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The Reality of MBA Networking

MBA Networking RealityI have analyzed Business School networks on a case-by-case basis over the past seven years and through several interviews in our ‘Ask the MBA Admissions Team’ section. Most Business School teams would iterate that networking is one of the key reasons why applicants should consider their school. For one, without networking, you are unlikely to get the right job. You might get any job but the idea of sacrificing 3 years – one year on MBA Admission preparation and two years on the MBA and post-MBA fine-tuning, is not to get any job.

During 2008-09, the worst time for an MBA to graduate, even the likes of Chicago booth and Wharton struggled to match the candidate’s expectation. So what does networking means? It doesn’t matter if the school promotes itself as having 4000 or 40,000 sized Alumni network. If you don’t find opportunities to get an interview through events hosted by the school or other informal events, the number is insignificant. If the career services team provides access to job listings, you have to realize that the same openings are available to your classmates.

Understanding Competition

The competition is not just with your classmates but with candidates from other schools who also get this opening through their ‘private’ network. After all, there are only four major Consulting companies, and the idea of endless jobs is a fallacy. These jobs are not limited to entry-level applicants. Career Switchers without an MBA who might be equally or better qualified than you would also be trying to get an interview. Even if the opening were for an entry-level consulting position, the career switchers would be willing to sacrifice 2 or 3 years from their career to make this switch. Then there are previous year’s candidates.

Don’t blindly believe the “83% found a job within 3-months” testimonials that you see in MBA brochures. It might be true but none of the Business Schools publish the churn rate or the candidates who find the first job extremely unsatisfying. One of our readers shared how he nearly had a nervous breakdown after he was assigned clerical work on his first job. This was after a well-promoted recruitment event from a major Business School. The case studies, the SWOT analysis, and the ‘jumping around the bushes’ seemed like a waste of time for him. The financial burden didn’t go away, and that was the only reason he stuck with the job for 6 months. These ‘unhappy’ candidates will most likely leverage the school’s ‘private’ network and would compete with you.

Overdoing

Recruiting is more like dating. It’s finding that match that you can tolerate (in a bad economy) or the match that provides great value (in a growing economy). Employers have the upper hand. Only candidates from top five Business Schools have reasonable bargaining power, and that too is limited to compensation. The leverage on the job quality is still with the Employer, and that is why they are willing to compensate you more. Remember, an MBA brings you up one level from the rest of the job seekers but in Business School, you are at the same level.

When MBAs realize the competition, they either go into a cocoon or go aggressive. The aggressive job seeker will flock to the company representatives in a recruiting event. Most recruiters will be surrounded by 10 equally competitive MBAs - all trying to get the attention. The worst thing that MBAs do during such event is showing desperation masked as competition. Recruiters have seen several applicants and they can see through your confidence. Most likely, one or two will be called for an interview from the ‘aggressively’ posturing MBAs. You might argue that the Career Service team had coached us to be aggressive but don’t be aggressive without understanding the value that you would offering. It’s like the “Why MBA from our Business School” essay. The AdCom reads 1000s of answers to this question. The ones that stand out clearly articulate ‘the benefits for the school’. For Recruiters, the match in profile with the job responsibilities is one but the personality match & loyalty are factors that are even more important.

Playing it Cool

This group of MBAs feel that they can’t be that shameless as the ‘aggressive’ MBAs and flock around the recruiter pitching their profile. “I will contact them through the ‘private’ email shared with 100 other MBAs. Written words give me the opportunity to be articulate, and convince the recruiter on my viability”. This group is more likely to be in the ‘still searching’ MBAs, even after 3-months.

Balanced Search

The MBAs who find the right recruiter and don’t feel miserable after the first year are the ones who have done their homework. Previous experience and skills that you undermined before entering an MBA might find value after an MBA. Keep the options open. The research is not limited to the job responsibilities but also with the culture of the company. The culture is not dictated by the size of the company. Even the four Cs have distinctive cultures and you won’t fit in all of them. The cost of continuing in a miserable job, just because the ‘brand’ is recognizable is even higher, for both health and morale. There are no happy MBAs. And shooting for happiness in the first year after an MBA might be a wrong target. The ‘Halo Effect’ of belonging to a brand and surrounding yourself with the idealist MBAs would be a far cry from the corporate culture that you would be entering.

Putting yourself across to the recruiter is necessary but ‘doing your research’ before stretching your hands for introduction is even more important.

Be open and understand how an Alumnus has reached a position that you value. What qualities does she have? What challenges did she overcome? Did she always want to be in that position? Approach the Alumni with genuine questions and look up to them as mentors. Don’t use the word ‘mentor’ but listen actively. The fakeness of networking over a few drinks can be replaced with genuine intrigue about her career path. Most of them would reciprocate with specific and unique advice that you would have never expected.

Understand why the recruiter has traveled and agreed to meet the MBAs. What qualities are they expecting from the brand? What soft skills fit their company culture? What skills can be developed on the job? Which courses and activities in an MBA would be looked upon as the ones closely associated with the job opening? Do you have evidence to prove that your academic achievements and personal qualities would be an asset for the company? Don’t list it out. Just direct the conversation on the match.

When you target 10 recruiters in one hour, it is unlikely that you can maintain calm and focused conversation.

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