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

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Recruiting: Do you need to study at specific schools to be considered?


I’m wondering about different opportunities between a top 7 school (Wharton, MIT, Booth, Kellogg, Columbia) and a top 2 school (Harvard and Stanford) because, despite having an admit to one of the top 7, I fear a lack of opportunity without the Harvard and Stanford brands to back me up with on-campus opportunities (I certainly know of instances where this is the case). For reference, I am most interested in corporate strategy for entertainment and CPG.


I’m glad you’ve asked this question because it allows us to address a level of nuance that mostly goes untouched in the pre-MBA phase of most students’ MBA career planning.

I think cases in which a company advertises a specific position only for a specific short list of schools (rather than across MBA programs) is very rare. In this case, Disney may be making the assumption, whether correctly/fairly or not, that there are relatively more students at one or two leading schools who have already worked their way to fairly advanced positions (for example, by having been promoted to case team / project leader or engagement manager positions at a few leading consulting firms, prior to starting business school), thus being ready to take on the advanced responsibilities of an in-house strategy role at the company in question.

The key thing to pick up on is not that a company like Disney doesn’t expect to find candidates with those qualifications at other schools, but that they expect to find them in greater numbers at a few leading programs (and by virtue of trying to get the most return out of their MBA recruiting investment efforts, they are limiting / focusing their efforts on just a couple of schools, the best hunting ground in their estimation).

What this means for MBAs at large is that while the recruiting infrastructure may already be established for those roles at schools like Harvard or Stanford, it does not mean that companies will refuse to look at a well-qualified candidate (who may have the advanced experience mentioned above) at schools outside of that short list. What I often tell students…is that the lack of formal recruiting and a structured, on-campus process for a role at your own business school may in fact be a competitive advantage for you in terms of your efforts to stand out …

If you do the leg work, contact the right people, show initiative, and present your candidacy in a very personal, individually-driven manner (from a school outside of the top ~5, let’s say), that can sometimes be much more noticeable and impressive than if you are merely one of the 3-4 dozen students at a large MBA program dropping a resume and cover letter for an on-campus role.

Regarding the gradients of market power that you have depending on whether you’re at a “top 2”, or “top 7”, or “top 15” schools, I would say that, on day 1 of business school, those relative rankings do matter. If I knew nothing else about a candidate other than where he/she is at school, I might also privilege the schools that are generally ranked among the elite.

However, from day one forward, candidates can do much to distinguish themselves and execute on an effective MBA job search strategy, regardless of where they are, and what matters less than the general rankings of schools, once everyone gets further into the MBA recruiting process, is the individual’s — your own — strategy for how to leverage the unique resources, faculty relationships, corporate ties, geographic location, etc., of the business school that’s the best fit for you.

In my personal experience, I have seen students at schools such as Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, Cornell Johnson, just to name a few, triumph in achieving their ambitious career goals, while, on occasion, I’ve also known students at schools such as Harvard/Stanford/Wharton to sometimes get lost in the mix, or lose focus on who they are and what their distinct career path should be.

Yes, the things that are great about the most elite business programs are, in fact, great. But you can succeed…or fail…at any business school. Knowing what you’re trying to do, and having a strategy in place for how you will project yourself into your new MBA environment and future career is the key success factor

[Check out How Recruiters Rank the Best Business Schools]