Top 5 Reasons Diversity MBA Conferences Should Be on Your Recruiting Calendar
More than 10,000 MBA students, business school representatives, recruiters, and business executives filled the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia late last month for one of the largest career conferences serving minority professionals. The conference has been around since 1970, but for the first time this year the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and Prospanica, the association of Hispanic professionals, joined forces to present it. The result was an incredible opportunity for attendees to network with companies and each other, take advantage of career development programming, and interview for and secure job offers from hundreds of companies spanning multiple industries.
Cornell’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management had a group of approximately 55 students attend, a mix of first-year and second-year students, according to Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, executive director of Johnson’s Career Management Center. “It was double what we have had in recent years, and perhaps the largest attendance we ever had for an MBA diversity conference,” she said. “Having a joint NBMBAA/Prospanica conference, in addition to the Philadelphia location that was driving distance away [from Ithaca, NY, where Johnson is located], helped to drive attendance.” The connections that students made while there have already resulted in multiple job offers, she added.
While securing a job or internship is a primary reason many MBA students choose to attend the National Black/Prospanica conference and others like it, that’s just one of many potential benefits events like this offer. Given that this most recent conference was right here in our hometown of Philadelphia, we went to check things out for ourselves. Through conversations with attendees, school representatives, and recruiters, we’ve compiled the following list of reasons why this year’s crop of applicants should be sure to add diversity MBA conferences to their recruiting calendar next summer and fall.
1. Unparalleled Recruiter Access—Including Many That Don’t Come to Campus
The Career Expo, which took place on the last two days of the five-day National Black/Prospanica conference, filled a cavernous hall in the Convention Center and included booths from close to 300 companies spanning dozens of industries. Among them were coveted post-MBA tech employers like Google and Amazon, consulting industry leaders including Bain & Company and Accenture, and financial services firms such as BlackRock, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley. There was a continuous gaggle at the Google booth, and one of its MBA internship recruiters, Tanya Choudhury, had to resort to wearing a sign by the second day explaining that she’d lost her voice.
Big pharma and healthcare were also well represented, with booths attended by recruiting representatives from drug maker AstraZeneca to medical products and equipment company Zimmer Biomet and many in between. Leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms including PepsiCo, General Mills, and Proctor & Gamble were also there, as were oil and gas giants like BP, Chevron, and Exxon.
But there were also plenty of organizations that are perhaps less top of mind as potential MBA recruiters—the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Department of State, Teach for America, and USAID, for example—who were just as eager to share how highly they value the MBA skillset. Dozens of leading business schools also had booths, largely to provide support and serve as gathering places for students who were attending, but also with an eye out for promising diverse talent. For example, Roberto Martinez, a senior talent acquisition consultant for Dartmouth College—home to the Tuck School of Business—was eagerly distributing glossy handouts touting the school’s varied career opportunities, commitment to diverse hiring practices, and excellent benefits. “We’re here not only to support students but also to hire more diverse staff to campus,” he said.
For Tuck second-year MBA student Bianca Goins, the breadth of companies at the expo was a big part of the draw. “I wanted a diverse group of companies to look at in a single spot,” she said. “There are so many companies here, and as second-year you can really come and pick and choose the experiences you want to have.”
Tiffany Anderson, a second-year student at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, was also impressed by the sheer number of companies present. A self-proclaimed conference veteran, she also attended National Black last year, as well as conferences presented by the Forté Foundation, the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and JumpStart. “Out of all the diversity conferences, I would certainly say this is the flagship,” she said. “Wow! There are A LOT of companies here,” she recalled thinking to herself as she walked in. More so than last year, before National Black and Prospanica teamed up, she added.
“I have seen the most people—students from many different schools and recruiters from many different functional areas of interest,” she continued. “It seems to be the most diverse in terms of attendees, degree of programming, and companies in attendance. For the majority of people, this is going to be one of the best to attend.” Anderson estimates that there were probably 30 or so Goizueta students there, a mix of first- and second-years.
2. Multiple Touch Points and Opportunities for Face Time
For some students, certainly, the primary purpose in attending the conference is to land a job. Second-year IU Kelley School of Business MBA student Henrique Barbosa, a native of Brazil pursuing travel hospitality, had a simple answer when asked why he was there: “To get a job!” He acknowledged that most of the firms he was interested in only conduct first-round interviews at the conference followed by second-round interviews on site, which lessened the likelihood of his leaving with an offer in hand. “But it would be great if it happened,” he said.
But several other students were less interested in job or internship offers—or even in early round interviews. For Jodine Gordon (Tuck ’18), the biggest factor in her decision to attend was hearing success stories from Tuck grads whose higher-level touch points with conference recruiters later helped them secure offers. “I have a couple companies on my list, but really I just want to meet as many people as possible so they can get to know me and I can get face time,” she said.
Sadé Lawrence, also a second-year student at Tuck, was likewise attracted by the opportunity to get in front of recruiters in person. “For a lot of opportunities you might be interested in, you start online at a website, applying through data base,” she said. “But coming here they now have a face with your name, and there are all kinds of organic connections that can happen,” she added. “It’s kind of amazing that you are able to build connections with people even at such a big conference, but you are. You make contacts and get lots of face time—so much more so than you can blindly through a website,” she continued. “What I have heard more of is people have an interaction with a recruiter here that leads to an interview later—here is more about entering the pipeline.”
Tuck’s Goins has taken the opportunity to network with recruiters who don’t make it to Tuck’s campus, but also those who do. “With every interaction, you are getting a more nuanced understanding of the company and can take that information and use it in subsequent interactions.”
3. Valuable Chances to Network with Peers
Goizueta’s Anderson interned in operations at Google over the summer—an opportunity she got through another diversity conference—and has been offered a full-time position on the tech giant’s Mountain View campus after she graduates. Despite having that full-time offer in hand, attending the conference still made lots of sense.
Kelley School second-year student Luis Vilchez Kupres, a native of Peru, also converted his summer internship—in supply chain operations at Cummins—into a full-time offer. So his reasons for attending the conference were not to get a job. ”I am here to support fellow Kelley first- and second-years and network a little more,” he said. He also gets to reconvene with students from other schools he met at last year’s Prospanica conference. “Often, you connect with somebody and they will help you connect with someone else,” he said. “Networking definitely helps—even among other MBA students.”
For the Google-bound Anderson, the value of peer networking can’t be stressed enough. Being able to connect with students from other schools is the part she finds most enjoyable—but it’s also strategic. “When candidates are selecting a school they like to look at the size of the network they are going to get—and that’s great,” she said. “But the way I see it, I don’t have to be at Stanford or Wharton because I have friends at Stanford and Wharton. So in a way that’s kind of my network, too.”
“You have that domino effect,” she continued. If she’s trying to connect with someone at a company where she doesn’t have a contact or her classmates don’t have contacts, she can reach out to a friend at another school to see if there’s someone in their network. “Some might say, ‘Well, they’re a peer, they’re not an employer, they’re not going to get me a job.’ But there is so much more benefit to expanding your network. I don’t think everyone understands that.”
Of course, peer networking can be a two-way street. “My motivation to expand my network comes from wanting to help others as well,” Anderson said. “When you are part of these diversity networks, one of the great things is you are going to have a friend who says, ‘Do you know someone who can help me with this?’ And I can say, ‘Well, I met someone at a conference who does that very thing and I’m happy to put y’all in touch.’”