By Francesca Di Meglio
More than 50% of business schools that responded to the MBA Career Services Council's Spring, 2005, employment survey reported that companies were still hiring on an as-needed basis. That means more students are waiting until the spring or even summer for job offers. If you find yourself among the growing number of MBA graduates in this boat, then there are things you can do to stand out to potential employers. Here are some suggestions:
Get an early start. The company can come knocking at the last minute, but you can't. Recent just-in-time hires say that the key to their success was starting the job search before the rest of their classmates. Starting early gives you the chance to cover more ground, do additional research, and make more contacts.
"This is the last time you get to go out there and talk with as many people as possible without the boss wondering if you're looking for another job," says Robert Walker, who interviewed in April for his new job as a research analyst for Memphis' Chickasaw Capital Management, less than a month before he graduated from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Keep in mind that the lazy days of summer don't exist for MBA graduates who haven't snagged a job, says Jeff Taylor, founder and chief of the online career services mammoth Monster.com. His advice: Keep pounding the pavement during the summer, even if it's a little tougher to get in touch with decision makers, who often take vacations in July and August. You'll get more attention in the summer as opposed to the fall, when everyone starts sending out resumes again.
Strut your stuff during the school year -- and beyond. Walker offered to do research for companies that interested him during his free time, so that he could apply what he was learning in the classroom to real-life situations. In the meantime, he made contacts with industry insiders, who noted his initiative.
That may be impossible for those interested in fields where information is privileged or confidential. But getting involved in business-plan competitions or school-led research projects that put you in touch with company sponsors -- all are potential employers -- is a good way to network and show what you can bring to the table.
In the spring interviews, employers are more interested in the solid skills you could deliver from the get-go as opposed to your charm, says Jason Lioon, a 2005 Owen graduate who was hired in May as an associate in the real estate asset management department of West Wind Capital Partners in Atlanta.
Know your company of choice like the back of your hand. Career-services directors say researching a company is always important, but going the extra mile can make all the difference late in the game.
If possible, visit the company and get to know its products, services, and clients firsthand, suggests Frank Fox, executive director of the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches. For example, if you're interested in working at The Gap (GPS ) corporate headquarters, visit as many of the retail stores as you can and relay your observations in the interview.
You should also get acquainted with the people with whom you're interviewing and the leaders of the company long before your scheduled interview. Your computer should be your best buddy. "You can use the Internet for research and to network your way into a company," says Susan Joyce, president of Netability, a Web consulting and site-development company, in Marlboro, Mass.
Joyce suggests going beyond a Google (GOOG ) search and checking LinkedIn, Zoominfo.com, or even Amazon (AMZN ) to get bios and find out if any of the company's leaders have written books you should read. Knowing about the article your potential boss wrote in the Harvard Business Review two months ago will distinguish you from the others who only looked at obvious research tools like the company's annual report.
Be patient. MBAs who come across as knowing exactly what they want to do and are willing to wait for the right opportunity have an advantage anytime in the recruiting cycle, says Ken Keeley, executive director of career opportunities for the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. That's how employers know the candidate is truly interested in the position and will be loyal down the road. Passing up the first offers that come to you might actually be in your best interest. Besides, didn't your mother tell you that good things come to those who wait?
Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Fort Lee, N.J.