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By Dominic Basulto

It is no surprise that the highest-ranked schools draw the biggest-name recruiters. It is assumed that the top students who have already passed the selection filter at, say, Harvard or Yale, are ready to assume the custom-designed post-MBA job positions that are waiting upon graduation from business school. From a cynical perspective, the MBA recruiting drive may be likened to a highly-ritualized courtship process whereby both parties (the student and the corporation) are finally joined in a mutually-advantageous relationship. The student has just tapped into a substantial future cash flow stream, while the corporation has locked up a future source of client-generating business. In this courtship process, there are three basic steps: (1) the "wining & dining" (2) the application to the corporation and (3) the corporate interview.


Prior to the on- or off-campus interviewing process, there is a series of events held at the B-schools that seek to familiarize the students with the corporate culture of the corporations. These events can range from the low-key (meeting over sandwiches in a small classroom) to the typical (multimedia presentation in a large lecture hall) to the grandiose (champagne and hors d'oeuvres at a fancy hotel). Typically, a recruiting team of 3-5 people from a corporation each of whom is usually a recent alumnus of the respective B-school, arrives on campus, the exact format of the presentation may vary. At Yale, for instance, the CEO of Procter & Gamble (a Yale alumnus) personally appeared, narrated a recruiting video, and then handed out mini boxes of Tide laundry detergent, a P&G product, to all the audience members.

At these presentations, the students are not expected to know everything, or even to ask particularly elucidating questions. Rather, the prospective employees are given a first-hand account of what exactly an MBA hire does at consulting firms, investment banks, or multinationals as well as the opportunity to schmooze with young alumni. After assimilating all this information, B-school students decide to which firms they will apply for an interview.


Most, if not all, of the top B-schools have developed close relationships with the leading employers of MBA graduates. These firms have a good idea of how many graduates they will hire from each school, with the overall number fairly constant from year to year. While some firms, such as McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, will interview literally every student from a "Top 5" school who requests an interview, it is far more likely that corporations need to be somewhat selective with whom they speak. Firms usually seek to complete the recruiting process as quickly as possible, and will announce a 1- or 2-day period when they will appear at the B-school and conduct a full day of first-round interviews.

There are two basic routes to securing an interview with a prestigious firm: the "open" interview schedule and the "closed" interview schedule. Each schedule has approximately 12 half-hour interview slots per day. The "open" interview slots are termed "open" since they are not based upon merit or talent. Students win the opportunity to speak with certain firms either through a completely random selection process or through a "competitive bidding" process, which resembles an auction. Naturally, weaker students within a B-school favor these "open" schedules. For the more competitive "closed" schedules, there is usually a recent alumnus (rather than an HR manager) at these corporations who coordinates the acceptance of resumes from the current group of students. Corporations announce the final closing date for accepting resumes, and only then begin the selection process. Students vying for one of the competitive "closed" interview slots essentially compete head-to-head with each of the other future bankers or consultants, meaning that some individuals may find themselves yielding only 1-2 (or even zero) interviews during any recruiting cycle. Obviously, it is important that the resume be impeccable and, if possible, specifically tailored to a specific firm.


Finally, after the selection of students for the interview schedules, the firms once again arrive on campus to conduct a series of 30-minute first-round interviews. For the career placement office of the B-school, this is often the busiest time of the year. Prior to the interview, students frantically besiege the career placement office for copies of "corporate literature" (annual reports, web site information, recruiting brochures) and engage in a series of prepatory "mock" interviews in order to prepare for the "real" interviews.

In large part, interviews in business school require far more preparation than expected, mostly due to the high stakes involved. It is not uncommon for students to call alumni working at the firm to obtain the latest news (gossip) prior to the interview, or to check the Bloomberg for the most recent company stock quotes. Questions asked during the interview can range from the mundane ("So why did you study finance?") to the complex ("What are the characteristics of an LBO target?") to the off-beat ("You're working on the trading floor when all the screens go blank. What do you do when a client calls for a price quote?"). Moreover, firms now are starting to favor the "case study" interview format in order to select the most successful candidates.

For the most competitive firms, the sheer volume of applicants means that the interviews proceed in a series of rounds, with first-round on-campus interviews followed by later off-campus interviews. These interviews usually occur at the firm's headquarters, although they may be held at hotels or private clubs. The most extreme example is the "Super Saturday"-type events when a bank will invite its top selections from all the leading business schools to meet at the office on a Saturday for a series of grueling interview sessions.

While the overall recruiting process may seem overly complex, or even Byzantine, in its logic, the highly-ritualized nature of the process ensures that the most prestigious firms will end up wooing the most desirable candidates, and that these high-potential candidates will likewise have a wide selection of employers. Each of the three stages of the recruiting process describred above follows a specific timeline mutually established by both the business school and corporation and is highly geared toward a transparent, competitive process.

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE (American Business and Legal Education) in Moscow. Pericles offers a full MBA advising program.

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