The Career Forum is IESE's flagship career event organized by the Career Services team that takes place bi-annually. In February, over 30 hiring companies from diverse sectors came to our Barcelona campus. Our MBA students got a chance to interact with company representatives and learn more about potential opportunities at Nestle, Eli Lilly, Volkswagen, Raisin among many others. Second year student Gelvin Velasco, MBA 2018 shares his strategy to better navigate this event.
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States
I believe that nothing hits closer to the truth because attending a Career Forum, whether you are looking for an internship or a full-time job, requires effort and strategy. The Career Forum is just one of the many venues you can take advantage in school to determine your next path, the next chapter of your own story. A lot has changed since the day we had our first internship during our undergraduate years. Today the job market is tougher. We compete and are easily compared, through available information in the web, with other MBA students all over the world. Our skills go under deeper scrutiny to determine expertise, experience, and company fit. Many companies utilize online and internal applications system to determine if talents within the companies already fulfil the needs of the moment. Companies are not merely looking for people with MBAs. Companies are looking for high calibre talents who can deliver a broader positive impact to the organization in key leadership or decision-making roles in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) reality. Just like the MBA admissions, to prove that we are worthy of that offer lies in our hands. I am not an expert, but I have learned five things that help me prepare and navigate career forums better without driving myself to the ground.
1. Focus on your goals and own your story
“I have 3 interviews coming up, how about you?”
The number of interviews is just one of the most frequently talked metrics before, during and after a Career Forum event. Bear in mind that this metric does not give you the full picture. It may be that your classmate has applied to every possible, available position everywhere and got invited for an interview. While in your case, you were more cautious in submitting applications to companies and positions you truly liked, a list that is surely shorter than that of your friend. Both approaches can work but I realized that instead of spreading my efforts thinly on a hodgepodge of positions and companies, I always go back to my own story and my goal. I examine what makes best and practical sense given my entire experiences which we have documented in our CVs. This helps me approach each Career Forum with a certain level of realistic expectations and helps me explore better the opportunities of different companies and industry trends. Every question I have for the recruiters allow me to determine which one is my priority amongst the impossible triad (e.g. geography, industry, role).
2. Be a team player.
“Do you have a particular question? Would you like to team up?”
I always ask these questions to the next person in the line or to a friend nearby before approaching a booth or stepping inside a room for the company presentations. Simply viewing a Career Forum as a competitive environment because of the need to impress the recruiters is adding unnecessary stress to an already busy day or, even worse, a busy week. Don’t force yourself to come up with five intelligent questions or topics to discuss. No doubt you can but you also risk the annoyance of everyone around you. You also use up all your time memorizing data and information that your recruiters probably know better than you or does not interest them at all. Instead be a team player and build on each other’s questions to create a smooth flowing conversation in the group. Invite other classmates hovering around if you feel that they also want to ask a question. If a classmate knows more about the industry than you, rest assured that his or her question will be more insightful for the whole group. Set a personal time limit to your own air time. Professional recruiters have seen all kinds and types of MBA students around the world, hardly anything surprises them. Most have a general knowledge of the typical MBA profile. Showing them a solid team spirit during a Career Forum delivers a more lasting positive first impression and puts a bright spotlight to your own quiet confidence.
3. Engage your target company with a personal story that demonstrates company fit
“We have seen good growth for many years for your company, how did you achieve this?”
The recruiter’s brow connected in a split-second followed by a quick smile, and a two-word reply, “Hard work!” Now that’s a perfect conversation ender. At the very least, you will have to be very quick to come up with a better follow through question before the recruiters turns his or her head to entertain the next person. I have learned that the best approach is to start with a specific attribute of the company that struck me and how it resonates with my experience. This can be a personal experience you have had with their product or service, something you have read in the news, a case you had in class, there are many ways. Whatever the story will be, choose one that shows your fit to the company, makes you interesting to converse with, and your potential to thrive in the organization. Avoid talking like a walking Wikipedia or sounding like a podcast of their annual report. Truly enjoy the conversation, remember the name of the person in front of you, create a professional rapport, and do not start with a humble brag. Approach a company, even the ones you don’t know about, with openness and sincerity to learn more. Bear in mind that engaging companies require each one of us to be genuine and humble when we knock on their doors.
4. Establish the connection at that very moment
“Can I get your business card?”
I used to ask this question a lot but then I realized that it’s not the most efficient strategy to establish a follow through. It seems that it is more effective to ask the recruiter if I can add her or him in my professional connections through LinkedIn. I also mentally remember this detail and I send a quick message as a follow through once the event is over. I have learned that this method works well especially if you are dealing with start-ups and entrepreneurs. Even for more established companies, you often will receive an acceptance in LinkedIn and gives you the opportunity to reach out once again when the right time comes. I also write a little note to myself about certain points in the conversation that the company seems to be more interested and excited to talk about. It helps me in crafting my cover letter. Nevertheless, still graciously request for a business card (e.g. as a backup) and give yours in return.
5. Find time to debrief yourself
“What is your impression of this company?”
This is an interesting question after the Career Forum because it gives me a chance to learn and listen to the impressions of my classmates. It gives me the opportunity to verify some of my initial impressions while other comments give me a different perspective that I probably missed during the day. If you have a classmate who worked previously for an industry or company that interested you, don’t hesitate to reach out to them to discuss their own experiences or to clarify some of your impressions. Take time to debrief your own self. Determine what you liked most, and what you liked least. In my case, I find myself not entirely sure of what I want when confronted with a barrage of options and information. Hence, I approach this experience with a clear idea of what I do not want instead. Reaching a decision to apply or not to a company or industry is beneficial because it gives me the opportunity to allocate my time to other things and aspects of the IESE MBA experience.
Lastly, always remember that a Career Forum is a setting where organizations and potential recruits meet to determine future possibilities in the organization. As an MBA student, I believe that the Career Forum is a special opportunity to clear the jungle and create a clear path ahead. I encourage you to go in and walk forward.