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Making The Most Of Company Briefings

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Employers spend a lot of money to find and hire MBA candidates. While the average cost of a new MBA hire is over $10,000 — more than twice the national hiring cost average of $4,000 — that expense can skyrocket to over $100,000 for high-value consulting or finance roles at top programs. That’s right: Some firms will pay six-figure sums just to attract top MBA talent, and that figure doesn’t include signing bonuses or salary. This sort of spending is rare, but it illustrates just how competitive the MBA hiring market can be. It also raises a question: Where does all that money go?

For most of the big MBA spenders, the answer is simple: on-campus recruiting. This is a familiar story to experienced MBAs. Employers of all stripes will send platoons of recruiters and MBA alumni to their schools of choice to promote their company culture and share MBA opportunities. One of the first and largest of these in-campus investments comes in the form of company briefings — also called company presentations or corporate presentations — in which employers of all shapes and sizes make their initial pitch to crowds of MBA candidates.

These sessions are often the first time MBAs will have face-to-face interactions with potential employers, and they can be a great way to lay the groundwork for future recruiting success. But there is some strategy involved in choosing and then optimizing your company briefing experience to make it most worthwhile. This post will cover some of the basics and hopefully provide a framework for approaching company presentations and building an overall recruiting strategy.

BEFORE THE BRIEFING

At top U.S. MBA programs, company briefings for first-year students start early — most likely September, but sometimes as late as October — and follow a fairly predictable pattern. Consultancies and banks are usually the first in the door, but by the midpoint of your first MBA semester there will be more briefings and other events than one MBA could ever manage to attend. That means it will be really important to allocate your in-person time effectively, and to identify those firms that pique your interest.

Your career office spends a lot of time scheduling these events, and you should be able to access a calendar of employer visits to get a sense of what to expect. Keep in mind that even on those days that seem light on briefings, you will still be juggling classes and homework, club meetings, social events, and other obligations of graduate business school life. Make note of the events that are most interesting to you, and go ahead and set aside time on your calendar for any employers you don’t want to miss.

Not sure yet which firms or industries are most appealing to you? Do some research before you get tangled up in on-campus recruiting: RelishMBA was built to help MBAs explore their career options, but it’s also smart to take time in the early weeks of school to sit down with career advisers and second-year students who will take a close look at your profile and interests and suggest on-campus events that will be worth investigating. However, the goal of your initial research should be to identify possibilities, not to finalize your target list or commit to a single recruiting track (unless you’re really sure about what you want to do). And if you’re on the fence about a particular employer and have the time, go to the briefing! Not only will it be an easy way to get an impression of your potential future workplace and colleagues; many firms also build their early recruiting pipelines based on who attends their briefings.

DURING THE BRIEFING

The events themselves can vary wildly in terms of format, content, and company rep attendance. In my first two months as an MBA, a major on-campus employer flew a team of 10 recruiters and alumni across the country to give an hour-long, interactive production to a nearly full auditorium of first-year students; the next day, another major employer brought in a single recruiter for half an hour to give a PowerPoint presentation and play a video for a room of maybe 20 MBAs. And while the “overwhelming force” approach taken by the first employer tends to attract more attendees and can often provide more detailed info on the recruiting process, the real value of these presentations for students is in observing and interacting with the human beings involved.

Despite the pomp and circumstance of the first employer’s presentation, what stuck with me was not the slick visuals or the detailed role descriptions that were provided but the dispositions of the presenters, who seemed universally bored or even unhappy. I took this as a sign of problems with the company culture, and follow-up conversations with second-year students confirmed my suspicions that the firm would not be a good fit for me. Of course, the signals you get from potential future coworkers won’t always be so straightforwardly positive or negative, but there is plenty to observe that isn’t so obvious: how often does work-life balance come up? What about compensation? Do the presenters seem to have a sense of humor? Are they down to earth, or are they supremely impressed with themselves?

The point here is that, in addition to putting you on the radar of your favorite employers, company briefings also offer an opportunity to test your early recruiting hypotheses by getting up close and personal with people you’ll be sharing an office with during your internship or new full-time gig. Make sure to take notes not just on the content of the presentation or the logistics of each firm’s recruiting process, but also on the interpersonal dynamics you notice and the way company employees carry themselves.

AFTER THE BRIEFING

Many company briefings are immediately followed by the time-honored MBA tradition of the “pit dive”: over-enthusiastic candidates crawling all over each other to get face time with company recruiters and alumni. And while it’s one of the less dignified parts of the recruiting process, pit diving can be valuable and productive — provided you have something relevant or interesting to discuss with the recruiters you’re targeting. Keep in mind, however, that the reps who give company briefings are experienced recruiters and are well aware that students often only engage in recruiting activities like pit dives because they think it’s required, or because they think a simple handshake will improve their chances of landing a job. But while face time with MBA recruiters at your target firm is a rare and valuable opportunity, it’s only additive if you manage to make a good impression (which is hard for many people to do when jockeying for elbow room with two dozen other MBAs).

Given that, your biggest priority during the presentation should be picking out the elements that are most genuinely interesting to you or relevant to your background. That way, even if you avoid engaging in pit dive antics, you will have a strong story to tell or engaging question to ask the next time you interact with a recruiter at that firm. Whether it’s an email the next day or a brief conversation during the pit dive, it’s rarely a good idea to come across as boring or canned or going through the motions. Frankly, major MBA recruiters have more than enough interest to fill up their pipelines with highly qualified candidates who seem genuinely interested in their opportunities, and a rushed handshake and an empty smile can sometimes do more harm than good.

We talk a lot about how MBA recruiting is like dating, and in that analogy company briefings are like a first date: a chance to get to know each other and test how well you’ll get along. And in many ways, it helps to treat those events like dates: Use online platforms and personal networks to figure out which ones are worth attending, put your best (honest) foot forward, and try not to look desperate. More than anything, remember: an awkward first date and an uncomfortable company briefing don’t need to be more than data points indicating you should look elsewhere. Unlike dating, graduate business school is an environment where matchmaking opportunities really do abound, and if you feel unsure about an employer after their company briefing you can be certain that five more employers will be on campus the next day eager to tell you about their opportunities.

ONLINE COMPANY BRIEFINGS FROM RelishMBA

At RelishMBA, we’re building a platform to help MBAs and employers make more informed decisions about their recruiting processes. A big part of that is getting students ready for in-person fall recruiting, and to that end we are excited to present webinars with two of our biggest featured employers: PwC and American Express. Register at the link below, and tune in to one or both webinars to hear about a day in the life of an MBA alum and how to approach recruiting in the consulting or financial services industry. Interested candidates should be signed up for RelishMBA, and can register to attend each webinar by visiting http://webinars.relishmba.com/signup/ .

Zach Mayo, co-founder of RelishMBA

Zach Mayo, co-founder of RelishMBA

Zach Mayo is the chief operating officer of RelishMBA, the marketplace for MBA hiring. Available to students and alumni from network schools, RelishMBA gives candidates access to employer branding and MBA-specific career exploration resources (including exclusive webinars) before the hectic pace of first-year MBA life begins in the fall. Admitted and newly minted MBAs can sign up now to explore company pages, build an initial target list, and engage with employers before they arrive on campus.