Do's and Don'ts of Making the Most of MBA Fairs
Posted February 20, 2018 by Stacy Blackman
- Author and President, - Stacy Blackman Consulting
For many MBA hopefuls, especially those targeting multiple programs and/or coming from abroad, a campus visit can be a real challenge during the application phase. The prohibitive expense of air travel and lodging, or the time off from work required, means these candidates must turn to other sources to fill in the blanks as they decide on which programs to target.
Many business schools participate in MBA fairs around the world each year, so plan on attending the event nearest you in order to meet admissions officers and alumni and to gain valuable application advice. If you want to successfully navigate this rewarding MBA networking opportunity, follow these simple guidelines.
Don’t ask questions already answered in the school’s FAQ section. The most egregious fair faux pas is asking for basic information already listed on the program's website, such as class size, deadlines, or average test scores. Ask unique questions to leave a lasting impression. You won’t have a lot of time when meeting admissions officers, so consider focusing on areas specific to your application—your work experience and post-MBA goals, or any potential red flags, such as work experience gaps or glitches or a low GPA—in order to gauge how they might view your application package. Candidates should also use this opportunity to find out what resources the school provides to assist during their job search after achieving their MBA, such as alumni networks and corporate contacts.
Do bring a resume, ideally one already formatted for the business school application. The reader of your MBA resume has different expectations than the person hiring you for an investment banking job or an engineering position. Rather than focusing on specifics, admissions representatives want to see skills that are transferable to almost any industry. Revise your resume to highlight aspects considered important to an MBA program, such as examples of leadership, teamwork, or international experience. Some schools may prefer that you email them your resume after the event, so be sure to ask during your conversations.
Don’t try to meet too many schools in one visit. Try to narrow your choices down to a few business schools before attending. This allows you to focus your research and prevents you from wasting your time talking to schools that you may later find out cost too much, don’t offer your preferred electives, or expect a higher GMAT or GRE score than you can deliver.
From the admissions perspective, the most memorable candidates have obviously done their research on what their specific program has to offer, and why it’s the best fit for their career needs. Just make sure you don’t leave a memorable impression for the wrong reasons—trying to steal the limelight or making yourself the center of attention in a non-competitive group setting is a definite blunder.
Do attend the presentations and panel discussions. In addition to the meet-and-greets with admissions officials, participants can often attend free seminars covering myriad MBA issues and participate in master classes, taught by leading professors, which simulate the business school classroom experience right there at the fair. Career panels with alumni, test prep panels with GMAT experts, and specialist panels for female, military, or minority applicants can give you a deeper understanding of the MBA experience at the schools that interest you.
Don’t wear jeans. First impressions count, so put your best foot forward—that means no flip-flops. Most attendees opt for business casual, and a smaller subset will be dressed as you would for a job interview.
Do have your “elevator pitch” ready to share with admissions and alumni. In this 60-second speech about yourself, you’ll convey who you are, what motivates you, your passions, why you want an MBA, and what professional goals the degree will help you reach. Practice your MBA elevator pitch with friends and family to ensure you sound conversational, authentic, and, most of all, memorable to a member of the admissions team. These folks want to assess whether you would be an enthusiastic contributor to their program, and ultimately a competitive candidate during recruiting season and post-graduation.
MBA fairs offer prospective business school students a terrific opportunity to encounter several interesting options in one location. You’ll learn first-hand about campus life, the faculty’s teaching style, expectations of students, the types of careers alumni pursue post-graduation, and more.
Keep an open mind, learn all you can, and let the schools impress you—you may be surprised to discover that an MBA program barely on your radar before has suddenly become a front-runner. The more you know about the elements you believe to be an important part of the business school experience, the better chance you have of whittling down your list of programs to the ones that more closely match your personal career goals.
Stacy Blackman is the author of The MBA Application Roadmap and the president of Stacy Blackman Consulting.