While you will always be a General after leaving W&L, you’ll have a few other labels slapped on over the years. Down the road people may think of you more in terms of your graduate education or last job. However others may label you, don’t forget your W&L roots in recruiting over the years.
When I interviewed MBAs for a big consulting company, I noted that W&L students and graduates consistently rose above others during recruiting. While I’ve found W&L graduates to have technical skills and smarts with the best of them, it’s W&L students’ social skills and, frankly, manners that differentiate them. Here I share some reminders of how basic W&L manners will help distinguish you years down the road when you’re thrown in a recruiting pool with folks from all over.
Don’t mob the recruiter. A typical and ridiculous part of recruiting is the time right after a recruiter’s presentation. Some students seem to think the best way to get a job is to make sure they talk to the recruiter the moment after the discussion breaks. Predictably, 10% of the people in the room go to ask fake questions and form a semi-circle around the person in a strange effort to get their face in front of the recruiter’s. This is a mistake as students aren’t very impactful at this moment – it’s very difficult for a recruiter to have any meaningful conversation when mobbed. And if you step back, it’s just a bit odd. I’m sure there are some narcissist recruiters out there who like the attention – but most are annoyed. This doesn’t mean never approach a recruiter after a presentation – but do it when you have a genuine question, and be careful about your timing.
Treat your classmates with respect. If you do find yourself in a mob scene, don’t cut off other students or push ahead to get in front. You think I’m joking, but this is almost commonplace in MBA recruiting. While that may fly in some industries, it definitely doesn’t in consulting. Two students caught my eye in these situations – one introduced me to someone else and had a genuine point on why I should talk to the other student. The other offered to help out afterwards. In my mind, I’m flashing forward one year, and thinking that these students are going to be good team players.
I don’t want to hear an elevator speech. Would you ever walk up to someone at Fancy Dress and just start telling them about why you are at the party? Probably not. So don’t do that at recruiting social events either. Most of the folks who go back to campus do it because they want to reconnect with students, take a break from their day-to-day work, and help make sure the firm brings in people they want on their teams. It’s a bit of break for these people, so don’t just walk up to someone and tell them your academic and professional history.
An example – a few years ago on a sunny Saturday, I arrived at a school’s MBA tailgate recruiting event with my wife. Only moments after walking up to the party, I had a student get in my face about why I should give him a consulting job. My wife was dumbfounded. A few minutes later, another student approached us and asked if I wanted to join him to grab a beer. I jumped on the escape opportunity, and that student, my wife, and I talked for a good twenty minutes about football, college, and what it’s like to be a management consultant. The lesson? When people arrive at social events, be, well…social.
Small talk is fine. And normal. When you approach someone who will influence you getting a job, start off by saying hello. Ask them how their trip was, if they’re enjoying your campus. Just give them a chance to speak a bit. For those of you who can’t let a networking opportunity pass, think about this: in the process, you may just learn what makes this person tick, and that’ll help you tweak your pitch.
Ask sincere questions. We can tell right away when students are asking questions to which they don’t really care to know the answer, just to get in front of you. Don’t waste your time or the recruiters’.
Have an “ask” for one-on-one meetings and don’t bait-and-switch. An “ask” is something I learned in my years of consulting. It’s a pretty simple idea – don’t ask for a meeting without a clear objective – something you can ask for and the other party can grant you. This doesn’t have to be complicated – perhaps you want resume feedback from someone in the industry – it’s okay to ask for that. In the process, you’ll make a deeper contact, but it’s important you just don’t show up and ask silly questions.
I’ve also had a number of these meetings in which students set up meetings explaining they want to learn from my career experiences, only to find out a few minutes into the meeting that what they really want to do is launch a half-baked sales pitch to get a job. W&L grads will almost always provide you advice, but we can’t necessarily get you a job, and we may not even want to recommend you based solely on a simple conversation (sorry to be so honest, but it’s true).
Above all keep it simple. Recruiting and networking really come down to a lot of common sense and manners. Unfortunately, students can forget this when others overemphasize the need to aggressively make connections. I personally can’t stand the use of the word network as a verb because it makes me think of classmates who maniacally called every person they could find in a company, without a clear purpose, and without respecting the call recipients’ time. Remember: one or two strong connections will do a lot more for you fifteen random calls. You should get something meaningful out of each call and meeting – so take the time to prepare, and remember to mind your manners as you would in Lexington.
Ryan is an Associate Partner at Satory Global, a start-up consulting firm that was #233 on last year’s Inc. 500 Fastest Growing American Companies. A career consultant, Ryan has completed casework in a multitude of industries spanning creative agencies, financial services, and rockets and satellites, while working for A.T. Kearney, BearingPoint, and Arthur Andersen. Ryan took a two-year break from consulting to get an MBA from UVA, where he reconnected with Jann Rhea, also W&L ’99. The two, now married, live outside of DC in Cabin John, MD, with their daughter, and a whole bunch of pets.
Remember to update your information in Colonnade Connections and check out when the next local chapter event is happening in your area. If you'd like to write an Alumni Perspective please contact Ryan Catherwood (email@example.com). Please make a comment and share this Alumni Perspective on your social media channels. #wlunetwork on twitter.