business

"The Extra Things" Merrill Wants

Recruiter Connie Thanasoulis says MBAs looking to land a job have to do their homework, especially about the hiring process

Connie Thanasoulis is the chief operating officer for global recruiting at Merrill Lynch (MER ), the financial management and advisory company based in New York. Before joining the firm in 2000, she served as head of university relations for Citigroup (C ) in New York for 15 years. Among investment banks like Merrill Lynch, competition for top candidates is intense, says Thanasoulis. The key to the hiring process, she adds, is for students and recruiters to build relationships early.

MBAs looking to get hired at Merrill Lynch should know about the company and its competitive environment –- and even a little something about their interviewer. Thanasoulis recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How does Merrill Lynch set itself apart from the competition?

A:

It's a race to get the earliest date for our on-campus company presentation, and we select the best managers from within the company to present. We believe that if we bring exceptional talent, we'll recruit exceptional talent. It's so ferocious out there, that if you don't bring your best people, you're going to lose.

Q: What are you looking for in an MBA?

A:

Any MBA is going to have incredible analytical skills, but we also need someone who's going to be passionate about what he or she does, who has the knowledge of the business to push us to the next level. We need someone who is creative and innovative, with good quantitative skills. We also look for someone who sees challenges as opportunities.

Q: What makes a good interview?

A:

Candidates have to have market knowledge, not only of our business but of our competitors, and how we fit in with them. To get that, they have to do their homework. They have to use Wet Feet and Vault, two services that provide competitor knowledge of different firms.

Word of mouth is the number one way that they get information. Other than that, they have to do their research, speak to their professors, talk to their peers, research everything on the Web, and read prominent business publications.

Q: What separates someone who gets an offer from someone who doesn't?

A:

MBAs come to the table with a skill set which gets them the interview. What gets them the offer are those extra things –- savvy, smarts, being able to think on their feet, relationship-building skills, how well they get to know you, their firm handshake, eye contact, and smile. It's someone who has the finesse to make you feel good about your interaction.

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