You submitted your business school applications for Round 1. You successfully navigated interviews. Now, the only thing left to do is sit back and wait for responses, right? Well, yes, you could do that. But here is a better idea: start thinking about what is next. As the mature professional you are becoming and will forever be after you earn your MBA, you will want to actively manage your career.
This robust process encompasses several components including examining your values, learning how to talk about yourself, building your network, and assessing your performance on a regular basis. But most important, it requires you to stay one step ahead of your current status and focus on your next goal. If you are applying to business school now, your next goal is your summer internship.
It is never too early to start thinking about that internship. Once you arrive on campus, you will have about two weeks to make up your mind about the kind of internship you will pursue. Even though you can hold recruiters at bay for a few more weeks, many important milestones happen fast. These include the important tasks of choosing which professional clubs to join to get your name in front of the right firms (within your first two weeks) as well as tailoring your resume to your targeted internship and submitting it to the official campus resume book that your school’s career services department will make available to recruiters (within your first month).
Here are some things you can do now to get ahead of the game. We promise that taking these small steps at your own pace before classes begin will help ensure your success in the critical and harrowing internship race, while also enabling you to enjoy the rest of your MBA experience a little more.
Narrow the field. Once classes and recruiting begin (shortly after your arrival on campus), you will have competing interests—company information sessions, student club meetings, and study group. And at the end of a long day, you will still want to head to the bar to meet up with friends. With such a hectic schedule, you won’t have time to pursue a variety of recruiting tracks. You might be wondering, “For my internship, should I pursue consulting or tech… or maybe banking?” Good question. Figure it out now.
Research, research, research! Maybe you read the point above and thought to yourself, “Well, that is great, but how do I narrow the field? I kind of fudged my personal statement and I don’t even really know what post-MBA jobs there are.” You might start by thoroughly reading your school’s career report and identifying career functions that correspond to your skills and industries that appeal to you. Then, you might take an important extra step and speak to people in these fields. When you do so, try to ask probing questions so that you get a sense of not just where the firm is going but also what the day-to-day life is like in your potential position. And, once you have narrowed your choices, you should job shadow. You are investing a ton of money and time into developing the skills for your next position, so you should really get to know what that position is—firsthand! Use any contacts that you have to get your foot in the door. Although this task is important to ensure you find the right fit, it can also be an important first step in expanding your network and landing that job, which leads us to…
Prepare yourself for the challenge. Let’s say that you want to transition from your current position into a consulting role. Did you know that consulting firms take a careful look at your GMAT score to see if you have the raw intellectual horsepower to succeed (especially at schools with grade nondisclosure)? If you didn’t know that, and your GMAT score is not that strong, you actually might want to—as awful as this sounds—take the GMAT again and get that score up! This is just one example, but you should be aware of industry-specific practices to avoid disappointment down the line. It would be far better to learn about those practices now rather than when your target firm sends you a rejection letter. Talk to current students. Talk to those in the industry. You need to be prepared to succeed.
Build your network. If you are trying to transition from your current firm to another or are trying to transition into a new industry entirely, you will find doing so a lot easier if you start to build your contacts now. Sure, you will meet recruiters on campus, but they represent only a small number of firms that hire MBAs. Therefore, your network can be particularly useful if you are seeking positions at firms that do not recruit heavily on your campus. However, even if you want to pursue a position at a firm that comes to campus, doing your homework early and applying for a position with intent and focus rather than simply responding to the cattle call of on campus recruiting should help you differentiate yourself. And, of course, developing contacts who can champion your candidacy could be invaluable.
Consider a pre-MBA internship. If you are changing careers, gaining some valuable experience before coming to campus can make that transition seem a lot more plausible to potential employers. For example, if you are an operations-focused individual who is trying to break into tech marketing, that might seem like a big leap—but not if you have a few months at a tech start-up under your belt. You might be surprised at the favorable responses you should receive when you offer your highly skilled time to a firm that could use the low-cost help. And, of course, if you perform well, you just might make an impression that will help you land that coveted summer internship.
Read up! A nuanced understanding of an industry does not develop overnight. Start to follow your target field now. Read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal every day; look for relevant articles, understand trends in your field, and develop your vocabulary. Pick up some recent literature in your target field—you don’t need to dive into a textbook! Reading Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail or Michael Lewis’s The Big Short can give you important context for the current financial system, for example, from mortgage lending policies to legislation to compensation practices to… the list goes on! You need to let some of the field’s vocabulary and background information seep into your brain. It won’t find its way in when you are juggling five new classes, recruiting, and a social life! Now is the time.
Would you believe that this is a short list? You have a lot to do before classes begin. You can still take time to celebrate your admission to the MBA program of your choice, you can still relax and enjoy the holidays, and you can still hike through Patagonia over the summer—please do! But by taking some important steps now, you can help ensure that rather than settling for just any job, you will get your ideal job when summer internship time comes.
Angela Guido runs Career Protocol, the web’s most refreshing destination for no-nonsense career advice and awesome professional development coaching. She’s helped thousands of MBAs get into dream schools and dream jobs while staying true to themselves. Want to turn your career from meh to HOLY COW AMAZING?!!! Angela has an MBA from Booth and extensive post-MBA experience at the Boston Consulting Group.
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