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How to Land the Best Post MBA Job

The career advice on this site is primarily aimed at helping current students of MBA programs get the right job upon completion of their degree. However, the information here will also be of value to those who have recently graduated or who are seeking to change careers. In addition to reading the articles on these pages, students should also consult the career advice office of their school, whether past or present.

When should MBAs start to apply?

If you are near the start of an MBA program or even of your final school year, don't start applying for specific jobs straight away --  few organizations will offer you a job to take up at a much later date. As a general rule, the end of your program should be in sight before you start applying -- organizations will want to know how you have performed in the program, as reflected in your grades and references from professors who know you. Generally, 6 months before the end of your program is about the right time to start applying.

If your school organizes recruitment "fairs," then find out when recruiters from organizations will be visiting your school and make sure you apply for any specific jobs that you are interested in before these begin.

Where should MBAs apply?

You need to research the organizations, first to identify ones that might interest you, and then to prepare for your application and any subsequent interviews.

Read the business sections of local and national papers and business magazines to find employers of interest to you. You can search job listings online, in your social or professional networking groups, or even ask your professors for advice. Don’t limit your focus to companies that are advertising job openings – many times, good jobs never get posted.

Once you have identified your target companies, it’s time for in-depth research. Familiarize yourself with the company website, and consult with a research librarian about what resources might be useful to you. Again, see if anyone in your personal or professional network is connected to the company, and also explore your school’s alumni network. You may wish to create a dossier on each company to organize your research.

Look for information including:

  • The company’s size, location and ownership
  • Its growth and profitability record
  • The professional and academic background of senior staff
  • Whether they invest in their workers and their professional development
  • Inside reports on how the company functions, including criticism
  • Who their competition is

What position should an MBA apply for?

Often you will have to decide what job, or what type of job, to apply for in the organization you have chosen. However, if you have little or no work experience, an organization may consider taking you on for some initial training before placing you in a position.

When you decided on your career path, you should have assessed your strengths and weaknesses. You want to use your strengths in the job – and they are what will help you sell yourself to the company – but you will also need to acquire new skills in each job you have, in order to strengthen those weaknesses and advance your career. So in choosing jobs to apply for, you should strike a balance between familiarity and challenge.

MBA Job Search Tips
  • Keep an eye on what the others are doing. If your classmates are all applying for jobs, don’t wait to follow suit – they’re your competition!
  • Manage your schedule. Corporate courtship can be a time-consuming process. Potential employers may expect you to meet with them several times, so try to avoid having to prep for interviews and final exams and papers at the same time. You know what your deadlines and critical times are -- external organizations don't!
  • Aim high, not low. An organization may offer you a job slightly below what you applied for -- but will rarely offer you one above.
  • Know what the job will do for you as well as what you can bring to the job
  • Understand exactly what the job involves – if necessary, ask.
  • Find out whether it is a new job or what happened to the previous person who held it.
  • Talk to people who have done this type of job before for an inside perspective.

Executive Search & MBA Recruitment Firms

If you are qualified for upper management positions (not necessarily executive level) and have a specific set of unusual, in-demand skills, you might do well to work with an executive search or headhunting firm. Many top jobs, in particular, are not advertised. Instead, recruiters often rely on word of mouth and professional networks to identify promising candidates for a job opening or new position.

Executive-search firms tend to specialize, so you should find the ones that specialize in your sector of the business world. Often they'll post job vacancies on their websites, which is a good way to gauge whether a firm is a match for you.

Leverage your connections

But if you've reached this level in your career, most likely you know people who know people, as they say. Reach out to your professional network to identify recruiting firms that do business with your targeted companies. Try to get specific contacts at these firms, as you would for a company where you're applying for a job. You can also meet headhunters at industry conferences.

Then write to your contact with a cover letter and resume, as with a job application. Unlike the job app, however, you're not discussing a specific position but rather your professional goals. Try to be as specific as possible about the kind of position you hope to obtain, and show how your experience would make you a good candidate for this type of job.

But remember, although a recruiter can be a middleman between you and a hiring company, they are not your career coach. Do not indulge in soul-searching about your career path or express any negativity -- you're still selling yourself.

How to Write Your Resume/CV

Your resume or Curriculum Vitae will be the most important document you will prepare in your search for a job - it's worth spending some time to get it right.

When writing a CV/resume, write it for a specific job and use language that they will recognize (look at their web page - look for key phrases - eg 'adding value' and use them sparingly in your resume/CV). When writing, start with an Objectives section, ie what job or type of job you seek, then put it in chronological order - most recent things first. Remember to be concise and precise and keep sections/paragraphs short. Focus on the company's needs - not yours. Say what and how you can contribute while identifying your achievements. Focus on results, not responsibilities and give specific examples - eg managed project X over Y months to achieve Z.

