It has been a while since my last entry, but not for lack of content. We left off in December, just before Winter Break, which incidentally was just what the doctor ordered. Everyone managed to unwind and rejuvenate themselves for the impending winter quarter. Many Booth students embarked on Treks (WestQuest, MinneQuest, Brand Week, Bank Week, to name a few) in pursuit of additional companies and contacts to aid their internship search in non-Chicago geographies. Some students left for exotic, warm-weather locales, while others ventured to Whistler for a week on the slopes. In one way or another, most of us spent the break (and holiday season) with family and friends, both those from school and those from our former lives.
It Started With a Bang
After this much-needed break, everyone returned with gusto, ready to tackle what would prove to be the busiest and most intense quarter yet: recruiting. For us "first years," we also returned with one quarter under our belts, a more focused sense of what we want out of these next two years, and an idea of just what it takes to succeed. We also had developed relationships that would prove incredibly important in the coming weeks. We were determined to stay on top of class work and to juggle networking, socializing, and recruiting in tandem. We were also busy writing applications to become club co-chairs and student leaders. 'Twas the season for New Year's resolutions, and scoring a coveted seat in the Nerdery (the nickname some of us affectionately coined for our study lounge) was the business school equivalent of finding a vacant treadmill at the gym.
School was abuzz with energy, excitement, uncertainty, and hope. It was also full of a sense of community. Like a well-oiled machine, we worked in unison, each doing our part to help one another prepare for recruiting. Career Services hosted mock interviews and feedback sessions, second-year students devoted endless hours discussing their summer internships and insights, providing case-prep and "fit" feedback. Professors hosted special sessions that condensed one course's material into a 90-minute overview session. We organized ourselves into case-prep groups and one-off sessions with peers to practice cases, to share insights about different companies, and to bounce bidding techniques and interview strategies off one another. For the consultants, companies that had invited us to interview hosted case-prep sessions, as well.
The anticipation and preparation held true for each career focus. I-bankers prepped for their technicals. The marketers walked aisles of local stores in search of merchandising insights, researched consumer trends, and dissected Super Bowl ads for hidden meanings and branding messages. And operations students met with professors to equip themselves with function and industry-specific information. Our sights were all set on the same goal: scoring summer internships.
Moment of Truth: Interviews
It was the third week of January, and the bankers were first at bat. After one short (and very intense) week, some would emerge with highly coveted offers, and others would head back to the drawing board. The consultants were next. After months of preparation (and anxiety), it all came down to a few short weeks. First-round interviews were typically two back-to-back 45-minute sessions, each composed of a short "fit" portion followed by a case. Later that evening, after interviews with hosts of students, the calls would come in. Inevitably, for every invitation to a second-round interview, you got a "ding" (or two) from another company. Few escaped unscathed. Never had any of us applied to so many things (clubs, student groups, companies) in such a short period of time. And therefore we had never dealt with rejection in such a steady and seemingly consistent stream. It took self-esteem, courage, good friends, and support from the Booth community at large (and sometimes a tear-filled phone call…thanks, Mom and Dad!) to take each ding in stride and continue forward on the path ahead.
We commiserated over one another's defeats. We divvied up group work to help each other through our toughest days and weeks. We motivated ourselves to get back on the horse after a painful rejection. And together we greeted each "yes" that trickled in with a cheer, even among those who were recruiting for the same position. We all knew the preparation, hard work, and (I think we'd all agree) luck that went into landing each offer.
The recession has certainly taken its toll on every sector of the economy, and business school students, I assure you, are not sheltered from the storm. Turns out companies are offering fewer internships this year, a few of them canceling their internship programs all together. Those that are still hiring (luckily, there are many of these) are being incredibly selective and risk averse in making offers, assuming that a higher percentage of people will accept, and taking calculated risks on candidates who are most likely to desire full-time employment. Career switchers, as a whole, had a particularly difficult recruiting season. Nevertheless, it's the beginning of March, and many Booth students have summer internships lined up, myself included. I am not sure what the statistics are, how we compare with last year, or how many have accepted positions in industries other than their first choice. I do know that things are not as bleak as they once seemed.
Amid all the craziness of recruiting, we found time for friends, classes, studying, weekend ski trips, case competitions, lunches in the Winter Garden, visits home, a theme party or two (my particular passion in life), winter formal, and volunteer activities.
Looking Ahead to Sunnier Skies
Finals are once again peering around the corner, and here in Chicago we seem to have escaped a succession of temperatures in the single digits. Spring is in sight, and so is next quarter. Spirits are lifted, and with the weight of recruiting (mostly) off our backs, many of us are basking in the enjoyment of the student life. We have time to devote to our classes, to get involved with activities at school (New Venture Challenge, for example), to get back to our hobbies, and perhaps most importantly, to cultivate and strengthen the friendships with classmates we've developed over the past few months. Incidentally we also have more time to daydream about Spring Break and our summer internships.
As we approach the coming months, we do so united as a class. And we do so once again with the mutual respect we have for one another, on which our relationships were built. Having just hosted the first of two annual Admit Weekends at Booth, I had the occasion to reflect on where the past year has taken me. And I once again find myself incredibly honored to be a member of the Booth Class of 2010.
For those of you who are considering your business school, I vividly remember the weight of such a decision. I recall the serendipitous sequence of events, chance encounters, in-depth conversations, analysis, research, and school visits that ultimately helped make my decision. Perhaps you are contemplating moving to a new city, applying for massive amounts of loans, and most importantly, finding the school that suits your personality, career goals, and personal life just right. I wish I could offer some pearl of wisdom to help you decide. However, once you've made your spreadsheet of pros and cons (you are a future business school student, don't act like you haven't done this) and mulled over the benefits and concerns of each particular school, I will offer you this, my time-tested method for making difficult decisions: flip a coin.
Until next time….
Ellyn Charters is a member of the University of Chicago's MBA Class of 2010 .