Posted by: Francesca Di Meglio on April 21, 2009
With the economy in turmoil, many MBA graduates are finding the job search tough going. To give readers some insight into the strategies they’re pursuing and the difficulties they face, BusinessWeek has recruited four out-of-work MBAs to write about their experiences for a new feature called “The Hunt” that will appear periodically on the Getting In blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.
By Grant Garcia
Differentiation is the key to landing a job in this challenging market. In fact, differentiation has always been a critical success factor used to gain an edge when applying for jobs. With unemployment now reaching all-time highs, competition in the job market has risen to a level where only those who differentiate have a chance to stand out from the masses of qualified candidates.
I have found this particularly true in the finance industry where thousands of layoffs have flooded the market with experienced applicants. Recruiters are now looking for the extra-something that differentiates finance candidates when making interview selections. These qualities may include advanced degrees, professional certifications, or even a unique skill set or interesting hobby.
My job search tactics have always been very aggressive, and I am constantly looking for ways to differentiate myself from other candidates. Career counselors at the University of Richmond refer to my approach as the “guerilla warfare” of job hunting because I personally do everything possible to seek out opportunities, make connections, and follow-up on potential job leads. I exhaust every possible job prospect and go to great lengths to get the support of Richmond alumni currently working in the industry.
When I entered the MBA program, I wasted no time searching for valuable industry experience. I knew that gaining experience while completing my MBA would certainly be a differentiating factor when applying for full-time jobs. I sought advice from finance professors on targeting local internships, and I spent countless hours reaching out to alumni on Wall Street. By following their advice and remaining steadfast in pursing my dream, I was able to secure two excellent internship opportunities – and that was just the beginning. I also participated in a mentoring program sponsored by the Robins School where I was paired with a local executive on an equity sales and trading desk. I made a point to spend two or three days a week my first year of business school on the trading desk learning the business, assisting with projects, networking and building professional relationships. Now when interviewing and speaking with recruiters, I often refer to this experience and stress how it differentiates me from other candidates.
I’ve heard stories about MBAs who have done all sorts of outrageous things to gain the attention of recruiters. I know one student who applied to the highly competitive first-year program at the Martin Agency (a top advertising firm located in Richmond) and attached a lottery ticket to her resume. The cover letter read, “The odds that you select me for an interview are less than this being a winning ticket, but if you take the chance and scratch the ticket then you should take a chance and interview me.” As you can imagine, she got the interview and the job.
I can’t say that I have gone that far out of the box when it comes to my search for a sales and trading job. In finance recruiting I believe it’s the experience and unique personalities that differentiate job candidates, much more so than creative resume marketing. In fact, finance students are carefully coached to fit a specific candidate profile desired by large banks. That being said, I strongly believe it’s essential to differentiate yourself from other candidates in unique ways. In a recent conversation with a recruiter, I spent more time talking about my trip to the Brazilian Business School in Sao Paulo this semester and an upcoming marathon I am running, than my qualifications for the job. This was just one instance of many where my unique experiences dominated conversation with recruiters.
During my time in business school, I have learned that differentiation is a necessity in the classroom all the way to “super day” interviews. I was fortunate to have opportunities where I could grow my experiences but also find unique ways to present my story to recruiters. Navigating this job market is truly a challenge. MBAs who will be successful in securing a job this year will be those who have made the most of opportunities presented during business school and can then translate those experiences into a differentiation strategy.