Over the past year I’ve hosted several information sessions for prospective students interested in Johnson at Cornell. As a “career switcher” with no prior business education who plans to intern as a strategy consultant this summer, you can imagine how often I’ve been asked why I chose Johnson to launch me from one extreme in the professional playing field to another in less than a year. Let’s consider a few factors many prospective students assess when researching MBA programs.
I suspect the most popular considerations mentioned on applications are fit, relationships, community, and culture while most of us are secretly thinking rankings, average salary, and scholarships. Let’s add to that list geography, recruiter presence, alumni network, reputation, and industry specialty. While I believe all of these factors are important, only you can decide how important each factor is, and that comes from your story. Who are you now, who do you want to be in two years, and what do you need to get there?
My story began as a military officer with an engineering degree nervously adjusting an ill-fitted business suit as I painstakingly walked my interviewer through the first resume I’d ever written, bullet point by bullet point. Students arriving at Johnson have very little time to prepare for internship applications after beginning orientation in August, and sharing that time is an extensive academic workload. I had my work cut out for me, but I was fortunate enough to have a number of assets that proved crucial to achieving my goals, the most important of which were my classmates.
Transitioning out of the military, I knew I would never find another organization that exuded the same high level of comradery. What surprised me, though, was how closely my cohort at Johnson approached that level. Network volume has some importance; finding fellow alum at a prospective company can be the divider between receiving an interview and having your resume “kept on file,” but to what extent will that alum help you? Having a strong network means more than just sheer numbers. Classmates help each other through academic and professional challenges to the point where it’s become second nature. I have no doubt that no matter the problem, I will be able to find at least someone willing to help, and that includes five or ten years down the road.
Another unique aspect that enabled me to excel was the core academic structure. With no prior business experience or academics, courses such as Financial Accounting can seem intimidating – even learning parts of the “business lingo” took time to master. However, classes are structured in a way as to build a foundation of basic knowledge and gradually become more advanced. While I have in no way become an expert in any technical subjects taught in business school, by mid-fall, I was able to converse with recruiters, ask intelligent questions, and understand their responses. I was able to consider business problem cases, think through them logically, and develop structured solutions. Many of us pursuing business school are able to do so because of skills we’ve developed in past professions, and these skills are important to companies hiring MBAs. The challenge is learning how to apply those skills in a new context, and the core curriculum prepared me well.
In addition to being academically prepared, there is the broader goal of actually being selected to interview, not just for a job but for the type of job and at the company we all want. For this reason, a strong, dedicated Career Management Center (CMC) is crucial to a successful MBA program. The better the CMC, the more often students will be served their dream jobs on silver platters, because that’s their job. That’s at least what I thought as a prospective student because every school’s CMC boasted the percentage of students receiving internships in various industries along with their average starting salary. “This school will get me more industry internships I want and they’ll pay more!” While it is the responsibility, in part, of the school to attract the biggest and best MBA employers to their campus for recruiting, the job of earning that internship and a subsequent full-time offer belong exclusively to the student. Furthermore, it’s the reputation of a school’s alumni that bears the most responsibility for attracting those recruiters. Fortunately, the strong set of knowledge and experience among my school’s second-year students enabled them to serve as the most valuable asset the school has to offer. These are the people who taught me how to network with recruiters, compose a strong resume, and interview in a way that best communicates the impact I can make on a firm.
Pursuing an MBA and finding personal and professional success on the other side of graduation is a significant challenge, but given the tools available at Johnson, I’m on the right track. I look forward to representing the Class of 2017 for the duration of my professional career and to developing the next generation of Johnson students.