The Right Way to Ask About an MBA
– contributed by Tiffany Rowe
As a recruiter, when you see those three amazing letters on your applicant’s resume, you might be tempted to hire that candidate then and there. An MBA is certainly an outstanding qualification for many jobs: It shows interest, perseverance, and stability, at the very least, and it may indicate your applicant has valuable connections your client can take advantage of.
However, not all MBAs are created equal. To be sure that your applicant did more than show up for the final exams, you need to delve into his or her MBA program during the interview process. Here’s how.
While most students return to school to improve their footing on their desired career ladders, there is a healthy percentage, particularly among younger students, who attend grad school only to delay the inevitable entry into the real world. Typically, these MBA grads are less interested in leadership, and they might have failed to soak up any valuable lessons during their time at business school. Instead, they often spent their time partying and avoiding adult and academic responsibilities almost entirely.
Then again, applicants who spent both years of their MBA locked in the library likely aren’t ideal candidates, either. Business leaders must be adept at social interaction, as they must constantly influence and inspire their subordinates, bosses, and clients. Networking is an essential element of business school, and grads who failed to participate in the social experience could fail to provide businesses with important conviviality necessary to do their jobs well.
It is imperative that recruiters understand applicants’ various MBA experiences before assuming they are the ideal business leader. However, it generally isn’t possible to determine an MBA grad’s experience just by reviewing his or her resume. For example, the school or location of an MBA program can be misleading: Some web-based business schools offer a top-notch environment for learning and socializing, while a few Ivy League schools are guilty of grade inflation. Therefore, recruiters can only truly understand an applicant’s MBA experience in the interview process. Here are a few questions that force candidates to elaborate on their general experience at business school:
- Tell me about your MBA program.
- What events did you attend during your MBA?
- How rigorous were your MBA classes?
- What were the most important lessons you gained from your MBA?
Graduate school isn’t like any other type of schooling. While MBAs do contain individual courses with distinct subjects, like finance or marketing, listening to lectures and taking exams isn’t how most learning takes place. As in most graduate programs, MBA students are measured more by their completion of various projects, which serve to demonstrate their mastery of certain skills. For example, students might complete financial analyses of a company or sector to prove their expertise in finance, or they might draft reports on employee satisfaction systems for human resources credentials.
Though some grads create sections on their resumes or CVs to list their completed projects, not all do. Typically, even when you see the titles of certain MBA projects, you will need to delve deeper to understand what your candidate did and what he or she learned from the project. A few probing questions you might have include:
- What was the most interesting project you worked on for your MBA?
- Explain what you learned from X project.
- What type of research did you perform to complete X project?
- How did X project prepare you for work in industry?
Asking About Network
Recruiters understand all too well the power of a strong social network. In the past, recruiters relied on their social and professional connections to place reliable workers in good positions, most good recruiters still understand how powerful networks can be not just for individuals looking for jobs but for entire businesses looking to gain a competitive edge.
Today, you probably use social media to investigate candidates’ backgrounds even before inviting them to interviews, but you can also peruse Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites to determine the extent of a candidate’s MBA network. However, whether you yield any results from online research, you should ask about previous networking opportunities during the interview process. These questions should kick off a revealing discussion:
- Do you have a professional mentor?
- Who did you meet during business school events?
- How did other grads in your class fare on the job market?
- Do you keep in touch with any other alumni from your program?