Landing Your Dream Job or Internship – The Best of Ivan Kerbel

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Here is some additional advice from Ivan on:

How to increase your appeal and get out of the recruiter’s black hole:


Consider schools near your chosen industry 

The only additional factors you may want to consider is the extent to which you envision your (future) consulting experience to be focused on serving a specific industry, and to therefore think about the geographic proximity of your MBA program to the companies in that industry (broadly speaking, banking and other finance clients tend to be clustered near New York and Boston, CPG / retail clients are prominent in the Midwest and are most easily accessed via Chicago, Tech clients tend to be on the west coast, and oil and gas / energy clients tend to be more concentrated in Texas and the Southeast).

Proximity is not “destiny”, by any means, but it can make your networking efforts a bit more efficient, and you may find that you enjoy greater network effects when the MBA alumni from your alma mater are clustered around a specific city or have populated a particular sector. (That being said, all of the leading schools have cultivated broad, global relationships across the range of industries … a key business development function of the MBA career services office that serves each school … and that should allow you to hunt for jobs across state lines and national borders regardless of what program you attend.)

Rank schools by what’s important to you 

If you’re looking for some way to reduce the complexity, perhaps create a rank order of what variables matter to you most (quality of teaching and curriculum, social life and community feel, campus and facilities, alumni network, etc.), and then give each school a grade, based on your personal needs and interests. The resulting matrix may help you see past the clutter. Ultimately, and in my own experience, I think students do best when they choose a school not purely with their brains, and not purely with their hearts, but with a balanced combination of the two.

Be ready for a big transition when you move to consulting

I suspect the key areas you’d want to think about and also address are all of the social interactions and client service dynamics inherent in consulting … for example, the switch in lifestyle from working for one organization in a specific location vs. serving, in serial fashion, a number of different organizations,

requiring travel, a fair bit of remote work, and meeting and having to prove yourself among a whole new set of people every 4-6 months … or, the sorts of influencing skills and consensus-building abilities you’ll need when you don’t have direct authority over the managers and workers who will be the ones to

execute your recommendations after your client study is complete.

The MBA helps with career transitions 

With regard to achieving a career transition and potentially looking at opportunities in the private sector, I believe the MBA is the best all-purpose, widely-applicable graduate education for making that change. In what is now a global competition for good jobs and elite professional experiences, the MBA has become something like a universal, graduate liberal arts degree in business that allows people to trust you, in a broad sense, with money, and to assume (safely, one hopes) that you will know enough about the fundamentals of managing an organization (from a finance, marketing, accounting, operations, and strategy perspectives) to be able to lead its efforts reliably.

Your adcom is aware of your undergraduate program’s strengths and limitations 

I think that leading business schools have a sophisticated understanding of the relative strengths and qualities of undergraduate degree programs, across the world. You’re probably not the first student from your undergrad institution to apply to business school, and MBA admissions offices usually have long track-records and experience in evaluating candidates from a broad spectrum of schools.

In the MBA career services realm, I felt I could frequently recognize patterns of thinking, ability, and perspective characteristic of students from a specific undergrad program, and I would imagine that having a similar “feel” for the undergrad landscape is also not uncommon in the admissions realm.

Becoming a more competitive MBA candidate after graduation by following these strategies 

The best thing to do, post-undergrad is to seek out challenging work that allows you to learn new skills, to experience new projects/responsibilities and work environments, and come into contact with a wide range of colleagues, clients, and customers. Focusing on how you’re personally going to impact your environment, and how you will help your colleagues succeed and your organization thrive — what will those future bullet points on your resume say about what you did at “Company X”? — may be a good way to seek out and select that job.

There’s no rule for how adcoms weigh specific extracurriculars 

There is no specific type of extracurricular that schools are seeking. What matters is that you care about that extracurricular, and that you’ve become immersed in whatever pursuit that is … whether it’s sports, volunteer activity, teaching, an arts and culture pursuit, and so on.

I recall a great MBA resume that I read when I was at Wharton: the bulk of the resume described this particular Asian student’s extensive military service experience and achievements, and included just the right amount (not too much, but pretty close to the borderline) of military jargon regarding weapons systems, troop deployments, combat theater operations, etc. At the very bottom, under “Additional Interests”, the student mentioned that he had won a poetry prize when he was younger (no elaboration, just the subject of the poem, title of the prize, and date) … it was such a nice touch, and such a great antidote to all the rest of that beefy content.

The key is that, in a humble way, it showed that the student was a multi-dimensional person, that he cared about a range of things in his life. Please think of extracurriculars not as another check-box or test that you have to maximize and pass (hence, don’t worry about the right “duration” of your extracurricular activity), but as something that will truly offer a window into your life and mind and the things you find engaging and fun, and worth spending time on.

