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7 Tips to Succeed at an MBA Career Conference (like NSHMBA)

by Stephen Griffiths Tuesday, November 25, 2014

With hundreds of top employers in one place, an MBA Career conference can be a great way to find a job as an MBA student. In this post, I will share the seven things I wish I had known before going to the large NSHMBA career conference in Philadelphia this semester. Before getting to the tips, I will also share some background on MBA career conferences in general.

What is an MBA Career Conference?

MBA career conferences began several decades ago as a way for companies to recruit top MBA candidates from diverse backgrounds. NSHMBA (the National Society of Hispanic MBA’s) and NBMBAA (the National Black MBA Association) began as platforms to attract Latino and African American candidates. Nowadays, these two conferences remain the largest (think hundreds of employers and over five thousand job seekers) and allow candidates from all ethnic backgrounds to attend. There are many other career conferences for MBA students that are smaller, but are more focused on only inviting candidates with diverse backgrounds. For instance, there is a MBA Veterans conference for those who have served in the U.S. Military, the Reaching Out conference for the LGBTQ community, and Women’s MBA conference. Although these conferences can be more selective (they require proof that you have affiliation with the LGBTQ community or have served in the military etc.) the basic idea is the same: a number of employers set up booths in a large hall where they screen resumes and interview for internships and full-time jobs. The following tips should help you make the most of an MBA career conference.

Tip #1: Make sure that attending an MBA conference is right for you. Before buying a plane ticket and making hotel reservations for a conference, make sure that attending an MBA conference makes sense. Here are a couple of items to consider. 1) Are your target companies hiring at the conference? Almost all conferences allow you to look at a list of participating companies before you decide to attend. 2) What is on-campus recruiting like? Most top 15 MBA programs (think Michigan, Kellogg, and Stanford etc.) have such strong on-campus recruiting that there is no need to spend time and money to attend an MBA career conference. Similarly, the A.C. Nielsen Center at Wisconsin has strong enough on-campus recruiting that it doesn’t make sense to send people to conferences, especially in the first year. 3) If you are focusing on marketing, finance, HR or supply chain then these conferences will be especially relevant.

Tip #2: Research and apply to companies well before you get there. For each company that you are interested in, make sure you know 1) the locations of the different offices 2) the type of products they offer and 3) why you prefer that company to other companies in that industry. Ideally, try to speak with alumni or others who currently work at that company. Name dropping at NSHMBA shows that you are well connected and much more serious about the position than other candidates. Also, many companies allow you to apply to positions online several weeks before the conference starts. Make sure to apply early as many interview spots will be filled, even before the conference begins!

Tip #3: Visit your top companies as soon as the conference opens. Once the conference opens, go to the company that you 1) know is interviewing for a role you are interested in and 2) you do not have access to through your alumni network. Time is of the essence since many companies fill up all of their interview slots on the first day, sometimes within the first three hours of the conference. You don’t want to be the person who visited a less important company first, only to discover that your favorite company has already filled their interview spots and cannot consider you.


Tip #4: Keep your elevator pitch to less than 30 seconds. No one has time to listen to a 1 minute elevator pitch: try 15-30 seconds. Basically just say 1) Name 2) 1st or 2nd year MBA student 3) one relevant fact (either past internship, work experience or personal connection to the company) and 4) the role you are looking for. For instance, you could say, “I’m Stephen Griffiths, a 2nd year at the University of Wisconsin. I recently finished an internship at Procter & Gamble and am interested in a full-time Consumer Insights role at your company.”

Tip #5: Focus on networking, not just interviews. Although interviews are important, don’t stop there. Even if a company fills up its interview slots, try to meet the HR recruiting manager or someone who works in your function. Share information, make sure they remember you and then link with them on LinkedIn. If other jobs open up in the future, these contacts will be invaluable in helping pass along your resume to decision makers. I received an interview with the director of my function by simply following up with an HR contact from the NSHMBA career conference—I’m glad that I didn’t give up just because they weren’t interviewing for my position at the time!

Tip #6: Go to information sessions, they are golden networking opportunities. In addition to standing in line and speaking with representatives at each booth, some companies choose to hold an hour-long informational session during the conference as well. These sessions share important company information that you should know for future interviews. Not only do you learn more about the company when you attend an information session, but you have the chance to network and have good face time after the info session. As an added plus, ask intelligent questions during the info session and you will be amazed how recruiters will remember you. The amount of face time that you get at these info sessions is much better than meeting a recruiter for 30-seconds at one of the career booths.

Tip #7: Don’t give up if at first rejected. Sometimes you need to visit a booth multiple times to get the right response. A friend was rejected online when he applied, but then he went up to the booth and got a first round interview. I went to several booths where I was at first easily dismissed. I came back several hours later and spoke with a different individual who valued my background and was then willing to link with me on LinkedIn and tell me how best to apply to the company.  


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