Resume writing guidelines-
  1. Write, or at least tailor it, for a specific job if possible.
  2. Do a draft then develop it. Show it to people and ask them what it says about you and how clearly it says it.
  3. Start early - well before the time to make applications. (Your CV will not change very much during your program - excepting that you may wish to list any electives you decide to take in your program, and you will have lots of things that must be done later).
  4. Make it a good looking document - check all spelling, grammar, syntax, layout etc. and do not use fancy designs, clipart or humor.
  5. Keep it third person - don't use 'I'.
  6. Tell it 'like it is' - don't exaggerate, lie or conceal anything, and don't be vague.
  7. The more senior the position that you are applying for - the more details you will be expected to provide.
  8. Follow any specific instructions - don't send standard CVs.
  9. Write it yourself- don't get someone else to do it for you.
  10. Always send your resume/CV with a cover letter - and be clear about the purpose of each (see section on cover letters).
  11. Give basic details of your last salary - but only if recent and relevant.
  12. If possible - put the key points at the beginning of a section.
  13. Send a top copy - not a photocopy.
  14. Differentiate yourself - don't fold and post your resume - send it in a bigger envelope.
  15. Don't list referees unless you have been asked for them.
  16. Make it action oriented - ie what you 'managed', 'developed' etc.
  17. Keep biographical/personal details to a minimum.

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Always send a cover letter with your resume. It's a chance to fill in the blanks left by your resume, and to impress the person reading it -- a recruiter or hiring manager -- with your passion, drive and abilities.

Like your resume, each cover letter should be tailored to the company and the job to which you are applying. Even if you are applying to the same type of job at several companies, every workplace is different. You need to convey your understanding of the company's goals, and how you can help them meet those goals. But while you don't want to use one standard letter for all job applications, there will doubtless be similarities among them. You just may want to alter which aspects of your experience you highlight, and add in some recent developments at the company that might be relevant. This also shows the person reading it that you genuinely are interested in this specific position.

How to write the cover letter opening, salutation and introduction

In the old days, everyone would advise you to send a cover letter and resume directly to the hiring manager, using whatever resources you could to find out his/her name and direction. This is still good advice, but many companies today request that applicants submit their resume and other documentation through the company website. In that case, you have no idea who will be reading your cover letter. Dear Hiring Manager is a good generic salutation. You should still, however, make an effort to find the specific hiring manager or recruiter for that position and email him or her directly with the text of your cover letter and your resume attached to the email.

Space is limited (a cover letter should never be more than one page, and preferably just 3-4 paragraphs), so just briefly state the job you are applying for (including the job title and a reference number, if there is one) and how you heard about it -- if you have a personal connection to the company, like a friend or former colleague working there who might speak well of you, this is the place to mention it.

To drive home the message that you would be the perfect hire for this company, scrutinize the job description. What are the key attributes or skill sets that they are looking for? Don't just parrot statements from your resume (like "I am proficient in Microsoft Powerpoint"), but describe achievements that illustrate how you fit the profile.

Conclude by thanking the hiring manager for taking the time to read your application, and say that you look forward to hearing from them. Make sure to check spelling, grammar and layout. The letter should also be in the same font as your resume.

When to Use Letters of Recommendation

At some stage you will need to give the names of some people who will provide references on you. In general you need not give the names until you are asked for them - but you do need to give some thought to the matter before you get to that stage.

References tend to be required prior to the final interview and are used as evidence in the selection decision- or after the interview, and are used as final clearance of a person who has already been selected for the job. A reference will be expected to provide different types of information depending on at what stage the information is requested.

Letters of Recommendation Guidelines and Tips-
  • Always ask a person(s) if they will act as a referee for you - never use their name without prior approval.
  • Give the person(s) details of the job you are applying for - or outline the types of jobs and the types of organization you will be applying to.
  • Give the person(s) a copy of the Resume/CV you are using.
  • Choose three or four people with different backgrounds and different relationships with you. Don't just choose personal friends. Always have at least one business referee - and if you have limited business experience - one academic one.
  • Tell them if they are to wait until they are contacted - or if you want them to write to someone now - if the latter give them full details.
  • If you know at what stage the reference is being taken up - tell the referees.
  • Try to choose people who know you, like you, and who will give adequate time to the task ( a very short reference may give a poor impression of you - irrespective of what it says).
  • Write to each referee afterwards - thank them and tell them what happened.

How to Ace the Job Interview

An interview can make or break your job application. It is essential to prepare thoroughly, including research and practice.

What to do before the interview

Learn as much as you can about the organization and its industry, the job, the previous person who held that position, and the person or people who will be interviewing you. Although you may not necessarily use all this information in the interview, it will help inform your approach.

Also, practice how you will sell yourself in the interview. Don’t assume that your interviewer will have complete control – you, too, will have the opportunity to “spin” your experience and portray yourself in a positive way. Think of your “brand” message (i.e. an innovative manager who successfully shepherds through game-changing products) and examples from your work history that support it.

Make sure to know your weak points and how to package them in a positive way – typically, as a learning experience. Perhaps you made a big mistake, but that drove you to take a different approach for the future. Also be prepared to demonstrate how you have handled difficult situations in the past – break down your anecdote into problem, solution, and result.

Prepare some questions of your own, perhaps based on your reading about recent developments at the company. You’ll also want to know the key priorities for a person in this position – and if you get the job, keep those in mind so you can effectively manage upwards.