You can still get a recruiter’s attention even if you attend a lesser-ranked institution 

The reality is that you must do the leg-work yourself to make the connections and to engage with a firm (in the absence of on-campus recruiting’s formal company presentations, coffee chats, etc.). This can take a lot more effort, and you may find that you’re learning how to do it as you go, but it may also mean you might be the only one, or only one of a few students at your school, making that sort of effort … and this, in turn, may help you to stand out. (The alternative is being one of 100s of candidates from a big MBA program who must distinguish himself or herself from a big group of peer classmates).

At the end of the day, competition for elite consulting jobs is global, and includes all schools, so there is a lot to overcome, but keep in mind that in the mix of those dozens of MBAs from a shared alma mater at any consulting firm there are plenty of outstanding consultants from programs like Simon’s … and beyond!

Working abroad is a big advantage 

The simple answer is “yes”, international work experience is valued, if for no better reason than that it exposes you to colleagues, clients, customers from different cultures, as well as to different business practices and/or strategies. It can also help to work in different countries while staying with a single company (by taking advantage of a management rotational program, for example); I find that by keeping one constant the same (employer), all of differences in everything from go-to-market strategy, to more subtle differences in how meetings are facilitated, for example, tend to be that much more distinct.

Landing pre-MBA work is possible, but not easy

Any informal or project-based pre-MBA work you take on will most likely be either with a smaller, boutique firm, or with a company that does not have a formal MBA recruiting process, or both. Coming up with this arrangement is usually a matter of leveraging your own personal professional network, and/or focusing on an aspect of the industry or particular market space where you already have some domain expertise and can offer valuable work to the employer, even while expanding your own horizons and taking on a new functional role or different investment or trading activity than you have been exposed to in the past.

From my perspective, the goal is not to “get a foot in the door” with a prospective post-MBA employer, but rather to seek out tangible experience (at a company that may be too small or too focused to pursue general MBA recruiting) that you can then showcase as part of your formal MBA recruiting effort. Yes, cold-calling and cold e-mailing, in those instances in which you don’t have a personal connection, is the way to go.

Advantages of applying before four years of experience

Whether you would be a better applicant now vs. later is a trickier question to answer. If you know that you’re simply wide of the mark (by virtue of GMAT, GPA, or any other factors) in the upcoming admissions cycle, given the incredibly high benchmarks established by admitted students in prior years, then perhaps it’s better to hold off… but the only way to know that is to “get in the game” and start down the GMAT track, to take additional coursework if you need to, etc.

And, this is just a personal perspective, but I think you should not be too afraid of being “too early” or “too green” in your efforts at applying. It can sometimes work to your advantage, assuming that you come back at a later time with stronger scores, a better application, incredible impact in the jobs you’ve held in the interim, etc. Assuming that your approach (integrity and behavior) is at a consistently high, polished level from initial to later applications / years, it can be great to show the delta (closing the gap due to your perseverance and focus) from when you first applied to a later point in time.

You don’t necessarily need experience to market yourself 

I think the first point to make is that being a JD-MBA candidate is a positive thing, in terms of how consulting employers are likely to view your credentials (you should be able to highlight your law-related critical-thinking, research and writing skills, as well as knowledge of the legal aspects of the business activity, from public markets regulation, to IP law, to innovations in securities trading and M&A activity).

With regard to having a lack of pre-graduate school commercial experience, I think you will need to leverage ‘functional’ aspects of your previous legal work … such as managing deadlines, working in teams, finding creative solutions to problems, achieving impact for your clients (a key factor for consulting interviews), and so on. Even though you may not have been doing financial analysis, or managing P&L, your work in any field (law or otherwise) can say much about your ability to get things done, to be competitively successful, and to add value to an enterprise and to those working with you.

What you will also need to do is highlight specific instanced during your MBA studies (your academic performance in core management classes, success in business plan or business case competitions, and/or in any consulting practicum projects, for example) that suggest that you have a mind for business and also signal your strong interest in consulting. Your experience will likely be that your performance in the technical aspects of consulting interviews (doing a break-even analysis, or a market-sizing) will be more critical for you than for another job candidate … hence, putting a lot of time and effort to prepare for case interviews, and to show great facility with numbers and business problem-solving, will be an important way for you to put consulting firms at ease with hiring you.

Last, don’t forget to promote the cross-disciplinary learning that you’ve experienced as a joint-degree student. Consulting firms need their firm members to be able to think across sectors, to recognize patterns, to be able to transport ideas and ‘best practices’ from one field to another … all things that you should be, on the margin, better able to do, given your dual-degree background.

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