Women In Leadership: Highs and Lows of MBA Recruiting

‘I didn’t even get an interview.’

‘Me neither. We’ll have to try again for full-time roles.’

An almost imperceptible pause… before a third voice chimes in.

‘I got it! 8-week internship starting in June.’

Another pause.

‘…and they gave me the full-time offer too.’

Recruitment season is full of mixed emotions for MBAs. There are those who hit the jackpot immediately, landing an internship and a full-time job offer by January – just three short months after they began the programme. Watching smiles break across their faces after weeks of lingering nervousness, is heart-warming. But this isn’t the case for everyone. For January is also the month when rejection emails start to arrive in inboxes. For many in the MBA class, this signals the start of the go-again, the creeping realisation that plan B needs to materialise, an unwelcome new take on the dark depths of ‘January Blues’.

Jemima Maunder-Taylor

Recruitment in the MBA world is divided into two halves. There is always-on (for roles advertised just ahead of start dates, much like the real world), and structured recruiting (for companies with graduate roles or internships specifically for MBAs). The latter refers largely to consulting and finance firms, searching around September time – a whole year ahead of start dates – for interns (year 1) and full-time roles (year 2). Structured recruiting kicks off as soon as MBAs walk through the doors on day 1 (with applications for internships due not long after). Slowly, recruitment wiggles its way into every conversation and the MBA hopefuls embark on step one of their new careers.

Everyone starts out optimistic. As fresh-faced new MBAs, the class of 2023 headed to LBS’ enormous Nuffield Hall, a high-ceiling lecture room, formerly of the Royal College of Obstetricians. We’d been instructed to print 5 copies of our CVs to carry out a Careers Centre’s workshop on day two of orientation week. They were designed to expose students to the breadth of expertise in the classroom and to cross-pollinate strong CVs. In threes, we were instructed to analyse each other’s CVs in 30 seconds, interrogate anything too technical or mysterious, and then (without looking) replay the key highlights back to the author.

I was paired with two people who could not have been more different. Prashansa was a chemical engineer. Ben had been a marine. I was a strategist from advertising. Prashansa’s CV was peppered with competency words, charting multiple qualifications through academia. Mine highlighted pitching and leading innovation. But it was Ben’s CV that stole the limelight. Clearly redacted in part, it read like the synopsis of a John Grisham novel. Missions, danger, intrigue, jeopardy…I was hooked long after the 30 seconds were up. The room felt buoyant as everyone exchanged positive pleasantries and week one was deemed a success. And no, before you ask, he has not (yet) disclosed the detail of his James Bond former life.

Then came 3 months of structured recruiting.

I didn’t go through structured recruitment. But just about everyone I know on this program flirted with MBB consulting or finance, so I had a front row seat to the show. Here’s what I learned.

London Business School Dean François Ortalo-Magné

London Business School Dean François Ortalo-Magné


Early on, there were mutterings of recruitment feeling like a lottery. This isn’t a sympathetic ploy for the rejected. It’s the truth. After spending the first term preparing the perfect cover letter and networking with existing employees, my fellow classmates expected to hear back regarding invitation to interview for summer internships…but the reality was rather surprising. Tale after tale raced around of brilliant-seeming candidates not even securing an interview. Rumours that McKinsey and Goldman Sachs were hiring fewer interns this year followed swiftly afterwards. People questioned their networking strategy. Did they underperform in coffee chats? Did they do too few? Too many? Disappointment was palpable. Comprehension, non-existent. I remember chatting with one friend, David, about his experience. A level-headed military parachutist, David wasn’t one to lose his cool. In fact, I’ve never even heard him raise his voice. But structured recruitment was enough to topple even his rock-solid composure. I spent an hour trying to revise strategy mid- term with him the day he received his rejection email – I can still hear the thunk of the keys as he tapped out his frustration on the poor unsuspecting keyboard.

I look back now, safely ensconced in my second year with structured recruitment a distant memory, and I still can’t really make sense of it. What befuddles me even more is that during second-year recruitment for  full-time roles, the reverse seemed true: everyone made it to an MBB interview. Offers for roles seemed to multiply. I’ve lost count of how many of my class members will walk the hallowed halls of MBB when they graduate. David is, as I type, sitting at his new desk at McKinsey. Perhaps this process is just the reality of applying to very competitive, prestigious firms, or perhaps those successful second time around just performed better after a year at one of the top business schools in the world. Whatever the explanation, it was heartening to see my friends finally make it to their consulting dream, even after the initial rejection.

