Advice to First Year MBAs: Engage During Recruiting Events

This is the first post in my new series, Advice to First Year MBAs. These are based on my experience as a recent first year MBA student at Duke Fuqua. The focus is on how to get the most out of the first year during the MBA.

The intended audience for these posts are all first year MBA students and is school agnostic. However, I will be using several examples from my experience at Duke, although there should be similar opportunities at all schools. This can help prospective students as well, giving an additional perspective on what the first year MBA is all about.

People Are the Most Important Factor When Evaluating Companies

An organization's people is the most important factor in your internship or full time work experience. The people that you work with and work for help determine whether you can get things done and done well in teams. This is important because in the corporate world, everything is done in teams.

The main difference between companies thus comes down to their people. When choosing a company to work for, its people and the culture they create become a good variable to look at. People help shape a company's culture, and directly influence how you can or cannot work well in teams.

This is Because the Type of Work Entry-Level MBAs Do Across Firms is Similar

While I've only worked in one company as an MBA intern, I'm fairly confident that the type of work you do will be relatively the same for the same function across firms of similar scale in the same industry. For example, if you want to do marketing at AstraZeneca, it's going to be the same type of work if you did marketing at Pfizer. You could probably insert any two large companies into the previous sentence and it'll still work.

Sure, different companies do offer different products, but as an entry level MBA, that is not going to be relevant to the work you'll be doing. You do want a company with a strong pipeline, but as an entry level MBA you'll likely have little influence on product development or the future direction of the company. Functionally, your role would be to assist in a project that helps drive market share.

The people thus become the main difference between companies. Each firm will have its own culture and how it expects employees to perform. Furthermore, each company has its own organizational strategy and people focus. Because of my entrepreneurial ways, I function well in a company that has a flat structure and gives employees the independence to grow and engage. I also do well in a company that is collaborative and where people are authentic with each other, much like the culture at Fuqua.

Why Company Recruiting Events Are Important

The recruiting events that companies sponsor during the fall and winter terms of the MBA are thus crucial in helping students understand the companies' people and company cultures. This is a great opportunity to meet people on the inside and gauge how well you think you'll be able to perform on a team.

You'll want to ask things that will help answer the question: "How well will I work with these people?" Are the senior leaders that the companies send over people you admire and want to work for? Ask questions but also observe people as they interact with colleagues. For the summer internship, I had a choice between two companies. I ended up choosing the one with the people I admired most, which turned out to be a pretty good decision.

That's why in this first post I am encouraging first year MBAs to truly engage at the recruiting events with understanding the company's culture as your primary goal. Even recruiters know this. They are aware that most companies within the same industry offer the same projects and experiences in a given function. If you go to all your interviews and say you want to work for a company because they have a good pipeline or are best at marketing or strategy, you're not going to stand out.

However, if you go in and say you want to work there because you connected with senior managers in the company and learned about how they were able execute X project efficiently because of the collaborative culture, you're going to have a good summer. Not just because of the interview performance, but because you took the extra time to reduce the risk of you not fitting in.

Consider the customer of the first year MBA: the company recruiter. Recruiters want to hire the best and the brightest, but they also need to get a good yield at the end of the summer. Therefore they want to make sure that you have an awesome experience as well, so that you'll want to return after you're done with the MBA. The more homework you do on the company and its people, the better it is for both you and the company. It's win-win.

In sum, always fully engage during recruiting events. Try to get actual insights on a company's culture. A company's culture affects how it values its MBA talent - a very important point that will shape your career trajectory. If you ask the right questions, you'll be able to leave the conversation with real-life examples that you can use during the interview and when considering offers from different companies.

These things are like finding clues. Asking people if their company has a collaborative culture is useless. Because when asked, everybody is going to say they have a collaborative culture. Only by totally engaging and spending the time with people, can you find objective clues that will not only make you stand out but help you make the right decision for your future career.

This blog post is part of a 6-piece series called "Advice to First Year MBAs". You can find a list of all the post in the series here.

In other news, I'm going to reduce my posting frequency from twice a week to once a week. Multiple rounds of editing do go into these posts, so it's become a bit difficult with classes starting again and extracurricular activities kicking in. Thanks for understanding! Also, thanks to everyone who has subscribed or reached out via email/Twitter/LinkedIn. It means a lot to me to hear about how this blog has been helpful to your future goals and I enjoy answering questions to help prospective students learn more about the Duke MBA.

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