The #1 Student Job Search Mistake

As an Associate Director for Ross Career Services and the CEO of Break into Tech, I’ve had the privilege to work with hundreds of MBAs trying to launch tech careers. And it’s an area I’m particularly proud to support, having gone from teaching kindergarten to working at Apple, LinkedIn, and startups.

But the one thing that shocks me time and again is that 95% of MBAs make the same mistake when it comes to landing a tech job. And no, it’s not a bad CV, or a poorly written cover letter. Or even weak interview skills. Instead, it’s that most MBA of techniques:

Networking.

Yes, networking.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Networking? I’m an MBA. Networking is in my blood. My DNA spells out C-O-F-F-E-E?”

But here’s the real deal. That same confidence is a handicap. Because it blinds MBAs to just how hard and time-consuming networking is.

As evidence, allow me to submit my experience as a Ross alum working at LinkedIn:

  • Every single day during application season, I’d received at least one email from a current student who wanted to work in Silicon Valley
  • Usually, those emails started out: “Dear Jeremy, I’m XXX and I’d really like to work at LinkedIn…”
  • Eventually I’d get on the phone with these students and they’d spend the first 15 minutes of the call telling me about themselves and the last 15 minutes asking me if I could help them get a job.
  • Then, I’d never hear from them again.

On the other hand, about 2-3 times a year, the sequence would go very differently:

  • I’d get an email from a student well before application season that said: “Dear Jeremy, As a a Ross student, I was so excited to come across your profile today. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to find someone who’s walked your path. I know you must be really busy but would you ever have a few minutes to share your story with me…”
  • When I got on the phone with them, we’d spend 15 minutes talking about my experience, followed by 15 minutes of them asking me for my advice on really tricky career questions.
  • Then, they’d follow-up the next month to wish me a happy holiday or update me on campus. And they’d continue to do that each month with cool articles they found or little tidbits of school news.
  • Then, only when application season finally rolled around, would they ever ask for support during the application process.

And sure enough, about 2-3 times a year, I’d write an internal recommendation for a student, basically guaranteeing them an interview.

Now, any guesses which students I went to bat for? :)

Hopefully that illuminates two things about MBA tech recruiting:

1) Networking is incredibly important for tech, given how valued employee referrals are.

BUT

2) You’ve got to network in the right way. Which means no:

  • Waiting until application season to reach out - you need to build relationships in advance; not at the last second.
  • Focusing all the attention on yourself - you need to build a real relationship; not just a transaction.
  • One shot networking - you need to build a relationship over time; not in a single phone call.

So consider yourself warned. Yes, networking is critical to your success. But don’t assume that, just because you’re an MBA, it’s going to be easy. Instead, make it a priority and invest the time to do it right. And then you can avoid the biggest mistake of your forebears!