MBA Fair Strategy: The Do’s And Don’ts

The CentreCourt MBA Festival at the New York Times Center in New York City last year

A week from today, the CentreCourt MBA Festival kicks off its 2018 season in London on March 3rd. The event, free to those who register, will held at a world famous art museum on the south bank of London. Co-hosted by Poets&Quants Founder and Editor John A. Byrne, London CentreCourt will be the first of nine premier events this year, featuring deans, admissions directors and representatives from the world’s top 40 MBA programs.

As always, CentreCourt is an upscale event, featuring only the top business schools in unusual and awesome venues, with a host of innovations that will include a Genius Bar where applicants can get candid answers to all their questions about applying to an elite business school, The Committee, a chance for applicants to be a fly-on-the-wall at a simulated admissions committee meeting that will review applicant profiles, and finally Guess The School, a game in which applicants will be asked to guess a school based on the MBA program’s core strengths and culture.

As we open the doors to welcome hundreds of young professionals to the event, I am reminded of the Paris sidewalk and the do’s and don’ts to get the most out of your time at an MBA Fair. Given my track record I’m either perfectly qualified or unqualified to give advice on the subject, so have turned to my Fortuna Admissions colleagues attending these events to share their experience as former admissions officers to help you to make the most of your time – and theirs.

“I was at an MBA fair in Seoul where the doors were kept tightly locked until noon, at which point this flash flood of people erupted into the hall and I was mobbed for several hours,” says Emma Bond, LBS former Senior Manager of Admissions and Director at Fortuna Admissions. “At some point, I met a Japanese-Brazilian working in South Korea with a background in automotive manufacturing. He was professional, engaging and friendly, and had an interesting international profile that was a good LBS fit, but he didn’t have great stats. So when he later applied I actually remembered him and the impression he’d made and was able to say, ‘yes, this guy is great, he’d contribute,’ and he was eventually offered a place.”

Of all the great reasons to attend an MBA fair, this kind of encounter is the aspiration of any prospective contender. Making a lasting personal impression with an admissions gatekeeper is invaluable, but separating yourself from throngs of other polished professionals can be tricky. So, what does it take? And what memorable moments will linger in an admissions officer’s mind?

Must Do’s

Do… Prepare two-to-three thoughtful questions for schools of interest.

Go with a specific question you can’t find in any website or article,” says Judith Silverman Hodara, Wharton former Head of MBA Admissions. “Not only does it demonstrate you’ve done some due diligence, you may be able to use the answer that you get as you begin to shape writing your essays later in the season.”

Do… Keep an open mind.

“Take advantage of the huge variety of schools at an MBA fair,” says Jessica Chung, UCLA Anderson former Associate Director of Admissions. “Check out schools which may not have been on your radar initially and meet with their admissions representatives — you may find another school that’s a great fit for you.”

Do… Have your elevator speech ready.

“Be able to explain ‘why b-school’ and your post-MBA plans in a minute or two,” says Randall Sawyer, Cornell Johnson former Assistant Dean of Admissions. “Be yourself, be authentic and convey your excitement to be taking the next step in your career.”

Do… Switch on your listening skills

“Whether it is a dean talking about his or her vision for the school, an admissions officer sharing advice for applying to the school, or an alumni offering perspectives on the MBA program, you can pick up a great deal of insight to serve you well for your own application,” explains Judith. “We are all looking to see how well you understand the personality and culture of our school, so really tune in at the fair and in a just few hours you will be better prepared and better equipped to stand out.”

Do… Write a follow-up thank you note (handwritten is a nice touch).

“Ask for a business card and send thank you email if you want to be like everyone else. Or take a moment and write a thank you note and send it US Mail if you want to impress and be remembered,” says Randall. “When I was at Cornell, I received five handwritten cards from students I met at MBA Fairs. One in particular I kept on my desk as it so impressed me. Its author was the last in line, and when she got to me, the fair had ended 45 minutes earlier and we were the last two in the ballroom. Our discussion ended up changing her MBA school choice and plans, and she thanked me with a card. In the end, she had great options and chose Cornell. She was an outstanding student and member of our community!”

What To Avoid

Don’t… Stalk the school representative after hours.

“I heard stories from colleagues about letters of interest being left for them in the middle of the night at the hotel front desk, or applicants sitting down uninvited with the admissions director for a further chat at the hotel pub after the event was over,” says Judith. “It’s much better to reach out after the event is over via email and reiterate your interest, rather than trying to make your point in person at the end of a long day!”

Don’t… Treat it like an admissions test.

“It’s better to arrive with a sense of your skills, strengths and value-add after some honest self-reflection, as opposed to waving a 760 GMAT in the admissions rep’s face and asking about your chances,” say Emma. “I had lots of people come up to me at fairs wanting to know whether they would be accepted at LBS if they applied. The due diligence onus is on you pre-fair — particularly now when so much data is available online. Info sessions should be about learning more in-depth about school fit, whether a program is right for you, and exploring whether you have the kind of story or profile that might fit with the school.”

Don’t… Plan to distribute your resume.

“This can seem like coming on too strong, but you may want to have a business card with you,” says Judith. Randall adds, “Share your business card and write your personal email on the front prior to the MBA Fair so you can be added to the school’s database, or perhaps receive an email back from the person you’re talking to.”

Don’t… Schlep your luggage.

“This is pragmatic, but you should check your coat and briefcase before entering — it can be a crowded space to navigate and you want to be able to do so without juggling all of your additional luggage,” says Judith. “Also, keep in mind that some tables will be quite packed and you may want to stand and listen for a bit before moving in closer.”

Don’t… Overlook the opportunity to reciprocate.

“I always appreciated when a student offered up the name of a great museum, tasty restaurant or neighborhood to explore,” says Judith. “Hearing about places or events I wouldn’t have known about otherwise made our non-travel days more interesting and memorable.”

Adds Jessica: “I’ll never forget when our MBA program brochures failed to arrive at an UCLA Anderson event I led in San Francisco. One attendee who happened to arrive early searched for half an hour trying to locate the missing brochures, and then proceeded to help me troubleshoot the AV equipment. I never forgot how helpful he was, and was thrilled when he was admitted and matriculated into Anderson. He went on to be an amazing part of the community, both as a student and alum.”


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