London Business School – LBS’s Sussex Place campus in London


Case prepping is an education in and of itself, and those who master the art deserve extra academic credits. If your life hasn’t been touched by casing, it refers to practise case studies, used by consulting firms to test interview candidates’ strategy skills. Each case lasts around an hour. MBA schools recommend completing around 20 hours of case preparation before interviews. During that first term of the MBA, budding consultants offer to ‘case’ each other – each taking on the role of the interviewer for the other. Those who already work for MBB usually offer to case their peers, sometimes with cases they’ve authored themselves. This, I’m told, is common amongst BCGers. Coming to grips with casing can be tough, especially under time pressure. No time of day is too early or late for a case. Two friends, Pranav and Courtney, decided to practise a case just before the three of us were due to meet for a sushi dinner. Arriving at the restaurant, they soon realised their mistake. By the time I arrived an hour later, Pranav declared that he was ready to eat the table. The allure of a PE buyout was no match for the allure of the Californian rolls and Spicy Tuna maki gliding past.

Many trip over the casing hurdle during interviews – it’s easy to focus too much on one possible answer and miss the prompts in the question aimed at guiding you towards the right solution. Learning how to decode these prompts takes determination and a willingness to fail at it initially. Practice does make perfect – both Pranav and Courtney mastered the art and made it to MBB, sushi notwithstanding.

London Business School: MBAs outside the school’s Sammy Ofer Centre in London. Copyright Richard Moran


During recruiting, the number of impressive people with whom you’ll brush shoulders is staggering. This is partly due to LBS’ location. I’ve now sat in three different 10-week lecture series featuring the CEO of Tortilla, a fast-food lunch chain, the CEO of Sofar Sounds, partners from KKR, Rothschilds, Inflexion, and presentations in the double-digits from female VC-fund founders. Networking events, arranged by the Consulting Club or the PE / VC Club, attract huge attention because of the well-known speakers. A friend of mine, on exchange at LBS from Yale SOM, remarked in wonder at the volume of high-profile business leaders with whom we have the opportunity to network.

For diversity groups, this is a welcome boon. The Diversity clubs – the Women in Business, Out in Business and Black in Business clubs (WiB, OiB and BiB, collectively known as the DiBs) – host numerous panels and fireside chats throughout the year targeted at different student demographics. These discussions are candid, with no holds barred. Recently, I sat in on a panel of five women working in Private Equity, who were quizzed on the challenges facing women, from lifestyle to bullying to true and untrue stereotypes. The chance to hear an honest opinion from an experienced practitioner, rather than relying on second-hand account, is invaluable to MBA candidates trying to navigate difficult career choices.

As January draws to a close, I’m reminded of a snippet of wisdom from a speaker at LBS’ 2022 EQUALL Conference. Bringing together speakers from across the globe under the banner of ‘Rising Tides’, the EQUALL Conference is arranged by the Women in Business Club to promote women into leadership. This one speaker, a senior female partner in a renowned finance firm, was talking about the most defining moments of her career. ‘From the outside, people see the successes, the deals and investments you make and what became of them. But the most important lessons I learnt were from the ones that failed. That’s because it takes resilience to get through the collapse of something which consumes your life for months and months at a time’.

As I watch my fellow MBA classmates approach the end of structured recruiting season for a second time, the speaker’s words ring so very true. For anyone looking in on the MBA, the path to a top role in an industry-leading consultancy might look easy: apply, practise, intern, win an offer. But for those of us on the inside, the ups and downs are far more gruelling. Learning how to bounce back from rejection is as much of a challenge as getting your dream role. But this is probably the most important part of the job hunt. As the speaker said, ‘It’s what you learn, and how you get back up again that makes you into the force that you are’.


Jemima is a second-year MBA candidate at London Business School. She is a Forte Foundation and BK Birla scholar and Vice-President of the Entrepreneurship Club, Women in Business and Women’s Touch Ruby Club. Prior to LBS, Jemima spent 8 years in advertising and communications at AMV BBDO and challenger brand consultancy eatbigfish. Jemima worked across numerous sectors, winning a silver Cannes Lion and numerous marketing awards. Jemima is also a qualified Coral Reef Research Diver and received her MA in Classics from Queens’ College, Cambridge. She has completed the Entrepreneurship summer school and will graduate in July.


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