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 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.
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.