Careers and Networking

When you first start dating someone you only see their positive features and put aside their blemishes.  When you break up with them you only see their flaws. This scene from 500 days of summer captures this better than anything I could try to write this week so take 102 seconds and watch this clip.

My blog has had a pretty positive tone when it comes to those blemishes of the Oxford MBA. Partly, its because we just started dating, partly its because I try to have an optimistic attitude, and partly its because I have had faith that some of the issues were common to either the UK or B-schools in general. This weekend I had that faith rewarded.

I spent the weekend at London Business School at an LGBT MBA conference called EurOUT. There were ~100 LGBT MBA students from every European B-school and one of the questions I asked these other students was what they loved and didn’t love about their program. They had the same concerns I have heard in my role as Section Rep at Oxford with the largest concern being the Careers departments.

It was clear that for many schools getting employers onto campus was a matter of obtaining critical mass. Some schools compensate for this by concentrating students interested in a particular field, thus sacrificing diversity of background in classroom discussions. Other school (like Oxford) grow the student population to attract more employers. The downsides to both of these approaches is the same and it is universal at these school. The ratio of students to recruiters is too high to build the personal connections needed to really secure an interview.

I say this making a key assumption. I admit it is biased given my time in the networking capital of the world – Washington DC. I assume that any job you are going to get is going to happen because someone whom you know gave you the opportunity to show them what you know. This is a subtle difference between the cynical adage that only “Who you know” matters. Specifically “Who you know” can help you get an interview, but you only get past that stage because of “What you know.”

If we accept that assumption then a high student to recruiter ratio means that the events a careers department puts on *can* be helpful but the numbers don’t play to your favor. Instead I’d highly recommend attending a key conference for an interest/region/affiliation where recruiters will actively be looking for top LGBT talent.

Going to a conference and networking with recruiters puts you as an MBA in the driver’s seat. You have the control to talk to whom you want during the conference and during the career fair. For type-a MBAs this is critical. When you go to a conference you get the chance to have smaller discussions with recruiters who all of a sudden are competing for you. To use lessons from strategy you are flipping the dynamic between buyers & suppliers.

To get the most out of MBA conference recruiting I’d recommend a couple of tips:RB-Meme

  1. Be clear & concise. – This one is rather obvious but approach recruiters with a key focused question in mind, a short elevator pitch about yourself, or a relevant insight. They are busy and if you waste their time they will know.
  2. Be cognizant. – Be aware of how much time you are spending talking to a recruiter. Odds are there are others who want to talk to the recruiter you have backed up against their table or sign. If you have made your concise points, thank the recruiter and let them talk with others. If you hold them captive they will remember you, but not for the right reasons.
  3. Exit gracefully – If you don’t know how to best exit a conversation my favorite is to say “Thank you so much for your time, I know you are busy so I’ll let you go so you can talk with others.” It gives them an opening to tell you they’d prefer talking with you or for them to exit the conversation. Alternatively you can always ask where the toilets are.
  4. Be the Best – While the odds are more in your favor, do what you can to be the best amongst your fellow conference peers. Ask insightful questions that demonstrate you understand their business. Recognize challenges they face and ask about them. Recruiters see the dirty ins & outs of their company. They are the last ones who want to hear “I love everything your company does”
  5. Be anything but bland – Yes you have to do the basics especially the “Thank you/follow-up” note. But the worst thing you can do is be generic and unrecognizable. If they gave you a good answer to your insightful question, then recognize that fact in the thank-you note.