The Rice Report: Recruiting Lessons Learned From Our New Virtual Reality

Rice MBA Professor Jing Zhou

Coming from what most call a ‘non-traditional’ background, I felt pretty good four months into my MBA. I had gotten through core finance, accounting, economics and data. I was ready to take spring semester on and recruit.

Early on, our Career Development Office had given us the top do’s and don’ts of recruiting:

  • DO leave a spare suit in your locker for last minute networking events
  • DO perfect your story and ‘elevator pitch’
  • DO (not) forget the half-moon recruiting formation … if you know, you know.
  • DON’T be that person who overpowers the conversation
  • DON’T be late
  • DON’T awkwardly stand in the corner

We were prepped and ready to go. I spent most of my first semester testing things out — evenings at information sessions and happy hours to build up my network. Because I wasn’t recruiting for banking or consulting, I had more time to figure out the lay of the land, pick a good luck dress, and get my owl pin and trusty name tag ready. As spring semester came, I was ready to knock out the interviews. And then….a pandemic hit.


Sky, the Labrador Retriever, during class

In the span of 72 hours, we went from in-person life sitting in class to quarantine life at home. We came back from spring break on Zoom, and that was that. Life was turned upside down in an instant. I had so many questions. Would we have internships come May? Would second years graduate with the jobs they’d secured the summer before? Was this quarantine going to last two weeks, two months, six months…or longer? Did Carol Baskin kill her husband? Did the Chicago Bulls win their 6th title? There were infinite questions with few answers in sight.

What I did learn and what became increasingly clear is that we adapt, we learn, we grow and we get through it — no matter what we face. In classes, we learn about companies that adapt to change, stay agile, and move with the times. That is what we did: we adapted, we switched to online learning platforms, we connected digitally, and we grew.

But I was still a student looking for a job, and I couldn’t help but wonder was all that fall preparation for nothing? How can you do a coffee chat…without a coffee shop? How can you do an important interview from your living room with your dog snoring in the background?

Over the past six months, I’ve become a bit of a quarantine expert. To answer some of these questions, I have compiled a list of important lessons from going virtual. I have also consulted a couple of friends from Rice University: Margaret Kazibwe, Assistant Director of Admissions for Rice Business, and Tiffany Stott, Director at the Rice Business Career Development Office.

Access Granted. It’s not a new concept. The internet opens doors. It enables us to connect in ways we were never able to connect before. You can start your day with a meeting in Europe and end your day with a session in Asia. “You have access to connect with all the schools you want to connect with in ways you couldn’t before,” Ms. Kazibwe explains.

In the b-school search, many winter weekends (I did round three) were spent at various Women’s Weekends. It was a great way to connect with prospective students and see the school. At the same time, it required time off work and extra travel. Our Zoom world has allowed us to ‘visit’ schools we may not have reached in the past. According to Ms. Stott, going virtual has provided the opportunity to reconnect with alumni who can, in turn, help current students recruit.

Tiffany Stott, Director Rice Business Career Development Office

“I agree that access and leveling that geography playing field helps in a lot of ways — we were able to invite alums from across the country and globally to participate in our panels to introduce incoming students to industries.”

But Don’t Get Crazy. Yes, we have access, but we still need to be strategic and calculated. It is important to remember that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. Let this virtual switch open your blinders a bit. There is an opportunity to fill your at home recruiting days with infinite virtual coffee chats. Travelling from bank-to-bank or to the Energy Corridor and back to campus for your 12:30 class is no longer a must. Take this gift of extra time to think about where you want to be and how you are going to get there. Make sure your connections are focused and align with your overall recruiting strategy. Take our virtual world as a steppingstone, but don’t get lost and go crazy trying to connect with every person on the world wide web.

Everyone Has Home Field Advantage. Our norm has shifted from meeting a recruiter at a random Starbucks in the financial district. Neither you nor your recruiter is running around the city distracted by the parking meter. Now, you have the opportunity to be in your own space. Make sure your setup is comfortable, maybe have some notes out in case you need a quick reference. Go into your interview or coffee chat knowing the person on the other side is likely at home too. They have the luxury of being in their space as well. They haven’t spent the last three weeks in five different cities. They have more time, are likely better rested, and can give you their full attention. Always remember, you are the home team. Feel that confidence.

Treat It Like The Real Deal. Ms. Stott mentions, “Though it may seem more casual or easier, you still need to put in as much work, continue to do the networking and research, ensure lighting, mic, and other technical aspects are clear and working well.”

Katie Chung, 2nd Year MBA at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business

Take a few minutes before each call to check your tech and remember, just because you are on the computer doesn’t mean you become a robot. Physical and social cues are arguably more important in a virtual setting. You do not have the luxury of sitting across a table or desk from someone, make special note of how you come across in a virtual setting; take note of your body language, intonation, and eye contact. This attention to detail will set you apart.

Etiquette Still Exists On Zoom. No more half-moon here (thank goodness), where you and five of your recruiting friends are in a half circle formation surrounding one recruiter. But there are still things to keep in mind as you enter a virtual recruiting and networking session. This is an event for many, not just one. Save your personal questions for that one-on-one coffee chat or wait to wow the recruiter in your interview with anecdotes from your summer internship. Get dressed – all the way – from hair to shoes. You will feel the difference in confidence when you are 100% prepared. Move your speaker view so it is just under your camera, no one trusts a shifty eye. And remember that pesky mute button? We’ve all been there. By showing up prepared after your long 50-foot commute, your focus will be on the content and booking that job.

Take This Time and Get Used To The New Normal. This may be a shift that changes the way we recruit for good. Companies are beginning to see how cost effective this mode is. Become the expert now and add it to your toolkit. Zoom is not going anywhere. Ensure you understand and have accounts on the various virtual meeting platforms. Don’t get to the meeting time and realize you have to download the app. Set up your designated ‘work from home’ area, get the lighting right, and upgrade your internet if needed. Make sure you have a comfortable and supportive place to sit. Take this time to become a pro and you will have the skills, confidence, and knowledge to step into any virtual situation and wow.

Margaret Kazibwe, Assistant Director of Admissions for Rice Business

Bonus. Don’t forget to walk around, maybe even take a luxurious 5-minute walk around the block (as I sit inside a well air-conditioned room in Houston where it is currently 97o and feels like 106o). “There is a different type of fatigue that comes from looking at a screen all day,” says Ms. Kazibwe.

Gone are the days when we can attend networking fairs, and packed happy hours. Many recruiters are still figuring out how to hold these events online while still providing the same benefit. While we are all transitioning and conventions on Zoom still exist, remember to take your eyes off the screen and keep yourself in check. If you have multiple interviews or coffee chats, get up, walk around and revive yourself. Finally, I am sharing my tell-all secret here: Zoom has a feature that gives you a slight filter. Try it. You’re welcome.

If nothing else, find grace in this time. Understand that this is a new environment for everyone and just like all new things some people adapt quickly, and others find it difficult to adjust. So, lights, camera, and action!

Katie Chung is a full-time student at Rice Business, Class of 2021. She is honored to be representing Rice Business in this forum. Katie spent the first half of her career in the theatre industry performing in New York City and around the country in some shows you may know, lsuch Guys and Dolls and Cats and some you may not know, like Bunty Berman Presents… and Capone. After many years in theatre, she transitioned into marketing and field operations at SoulCycle. It was there she really began to be challenged in new ways and cultivated and developed her interest in business. When making the b-school decision, Rice just made sense: from the small class sizes, to the incredible diversity in each class, to the students and administration working together to build a strong curriculum and community. Rice Business has been an experience filled with so many new and exciting challenges. Just like this one! Here we go!

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