Last Candidate Standing
I'll admit that I've seen my fair share of the reality TV show The Bachelor. (But I swear it's only when I stumbled upon it while channel surfing during commercial breaks of SportsCenter.) The show, in which a group of women vie for the attention of one man, is a great combination of social awkwardness and stressful situations brought on by the fact that everyone in the room is competing against each other, and they all know that someone is going to be eliminated at the end of each episode. And of course there is the drama associated with the rose ceremony at the end of each show when actual eliminations take place.
Pick any season of The Bachelor and you have a good approximation of the internship recruiting process at business school. It begins way back in September when first-years, our heads still spinning from the adjustment to business school, start to attend company briefings. This is when a team from, let's call it, Wall Street Firm X comes down to school and makes a general presentation to anyone who may have an interest in the firm. The presentations are usually pretty generic, and at the end there is time for networking, questions, and answers.
While a good idea in theory, when you think about a room of 60 to 70 eager students and a group of 7 to 10 representatives from Firm X, you end up with a rush to the stage and a mosh pit of students and bankers, each jockeying for position. It's kind of like the first Bachelor episode of the season, when each of the contestants is struggling to get her 30 seconds in front of the bachelor. Sharp elbows and prepared questions are important, and business cards are collected like little pieces of silver.
After the general presentation, Firm X will typically come back to campus a few weeks later for a casual cocktail reception or dinner. Sometimes the firm will invite a group of students it is particularly interested in; at other times the event is open to all. These events typically resemble an episode that would fall in the middle of the season of The Bachelor. The crowd has been whittled down a bit, but this just makes it more clear there are still 30 or so people vying for the four or five offers the firm will eventually make.
Like the initial company briefing, these events typically consist of an employee of an investment bank standing in a circle with six to seven students. The banker will go around the circle asking each student his "story." Each story is a 30-second recital of what the student was doing before business school, why he decided to get an MBA, and why he is interested in Firm X. Again, think of a group-outing episode of The Bachelor. You get a mix of students: Some do a good job making casual conversation in an awkward situation, some are too aggressive and clearly making Mr. Investment Banker nervous, and others are too comfortable and perhaps regale Mr. Investment Banker with tales of their exploits at the bar last night.
At this point in the process, it is important for each student to make a positive impression, because aside from personal networking and Darden's Week on Wall Street event in December (when students go to New York City and visit the offices of the firms in which they have an interest), there are limited opportunities to interact with firms before they start deciding whom to interview officially when they come back in January.
This Is Only a Test
In the investment banking industry, the entire interview process takes place during the first couple weeks after break in mid-January. Consulting and general management interviews typically take place in late January or early February. The interviews are the final phase in the pursuit of the "rose" and are as intense and as fast-paced as the rest of the recruiting process.
Students who wish to interview with Firm X can submit their résumés to the firm for review. The firm will then decide who gets an interview spot. Those chosen spend a day much like the last few Bachelor contestants—meeting the family. The family, in this case, is the rest of the recruiting team from the investment bank who comes to campus for two days of interviewing.
Typically, half the interviews the candidate goes through are "fit" interviews, during which the interviewer establishes if he could work with this person day in, day out. The other interviews are more technical in nature and are designed to test the candidate's "hard" skills and cognitive ability to succeed at the job.
After the first round, everyone keeps their cell phones close by, waiting for the follow-up call from the firm. When the call comes, it will either be good news via an invite back for the final round, or bad news—the firm will indicate that while it was a pleasure getting to know you, it's not going to take the process any further. Those invited back for a final round go through the same process the next day, and then once again wait for the phone call. While those who get offers can be found celebrating later that night, the rest can be found preparing for the process with the next firm on the list.
From my standpoint, the craziest part about the whole recruiting process is that I've never been more attractive to a potential employer, but I've also never been more stressed about landing a job. Since graduating from undergrad I have made three job switches, and each time I was able to find the job I considered to be a step forward in my career. Now, with close to a year of business school under my belt, I know more than ever that I could perform any job significantly better than before I came to Darden. Yet I have never spent so much time worrying whether or not I would be able to find something I really want to do. I think this has something to do with the pressure associated with business school (you don't want to be one of the two or three students in your class who doesn't get a summer internship) and the competitive pool in which we are all swimming.
Words of Advice
However, having now gone through the process, I would offer the following pieces of advice:
First, don't get too caught up in the stress of it. As I mentioned, the fact of the matter is, as a business student, you are many times more attractive to employers than you were before getting into business school. There are tons of opportunities out there, even in the weaker job market we are currently experiencing.
Second, when I was applying people told me it's important to know what you want to do once you graduate before you even set foot on campus. That is to say, a two-year MBA program is not where you want to go to "find your passion." I discounted this advice primarily because I'm a believer that a majority of people don't know what they want to do with their lives, even when they say they do. However, having gone through the process, I think there is some truth to that advice because once you start school, you are too busy to go to every company briefing or explore every opportunity that arises. While I don't think you need to know exactly what you want to do, you should have it narrowed down somewhat, so that with the limited time you do have you can do the necessary research and spend the time really learning about the company and industry.
While the whole process as described above can be a little overwhelming at times, it really is an effective way to get to know the people, industries, and companies that you may work with for a summer. But just like everything else since I arrived in Charlottesville, Va., seven months ago, it all happens incredibly fast—whether you are ready for it or not.
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