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Recruiting Hell

At Stern, we love nothing more than to celebrate the success stories of our peers and friends. But more often than not, our struggles proved to be more pertinent and more powerful than our achievements. For most of us, recruiting for summer internships was a less than pleasant experience, especially for those who aren’t pursuing traditional MBA jobs. Every rejection felt like failure. And what’s worse– many of us felt alone. For the first issue of the new school year, we reached out to MBA2s to anonymously share their recruiting journeys, both the good and the very awful, and the valuable lessons they learned along the way.

All quotes are anonymous.

Finding my internship felt like discovering a good-value apartment in Manhattan: I knew it could be done, I saw others doing it, but I’d follow ads to $4,000 studios that were missing front doors. I thought I’d prepared for the mind games of recruiting. I knew fall was primarily for consultants and bankers, not creatives. I attended corporate presentations, did some resume drops, and (briefly) dabbled with consulting. I filled my time with coffee chats and research, creating target company lists and knowing that in the spring my time would come. 

And then spring came…and jobs did not. Glued to newsletters, LinkedIn alerts, and job boards, I met obsessively with OCD to ensure more posts were coming. Of the scattered roles I saw, few felt like a match. Worse was finding a job that should have been a fit but wasn’t: ‘You’re looking for a combo of business/art/and education? I’m an MBA candidate with an art history degree who worked in ed tech! (They wanted a banker/consultant who also had art/education/business experience. Of course.)  

I cast a wider net: more applications, more justifications, and more disappointment when something didn’t pan out. I began to truly hate cover letters. Within days of learning I’d come out behind ONE candidate after FIVE rounds of interviews with a company, a LinkedIn recruiter reached out. I felt less qualified for the LinkedIn role than the one I’d just lost, but what’s one more rejection?  

My first call with the recruiter was on March 31st. I progressed through early rounds of interviews while continuing to apply elsewhere. On April 15th I had my case interviews, on April 19th, my final interview. I was extended an offer that day. On April 20th, a company I’d long admired invited me to interview, leading to more interviews and a difficult decision to make. By the time I signed with LinkedIn, there were exciting job postings left and right.  

I learned that “just-in-time” hiring is LAST minute. I learned that OCD is not kidding when they say spring (not February!). If you’re feeling uninspired by early jobs listings, be patient and trust that your gut is leading you to something better. To that end, if something out of left field sparks your curiosity, go for it! I first googled “Change Management” while writing a cover letter about how perfect I was for it and for LinkedIn. You never know.

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I came to Stern for the same reason that many of us do – to pivot careers. In my case, I was transitioning into the world of sports. The industry doesn’t offer many “traditional” MBA internships and most companies utilize just in time hiring. I knew all of this, so it was no surprise when I wasn’t seeing many roles in the fall, winter, or even early spring. My anxiety clearly couldn’t catch up with my rationale though. Every day, week, month that went by where I didn’t have an internship, I wondered how I was going to tell people that I failed. I assumed that I was the only person in this situation and the virtual environment certainly didn’t help with that. 

By the time June 1st rolled around and I didn’t have an internship, I was completely burnt out. I placed so much value on the experience that I thought I should be getting that other MBA1s were and ignored what was right for me. I ended up accepting a part-time, unpaid, fellowship with a non-profit organization called Must Love Sports. I took this opportunity to learn as much as possible about the industry and network with anyone and everybody that would give me the time of day (there are worse things to talk about than sports). I spent the time at my parents’ beach house in New Jersey recalibrating my mind and figuring out what MY path was – not anybody else’s. 

Because of the efforts of this past summer, I landed a fall internship with VaynerSports – an agency representing athletes across a variety of sports. I was also able to get a tan which was a win. 

It took me close to a full year to find the right fit, but I learned so much along the way and so I wanted to use this opportunity to share my experiences and some of those lessons. 

Your path is your own. Don’t get swept up in what other people are doing – do what is right for you.

I can guarantee that whatever you’re going through or feeling, somebody else is probably in the same boat. Celebrate the wins with each other and support each other during the hard times. 

Lastly, you’re here for a reason. Be proud of your background, whatever it was, and use it to your advantage to help you get where you want to go.

———————-

140 coffee chats, 120 job applications, 30 first-round interviews, 15 second-round interviews and 4 offers. Internship recruiting consumed nearly every aspect of my life for over half a year. The process taught me resiliency, flexibility, and self-confidence, and it forced me to ruthlessly prioritize my time and think critically about my long-term goals. 

Coming to Stern, I was not sure what I wanted to do. Consulting and tech were both exciting career paths that I was interested in pursuing. With the specter of Covid looming over the internship recruiting process and companies being uncertain of how many interns they could afford this summer, I decided to cast as wide of a net as I could and recruited heavily for both industries. Admittedly, I was overconfident in my abilities to simultaneously learn to case and prepare for tech interviews. I assumed that my willingness to sacrifice my grades, sleep and social life would give me a competitive advantage. While I thought I was hedging my bets amidst an uncertain time, I was spreading myself thin and making myself a weaker candidate as a whole. With MBA internships as competitive as they are, interviewers demand perfection. They will take any opportunity to cut you from the process to whittle down the pool of immensely qualified applicants. The time I spent casing for consulting interviews was time I could have spent learning more about the latest technology trends for tech interviews and vice versa. 

