Student Job Searches: Amy Achiever’s Traditional Search

Holy unplanned hiatus! Summer and family took its enjoyable toll, but I’m back and writing for Fall.

As promised, I’ve built a few composite examples of student job searchers to share some good (and bad) practices for several of the scenarios laid out in my last post. I’m assuming an “average” job market and use an MBA/b-school context. For an undergrad in each profile, simply take out years of work experience and substitute comparable internships.

I’ll start with “traditional search” template candidate Amy Achiever  this time and cover Steve Striver and “off-road” candidate profiles in future posts.

Traditional Search / Template Candidate: Amy Achiever

Profile: Amy is 28. Her 3.95 GPA at an elite university, coupled with 4 years in Finance at a well respected firm makes her a sought after candidate. She’s great with numbers and has great “presence” (a combination of personality and communication skills). She’s also financially flexible as she pursues offers because of her scholarship.

Situation: Most traditional recruiters will want to meet Amy. Several may have seen her resume and sought her out without her even expressing interest. Invitations to information sessions, first round interviews and other events will be easy to obtain.

Key Challenges:

1 – Desirability – This may not sound like a challenge, but being highly sought after can be (counter-intuitively) problematic. You have a lot of potential opportunities that may be quite different to decide on in short period of time.

2 – Timing – The “traditional” recruiters (in most fields) make their decisions at about the same time and faster than many students believe coming in to school. If you want the plum Finance or Consulting internship, many firms are hiring interns earlier than ever before and the intern pool is their primary full-time source. Thus, you may start your MBA in September and be making important decisions by November.

3 – Knowing what you want – Are you coming to school with a clear path in mind or are you coming to “figure things out”? The closer you are to knowing what you want, the more efficient you can be. It’s OK to pursue more than one path, but in the end you have to decide on one. If you are genuinely torn between equally compelling options, I urge people to go for the option that is either harder to get or better branded. That leaves more “optionality” in the future, but it shouldn’t trump a strong preference.

4 – Outcompeting – You may be a desirable candidate, but are you “in it to win it?” (sorry Randy Jackson). Only so many people actually get the offer, regardless of their desirability.

Potential Pitfalls:  

1 – Path of least resistance – Because you don’t have to work that hard for good opportunities, you may not explore as hard as you might have. When you already have something good, the motivation to push hard on things with low probabilities can wane. $125K from a consulting firm is awesome. How badly do you really want to be at Facebook when you only have a few weeks to decide on an offer in hand? So really dig in on interests and don’t lose energy.

2 – Timing – Because so many traditional offers come in a narrow time window, you need to be all over any non-traditional opportunities you are pursuing. The offers may not come at the same time, so you’ll have a “bird in hand” challenge. It’s hard to turn down a great offer for undefined possibilities. As companies get more aggressive to compete for talent and lock it down, there are more “exploding offers” (offers with hard and early expiration dates).  I have had students do it, but it’s emotionally and financially challenging).

3 – Believing the hype – You still have to deliver in interviews and make the final cut. There’s a big difference between making the first round, second round and getting an offer. At 3M SBD, we’d get ~1000 resumes to do ~240 1st round interviews, bring ~45 in for final rounds to make ~15 offers. The 15 were prepared for the entire process. The differences at the final hurdle are subtle. All candidates are “qualified”. How do you distinguish yourself in a distinguished pool?

Best Approach:

Prior to school starting:

In a perfect world, Amy comes into school with a clear idea of several areas of interest based on solid preliminary research. These could be functional, industry, geographical or other potential criteria. But something to narrow the list from the start. This is easy to do. Your career center will have resources they can point you to before you ever show up. So read and reflect on your interests, skills and needs. Make some time to network target industries before school starts.

As school starts:

In the first weeks and months of school you have 3 equally important career search threads to work through (while maintaining your expected high GPA).

First, continuing to explore your interests. Attend career sessions, panel discussions, conferences…anything you can that helps you with perspective. At most schools (regardless of discipline), traditional employers are present and there are well worn paths to orienting yourself. Just pay attention, be active and this should take care of itself.

Next, you have to start building your personal narrative. This includes both form (or HOW you talk about yourself) and content (the choices you make early in school to signal your interests). So, are you talking about yourself the way recruiters in your preferred area talk about candidates? More importantly initially, are you choosing classes and activities that align clearly with your stated interests?

Finally, you need to develop into a well-oiled interviewing machine. Take every opportunity for feedback on resume, practice interviews etc. As I mention above, you may look great on paper, but you need to confirm people’s positive impression and then outcompete other strong candidates.

As Internship search heats up (Fall into Spring)

Start tracking and reading the literature in your chosen area (ex: Journals, WSJ, trade magazines, blogs etc.) to demonstrate passion, commitment and knowledge.

Determine formal slate of targets and actively network and explore. Students have several inherent advantages; everyone knows you’re looking for a job, you share a common bond with many alumni who are interested in helping you, you have a more flexible schedule than many professionals etc. So take advantage of them.

Make sure to understand (and document) targets’ hiring process, timelines etc. Believe it or not, I have had top students miss application deadlines or other entirely avoidable mistakes. Don’t become a cautionary tale.

Interviewing and Summer Internships I have talked about these before here:

Interviewing / Summer Internships

Second year search for full time position

You return to campus in early Fall, internships completed and (hopefully) with offer in hand. Much of the advice is that same as during the internship search, but with a few twists.

The first twist is that for attractive candidates with good internships, most conventional recruiting is basically done by November. National firms with prestigious programs will complete MOST of their hiring from intern pools. They’ll then swarm on campus to fill in gaps based on need while there are still candidates they like around. Then it’s over. In 2008-9 this varied as hiring was waayyy down, but it’s the case for “normal” markets. So you have to hit it hard, early and with a plan.

Another important twist is that this time through the process, you hopefully have an offer in hand. If so, this means you have a baseline offer and can focus time only on what seems more interesting to you. For many, they can target 1 or 2 firms and be satisfied. Many won’t even look beyond their offer if it’s a knockout and they like the firm. This is a big blessing and hugely narrows your search costs.

Note how much space this opens up for other candidates. Some of the “best” candidates are off the market. It’s like a sports draft. You draft differently in the 4th round than in the 1st. There may still be great value, but candidates in this tier aren’t “perfect” (ie: scores, grades, school, experience etc.) So you can talk your way into great positions. Be sure to find out if any firms handled their summer internships poorly. They will be more hard pressed to hire in Fall for full time and represent a great opportunity for candidates.

Because you now have a summer at a firm under your belt, you also know more. You can use this learning to more effectively target (or re-think) your search. For me, a summer CPG/Brand Management internship helped me cross it off the list. “Consulting, here I come!”

If your search continues into Spring, no worries. There are many firms that don’t have full fledged recruiting engines. They will tend to hire to need and closer to actual start dates. So February thru May can yield some wonderful positions. But these will be a bit more opportunistic and you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears open.


Student Search series: Student Job Searches / Amy Achiever’s Traditional Search / Steve Striver’s Traditional Search / Bridget Blazer’s Off-road Search

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