MBA fairs are intimidating, plain and simple. After all, they are massive, overwhelming, and complete with seemingly endless superficial conversations where you have to “sell yourself” over and over again. They usually occur after your workday, when you are already tired and hungry as it is, and you may have a coffee stain on your shirt from the morning but you didn’t have time to change clothes. You might even be tempted to dismiss the MBA fair entirely, opting for your long sought after post-work exercise class, happy hour, or a Bravo TV marathon. My challenge is this, ladies: use the below tips and tricks to walk into your next MBA fair with swag, make solid impressions when you’re there, and walk out with results.
- Schools—You should review the list of schools attending, and narrow down that list to top preference and secondary preference schools. There is typically only 1-2 hours for mingling amongst the school booths, and much of your time at the fair may be spent waiting in line to talk to recruiters. Therefore, you should have a strategy for approaching your top 3-5 schools first that you will definitely meet with before leaving, and approaching your secondary list of schools if there is time.
- Specific Questions—MBA fairs are nowhere near as formal as interviews, but similar to an interview, they are opportunities for you to ask some specific questions that you should have prepared in advance. I will never forget how mortified I was when I asked a school which semester MBA candidates typically study abroad, only to be corrected by the recruiter that the school is on the quarter system. Details like these are basic! To be your most polished self, come armed with several questions you’d like to ask specifically in advance.
Bring a Friend: Showing up to an MBA fair alone can feel like showing up to a party where you don’t know anyone. Bringing a friend to your MBA fair can help quell any nerves you may have, aid you in asking important follow-up questions if you approach schools together, and provide you with someone to discuss school impressions at the end.
Steal the Show, Politely: I really dislike when people are pushy with food, social media, or invites to forced social interactions I’d rather not attend. A close top contender for the coveted “top 3 pushiness hates” is the pushiness people seem to exhibit at MBA fairs. When you are pressed for time and want to make an impression, it can be tempting to slyly cut the line that forms when talking to recruiters at the school table, or insert yourself into someone’s conversation in a not-so-subtle manner. Just remember, recruiters are people who tend to be socially intuitive, and they are appreciative of people who approach them politely and are respectful of others’ time spent waiting. When you do get your opportunity to meet the recruiter, distinguish yourself with a friendly smile, firm handshake, and your 30-second introduction spoken in a clear and audible voice (MBA fairs can be very loud). Your introduction should be thought-out in advance but should not sound rehearsed or rushed. I have found that starting out with “I am interested in X Business School because Y” goes a long way, because it shows that you are interested in their school and are not wasting either of your time. Give them time to respond, and then ask your 1-2 questions. Please remember: this is not your opportunity to take up 15 minutes with individual questions! There are many people in line, and you can and should email your follow-up questions to the recruiter afterwards in order to be respectful of everyone’s time.
Leave with Something Tangible: I don’t mean the glossy booklets the schools give out for you to take. (Personal side note: I really think the MBA programs should ban together and consider going paperless. They are a huge cost and usage of paper; most of us toss them after reviewing once; and all of the information is provided online). Aside from obtaining the answers to your questions from recruiters at your top schools, there are three things you can walk away with:
- Invites to Events in your Area—If you live in a major city, chances are that your top schools may have receptions, panels, and information sessions with alumni and recruiters in your area. At many MBA fairs, there will be handouts with follow-on event information, or recruiters may provide you with an invitation to a future event.
- Invites to Events on Campus—In addition to getting information about when the best time is to visit campus, you may receive invitations to specific events on campus. For example, while at the Forte Forum 2012 in the Washington, DC area, the Colombia Business School recruiter notified me about the “Spotlight On” series that the MBA program puts on. This series is open to recruits, and features high-profile business individuals who speak to students and the community on campus. I most likely wouldn’t have known about this opportunity without meeting the recruiter at the fair, which in turn provided me with a more targeted time to visit campus and attend a “Spotlight On” event which appeals to me.
- Informational Interviews—Some fairs, such as at the QS MBA World Fair, offer you the opportunity to sign-up for informational interviews with school recruiters in a one-on-one setting during the week leading up to the MBA fair. While not all schools at the fair will participate in this aspect, this can still be a great opportunity to practice for your school interviews and ask broad questions that any MBA program can speak to.
Go out and rock your next fair!
I’d love to hear your feedback and questions in the comments section below.
Ashley Wells is a Strategy and Operations consultant at Deloitte. She is currently enrolled in Forte’s inaugural MBA Launch program for women. She is an MBA 2014 candidate hopeful and is excited to share her experiences and insights throughout the MBA application process. She has a degree in Political Science from The George Washington University.
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