The rejections stung, and each one made me question my self-worth. If business school was supposed to help people find better jobs, why was I having so much trouble doing so? My friends and mentors consoled me and urged me to trust the process, but staying positive was difficult when the list of roles I seemed eligible for became smaller and smaller. Eventually, I finally did receive an internship offer, and it was for a position and company that I was really excited about! 

If I were to go through this process again, I would only focus on tech recruiting. I would have spent my time building an extensive, prioritized company list, proactively reaching out to these companies, pitching myself as a candidate, and finding advocates for me in the business. Strong advocates can refer you, vouch for you during the interview process, or even create an internship role just for you. I would have been bolder with my outreach, knowing now that strangers on LinkedIn are willing to help MBA students looking for jobs. Also, I would create a support network of people going through this process, both within and outside of Stern. This group can share best practices, help each other with mock interviews, and advertise internship opportunities.”

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“Recently in a class at Stern, I was asked to pinpoint the peaks and valleys of my life, essentially creating a map of the highest and lowest moments. Unsurprisingly, fall recruitment of my first year was one of the valleys. This would not come as a shock to those closest to me: my partner, my family, my close friends, but to the larger Stern community, it may come as a surprise that I struggled so much during my internship search, as many of us did not find vulnerability during this time to be a strength. Many of us put on brave fronts, virtually casing in December and exchanging pleasantries in January, when in actuality, we were questioning whether or not we were smart enough to deserve this opportunity. To put it bluntly, I struggled with my mental health during the latter half of recruitment. I questioned who I am, the decisions I made, and despite receiving interviews with top firms, made sweeping assumptions that they simply had yet to get to know me well enough to learn I was not qualified.

I entered Stern believing that I could secure a job in entertainment or tech, ideally the intersection of the two, and dreamed of roles at companies like Netflix. However, I was quickly confronted with my own insecurities as all my friends recruited for investment banking and consulting. Clearly I was doing something wrong. I was paying a large sum of money to attend school, why not compete for the best jobs available? I was quickly herded into the pack, and entered the chaotic world of consulting recruitment.

I found friends throughout the process who provided support, but that did not prevent 2 am panics, thinking about whether or not there was a grammatical error on my Bain cover letter.

My self-doubt showed in interviews, and I struggled to approach casing with the same confidence that I am typically able to draw. After all was said and done, I settled for an offer from a company that was self-described as, “my absolute last resort,” and I realized far too late that the majority of the firms I prioritized did not offer the kind of work that I was ultimately seeking.

Throughout this process, I learned two things: I did not stay honest to the companies that interest me the most and I did not spend enough time exploring the type of work that I find the most rewarding. These factors led me to alter my approach to the current recruitment cycle, and I learned to listen to those around me without being directly influenced. Most importantly, I have earned respect for how easy it is to get swept up thinking there is a correct and incorrect way to approach recruitment. The best lesson I took away from this process is understanding how to be unwavering in my sense of self, because the moment you begin to make concessions, that is the best way to find a role that is not a good fit.

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“I didn’t find an internship until the last day of finals – May 14, 2021. And it was unpaid. Gasp! 

Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t change a thing about my recruiting process or internship. When I started at Stern, I knew that traditional recruiting paths weren’t the right fit for me and that my process would not be as structured nor supervised as it was for my sweet, sweet consulting/banking/tech classmates. I was pursuing roles in entertainment – at the type of smaller production and development companies that rarely (if ever) post job openings on LinkedIn, let alone recruit MBAs. 

I was able to remain fairly calm about my job prospects, primarily by not excessively discussing my progress with my classmates. (A strategy I highly recommend!) But by mid-April, I was starting to have a meltdown. So I emailed Beth Briggs with the subject line “I Am Having A Meltdown.” She reassured me that despite feeling like the last unemployed MBA1 standing, I was doing exactly what I needed to do to find an internship that aligned with my career goals. Because my recruiting process was so unstructured and solitary, I started meeting with Beth once a week to have a sounding board and support while navigating the job search. That small change in my strategy was immensely helpful and helped keep me motivated despite various rejections and setbacks. 

Then, at the beginning of May, I saw the first posting on Career Account that resonated with me all year – a Distribution Internship at an indie film company. I immediately applied & then scoured my LinkedIn for any connections in my network. I had an excellent chat with a Stern Alum at the company that was immediately followed by an apologetic email that the role had already been filled. I allowed myself to mope around my apartment like a sad ghost for 24 hours, but then I pulled myself together! Armed with newfound confidence from an extremely effective pep talk from my Stern friends, I reached back out to the Alum and pitched an intern project based on our conversation that utilized my background in theater production. So in the end, I got the job that was perfect for me – because I made it up for myself based on my own skills and experiences!”

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