Sep 252014
 

It turns out that one of the hardest transitions to make when starting the full-time MBA program is from working professional to unemployed student. The majority of my classmates bring with them five to ten years of professional experience when they start the full-time University of Maryland Smith School of Business MBA program, yet we all begin on the same playing field on the first day of class: unemployed and hungry for a summer internship. It is a humbling, intimidating and motivating experience.

Luckily, the Smith School places extraordinary attention on the internship and career process. This is evidenced by the University of Maryland Smith School Office of Career Services’ top-2 BusinessWeek ranking, and the level of support and guidance provided to MBA students. Not a single day passes without some career-related activity occurring on campus, from industry panels to career coach meetings to mock alumni interviews. You are the driver of your own career journey, but your passengers are a dedicated team of professionals with the background, resources, connections and experience to guide you to your destination.

This is evident at the numerous national career fairs such as the National Black MBA Association Conference and the National Society of Hispanic MBA Conference.  As a first-time attendee, I was blown away by the energy, the number and prestige of the opportunities, and the level of competition. These career fairs are attended by thousands of top MBA students and recent graduates who are eager to connect with the best companies hiring exceptional MBA talent. Hundreds of organizations, such as Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, IBM and Bank of America, have employees and recruiters on site to meet talented individuals.

The career fair at the National Black MBA Association Conference features top companies recruiting MBA talent.

The career fair at the National Black MBA Association Conference features top companies recruiting MBA talent.

The typical career fair process goes as follows: Students wait in line at their favorite company’s booth to speak to a recruiter. Then the student has approximately one minute to pitch the recruiter as to why he or she should be considered for a specific job or internship. The recruiter may review the student’s resume and ask several screening questions. If the recruiter is impressed, he or she will schedule the student to interview on-site at the conference.  If that interview goes well, the student may do a second round interview on-site or may be invited for a final round that occurs several weeks after the conference. In addition, companies hold evening receptions where candidates and recruiters network over cocktails and dinner. The opportunities for you to make a good impression on the right people are overwhelmingly numerous.

As I’m sure you can imagine, the entire experience is exciting, exhausting and emotional. You have to handle feedback and rejection well, and not be afraid to put yourself out there. You have to be your own best advocate. And you must do your homework on the companies and the opportunities in order to have a chance at an interview.

Smith Career Coaches are on-site to help with interviewing, researching companies and facilitating connections.

Smith Career Coaches are on-site to help with interviewing, researching companies and facilitating connections.

The best part is that you are not alone. The Smith School Office of Career Services is on-site at the conference meeting recruiters, learning of opportunities, facilitating meetings between Smith students and alums, helping you practice your elevator pitches and actively preparing you for interviews. Your classmates in attendance share information from their experiences with companies, role play behavioral interview questions, and provide words of encouragement before you head in for an interview.

Most notably, the Smith School community is so palpable during these conferences. We cheer for, encourage and support one another through the ups and downs of the career fair. It is a reminder of the reasons I chose Smith: the perfect intersection of community, competition and collaboration; a strong career services team to support my development; and a lifetime network of Terps helping Terps.

Sep 042014
 

In early August, a family member asked me what two weeks of orientation entailed, and I honestly couldn’t answer the question. Couldn’t I be “orientated” in a day or two? Did it really take two weeks? How could they find enough programming, activities and speakers to fill two weeks?

Sitting through two weeks of orientation after I had just had the greatest summer of my life was another issue. I got married, went on an Aruban honeymoon and then spent the last month at home working on pre-skills courses, happy and nearly unable to leave my daily cycle of pajamas and workout clothes. The idea of sitting in lecture halls in business casual attire was almost an impossible task despite my enthusiasm for the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith full-time MBA program.

It turns out that orientation surpassed my expectations (and I didn’t even miss my yoga pants).

MBA Class of 2016 competed in an epic rock-paper-scissors icebreaker.

MBA Class of 2016 competed in an epic rock-paper-scissors icebreaker.

Breaking the Ice

The beginning of orientation is similar to a middle school dance. There are polite conversations and awkward silences. And then dancing. Lots of dancing. It seemed that almost every icebreaker or team building activity involved some form of awkward body movement, and I quickly learned that mutual embarrassment breeds comradery and conversations.

Several teambuilding activities required innovation, creativity and teamwork in order to complete.

Several teambuilding activities required innovation, creativity and teamwork in order to complete.

Careers and Opportunities

We heard from guest speakers from almost every department, program and resource at the Smith School. There are so many activities and opportunities available that it is almost overwhelming. If you want to start your own business, then the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is here to invest in you. If you are passionate about consulting, then you can take advantage of the numerous case study competitions in the U.S. and around the globe. If you have no idea what you want to do, then the exceptional Smith career services team is here to guide you.

A panel of notable Smith alumni discussed what they look for when interviewing job candidates.

A panel of notable Smith alumni discussed what they look for when interviewing job candidates.

Even before orientation, you begin your career development and internship search. You are required to complete several personality and skill assessments over the summer and then your results are analyzed during orientation.  For half of us, an assessment called Career Leader confirmed our initial career pursuits with a collective sigh of relief. For the other half, the results sent our career search into a complete tailspin. It was not uncommon that the exact career someone entered business school to pursue was at the bottom of their recommended career list. This startling revelation, although unnerving, is incredibly helpful to have during orientation before significant time and resources are invested in pursuing a career that may end up not being a good long-term fit.

Leadership and … NASA?

So many cool things happened at orientation, but one item really stood out. You begin the fall course Leadership and Teamwork during orientation. During a session on team dynamics, we role played the management team that was responsible for the disastrous 2003 NASA Columbia mission using real NASA documents, emails and meeting transcripts. When we reunited to hold a broader class discussion about what NASA should have done differently, our professor Dr. Neta Moye had a surprise for us.

NASA’s Ed Rodgers surprised the MBA Class of 2016 by leading an in-person debrief of the 2003 NASA Columbia case study.

NASA’s Ed Rodgers surprised the MBA Class of 2016 by leading an in-person debrief of the 2003 NASA Columbia case study.

She invited Ed Rogers, Chief Knowledge Office for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to join us in person to lead the discussion. She also Skyped in from NASA headquarters in Houston one of the actual NASA management team members to provide a first-person account of what really happened.  We were shocked and impressed that the Smith School went above and beyond to create this learning experience for us. It will be a memory that we all share for years to come.

In the end, orientation was a fun, valuable and necessary experience. It allowed us to meet our classmates and begin developing bonds, and provided us a chance to focus on many of the opportunities and items that can get lost once the semester begins and the homework piles up. Although I was initially skeptical about the length of orientation, I don’t think there was a thing I would have changed. I can’t wait for the challenges and surprises that lay ahead in the months to come as a full-time Smith MBA student.