may want their students focused on impressing recruiters and landing a job.
"We start early," says Donn Barclay, the career consultant for the full-time MBA program at Tulane University's Freeman School of Business. His office is in touch with new MBAs before school begins. "As soon as they're confirmed as students here, we'll reach out to them via letter and give them some idea in terms of how to format their resume, and also information on how to log into one of the career self assessment programs that we use," he says.
Recruiters often start coming to business schools in the fall and continue throughout the school year. Companies may come to a school's networking event, career fair or panel discussion, or arrange for one-on-one meetings with students. Students can also interact with them at the many business school conferences held during the fall, says Barclay.
In September, the National Black MBA Association and AsianMBA will hold conferences. MBA Women International will host a conference in October.
Events like these often have panel discussions and seminars on topics like leadership and branding, but they also allow for lots of networking. "All of these are really strong opportunities for first and second-year students to make connections. In fact those MBA events are opportunities, often, for interviews," says Barclay.
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MBA employment experts give four tips for students who want to improve their prospects of winning over a recruiter.
1. Know the timeline and when to amp up your efforts: Big companies may know months in advance that they want to bring in summer interns. Small companies that have 500 people or fewer may not have this foresight.
"Those companies don't know now what they need next summer. Those companies recruit in April," says JoAnne Starr, the assistant dean for MBA programs at University of California—San Diego's Rady School of Management. A third of Rady graduates go to small companies, she says.
"Understanding what the market is you're looking at and where your own goals fit in that broad employment market place helps you to figure out what's important," says Starr.
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In certain industries, such as finance, second-year MBAs can be recruited as early as August or September. Employers often pull from their summer intern classes to find new talent, which is one reason first-year MBAs should start thinking now about how to launch their career.
"It's often one in the same. You're looking for an internship and hopefully that internship will result in an offer for a full-time position," says Barclay.
2. Prepare talking points: When interacting with recruiters, students should be ready to discuss two things: their potential employer and themselves.
Doing some research on a company's background can help ensure that a student can start the conversation and keep it going once they meet a recruiter. "If you're educated about the firm and the industry they're involved in, you're liable to be able to come up with a good targeted question that indicates your passion," says Barclay.
Once the conversation allows for students to talk about themselves, it's important that they be just as rehearsed on what they plan to say.
"It's the ability to articulate a little bit about yourself, to introduce yourself and then to present yourself in a few sentences that are clear that help the recruiter understand who you are, how you might fit in, how you might align with the recruiter's interests or needs," says Starr.
3. Talk to second-years: At Rady, second-year students host sessions where they discuss where they interned and how they got their positions with first-year students, says Starr. MBA candidates in their second year are "one of your simplest, easiest resources," she says.