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.