Insider Tips From An Expert MBA Recruiter

Sandy Khan

Sandy Khan has more than two decades of experience in MBA recruiting

What are top employers looking for in MBA hires? 

It’s a question recruiter Sandy Khan deals with on a daily basis. She’s spent more than two decades hiring MBAs for multinationals such as Google EMEA and Microsoft International and knows firsthand what separates the black-hole resumes from the interview-worthy CVs. She’s spent time on the other side of the table too, prepping MBA job seekers for the tough questions. Khan has coached more than 1,000 MBAs through the recruiting process via partnerships with some of Europe’s top-ranked business schools, including IESE and IE. 

“In a nutshell, I’m a builder of MBA talent pools for multinational companies,” Khan explains. Leveraging her experience, she’s embarked on her latest venture, MBA Arena, a virtual community that connects MBAs and employers through storytelling. In fact, both MBAs and employers fail miserably at explaining just what they bring to the table, she says. Figuring out how to fill this gap with coherent and sincere narratives from both sides translates to a better fit for employers and employees. 

In a wide-ranging conversation with Poets&Quants, Khan covers everything from why MBAs should skip job boards to the best way to make a cover letter stand out. 

A lot of your experience has focused on the European market. How are MBA markets different in the U.S. and Europe?

Regardless of the sector or the function–whether it’s the U.S., Asia, or Europe–all MBA recruiters are looking for the same thing: high potential future leadership talent. This is their future leadership pipeline, that’s what they’re after.

What are those traits? Students can very simply Google “leadership traits.” They need to ask themselves, “Can I portray these traits? Do I have a story for a recruiter that shows that I have these and have demonstrated them, or that I have the aptitude for these traits?” That’s a golden tip–understand what the buyer wants–leadership traits–and then make sure you can demonstrate it.

If MBAs would perceive themselves as nothing more than a product or a company, they’d understand how simple it is. It’s nothing more than the principles of marketing applied to themselves. We, as recruiters, are their buyers, and they need to engage and market to us just like they would as an entrepreneur or a businessperson. It’s actually very simple–it’s not rocket science.

You mentioned having a “story” for the recruiter. Can you elaborate?

By stories, I mean the student needs to be authentic in their communications. Toward the end of the hiring process, recruiters absolutely hire on personality. For example, at Google we would always ask, “Did they display ‘Googliness?'” It’s so terribly important for a recruiter and for an employer to make sure they’ve got the right fit.

What makes you a good fit? You can’t fake this–there’s no point in even trying. The only thing you can do is to make sure that you’re authentic in your interview. Authenticity comes from being humble, so humility is a big leadership trait that we look for. If you are self aware and know the areas where you need self development, a lot of hiring managers will pick up on that. You cannot be a star from day one. They will also want to know that you will take ownership of your own career development. The big companies like Google and Microsoft don’t have time to hold your hand.

What should current and prospective MBA students do to increase their job prospects?

The best advice I can give to any candidate is to make sure they take baby steps before they even start the MBA program. They need to start focusing, and that’s scary. It’s fine to be broad and generic during the discovery phase, but at some point discovery has to stop, and you need to eliminate options. You cannot be everything for everybody. Most recruiters are not looking for generalists–they’re looking for candidates with relevant experience.

  • Singh

    Great article!
    What if a candidate has a great story (not just one) and is a leader with diversified experiences but still not getting pulled up through resume screening system. Only getting the replies all the time that post was already filled up.

  • Poorvi Shrivastav

    Great read..

  • Dolores Cummins

    Thanks Sandy. Very informative and practical.

  • Earon Kavanagh

    Great article! I’ll be checking out your Linkedin group.

  • ttaiye10

    I really enjoyed the article. Quite informative! Thanks.

  • Usman Ul Haque

    One of the best articles I have come across for prospective MBAs, thank you very much Sandy!

  • GyanOne

    Outstanding piece, Sandy! Truly very insightful. Would be great to also know how some skills vary across industries (e.g. consulting v/s say, operations) as well as regions (Asia v/s North America, for instance). And your point on the missing soft skills is absolutely spot-on. We have often seen how so many MBA gradutes in the job hunt are so busy focusing on selling themselves ‘on paper’ (i.e. getting their resumes right) that they often forget to look at the larger picture around the recruitment exercise. Preparing for interviews, as you rightly point out, is such an important part of the overall exercise, yet often underemphasized by job applicants because getting that initial shortlist is somehow seen to be more important.

  • Kristine Early

    Thanks Sandy, your story is very helpful to me as a mid-career EMBA transitioning into digital marketing. I just need to apply those same principles to myself – story, pain points and focused solutions…

  • The cover letter is less about ‘you’ and more about the company story. Show that you understand / value what the company does (strategically) e.g the products/services/innovation, etc. Then list your top 3 or 4 skills/experience that would add immediate value.

    Remember to keep it SHORT. 3 to 4 paragraphs. Job done:)

  • Huss Sadri

    Sandy I loved your ideas & your post
    but although I am not a young MBA graduate as I earned my professional experience before I acquired my MBA degree. I am trying to create a story telling techniques for my cover letters but I seem to lack the flair in the art of storytelling. Can you please advise where I can see some examples of such storytelling cover letters. Thank you kindly.

  • Arnim

    Thanks so much, Sandy! Reading articles like yours gives me the confidence that we do have a story to tell, and that we only have to learn to do tell it in the right way, that is, an engaging way. So thanks again. Best, Arnim

  • marc

    good approach, thanks a lot

  • JG

    Very informative and helpful. Thanks!

  • Cheer KK. It’s really important for me to know if a story is making sense and adding value:)

  • KK

    I found this to be a very insightful and inspiring article – thank you for sharing

  • Don

    Wow! Great story!! More please 🙂