What to do the day of the interview
  • Dress appropriately
  • Arrive on time, and preferably early
  • Treat everyone (even the receptionist) courteously
  • Be professional, but relaxed.
  • Make sure to bring several copies of your resume in a hard-sided folder.
  • Never criticize a former employer.
  • Focus on your brand, and sell, sell, sell!
  • Do not ask about salary, and try to avoid stating your preferred salary. It’s helpful to gather information, as on a salary-reporting website, on typical salaries for this role at this and other companies. If pressed, you can state a range, with the qualification that it would depend on the responsibilities of the job. Do not lie about your previous salary.

Don’t forget to follow up

Regardless of how you feel you performed on the interview, always follow up with a short note thanking your interviewer for their time. This can also be a good opportunity to follow up with an extra tidbit of information relevant to your conversation, or even fine-tune an unsatisfactory response to one of the questions from your interview.

E-mail is ubiquitous and easy, and preferred by many technology companies, but a conventional letter is more unusual in this day and age, and may help you stand out in certain sectors. Whichever method you choose, make sure to get the interviewer’s name right (asking for a business card during the interview is helpful).

Employer Tests & Assessments

Some organizations use some form of test as part of their selection process. This is more likely to be the case when many people are applying for a number of similar jobs - e.g. as Consultants, but it can be the practice in some organizations for choosing a candidate for a single job. Such tests might be concerned with assessing Skills/Abilities and Aptitudes, or Personality.

The former will most often be used to assess suitability for as particular job - they may be used to narrow down a long list of applicants. The latter can also be used to choose from between many candidates - but also to assess the match of an individual to a particular job situation - and could be used towards the end of a selection process.

Personality test rarely assess only personality but more usually managerial or leadership style, behavioral traits etc.

There are only a few situations in which preparation for a test is worthwhile. Personality test, test of managerial/leadership style, behavioral traits, etc., will show you as you are. There is no point in trying to appear different. There are no right and no wrong answers. You cannot really prepare for them.

On the other hand tests which have an intelligence component, as well as tests of numerical and verbal reasoning and some aptitude tests do have right and wrong answers -so these you can get ready for. It helps therefore to know what you might be expected to take. If you cannot find out - do some preparation in any case.

Employer Assessment Tips-
  • Try to practice some similar questions - if you know what type of test to expect (see section on Reference material for sources of questions).
  • Try to do some timed questions - unless you are familiar with this situation eg through recent exams.
  • If you are currently on an MBA program - you might ask your Occupational Psychology professor or those involved in selection for the program if they have anything you could try out.
  • Relax - e.g. get a good nights sleep beforehand.

Assessment Centers

Assessments are also used by many organizations as part of a selection process. Generally this will consist of one or more exercises or simulations. The intention will be to simulate the situation of the job or the business unless this requires industry/business specific knowledge - in which a quite different exercise may be used > Such assessments might be individual or undertaken in groups. If the latter there will usually be observers who amongst other things will be looking at your interpersonal/group related behavior.

Assessment Center Tips-
  • Try to be clear what is required in each exercise. Read any instructions carefully.
  • Try to identify what competencies each test is seeking to assess, and how you can best demonstrate them.
  • The competencies looked for in managers include, problem solving, facilitating, leadership, objective setting.
  • In group exercises, assessors are looking for a balance of such behaviors - i.e. a willingness to listen to and learn from others and also an ability to take charge and give leadership.
  • Try not to be too much of one thing and too little of another.

Negotiating the Job Offer

If you are 'in line' for or have been offered a top job - or a very distinctive one - you may find your self in a negotiating position on matters such as salary.

Here are some tips on negotiating-
  1. Decline to discus salary and conditions until the very last stages - preferably after they have said that they would like you to take the job (Say that you are sure that something mutually acceptable can be worked out - and you are happy to leave such details until later).
  2. If you are pressed - at an early stage - just give an indication of the salary range that you would expect to be the norm for such jobs - 'from your experience'. Try not to be specific - or to refer to any single figure
  3. When salary is mentioned - always say that there are other aspects of the 'package ' which are important also. If pressed, refer to incentives, contract terms etc
  4. When the time comes to fix conditions say that you would like to first 'rough out' the general terms - and not to agree specific things straight away.
  5. Have some aspects that you are quite relaxed about - that you don't intend to negotiate on - eg notice period, start date, relocation allowances, pension contributions , car etc. Try to get these discussed first - ie get off to a positive start.
  6. When it gets to the tough things - usually salary and contract period - don't make the first offer. Ask what they had in mind.
  7. Don't jump at the first offer - even if it is better than you had expected. Ask if they have any 'flexibility'. Try to move it up a bit - but be gracious and don't expect too much. Don't negotiate hard - just enough to get respect.
  8. If the offer is seriously disappointing - say so. If they don't move - say you will have to think about it and commit to getting back to them in (say) 1 week. If they ask you what you want tell them your mid-point figure.
  9. If the final offer is worse than you had wanted - but you are still interested - try to negotiate a review after 6 months and get it in writing in the offer letter.
  10. Try to remain friendly - whatever the outcome.