At last year’s Forté conference, I was waiting for lunch next to an Anderson student who couldn’t decide what sandwich she wanted. I offered to get a second kind and share with her, so we ate lunch together. After the event, she connected me with another Anderson student, who then introduced me to another, and another…you get the idea.
When I was standing in that line, I didn’t see the sandwich swap as my way into a series of awesome informational interviews with MBA students — it was my way, as a semi-shy person, to connect with one student at one of my target schools. But I got lucky; the informational interviews I got from this chain of referrals were invaluable, and I think you should do the same!
Besides sandwiches, how can you go about finding these super valuable students (and alumni)?
- Student ambassadors. Many schools have current students who love their schools and want to tell applicants about how great their programs are. I chatted with an NYU Stern student ambassador who had great information about Stern resources that addressed my interests and goals (which I name-dropped in my essays).
- Student clubs. This is a big one that I didn’t take advantage of. Many student groups have a web page geared towards prospective students or that lists officer contact information. If you’re interested in a particular industry, reach out to that club’s officers, get their advice, and see who they connect you with!
- Adcoms. Some people are really comfortable forming relationships with adcoms and hitting them up for advice. I was not one of them, but it’s a totally appropriate move — adcoms welcome these interactions and can introduce you to students / alumni with your background or in your field of interest!
- Your network. “But I don’t know any MBAs, that’s why I’m reading this blog!” I know, I know. But even non-MBA friends can connect you with amazing people. A writer friend and fellow NU alum knows an adcom at HBS and offered to connect us. Valuable connections can come from unlikely places!
- Your other informational interviews. This is standard — ask the person you’re chatting with if they know anyone else you should talk to. That question got me almost all my interviews and a ton of great advice (which I’ll post about soon!).
What to Ask About?
- Campus and student life. Students can tell you about specific classes and professors that they loved, what the social scene is like, and other information that’s not on the brochure or website. Ask about what matters to you and try to throw in at least one insightful (or insightful-ish) question — I always asked students what they would change about the school if they could.
- Your story and goals. Test out your story and get feedback from students. I didn’t ask for feedback outright, but I found out that my pitch came off very self-aware and well-thought-out, even though it felt like a work in progress to me. I also learned about how schools’ career centers supported entertainment recruiting and what the entertainment job landscape looks like, which was very helpful.
- Things you don’t want to ask adcoms. Talking to students (and alumni!) is great because they aren’t your MBA gatekeepers. You can ask for the real story — is this school really as collaborative as advertised? Be sure to research beforehand, but you can use these opportunities to get clarity on some basic things about the school that you don’t want to ask adcoms about.
- But… Avoid asking about things like the dating scene or other non-career, non-school questions. A dud informational interview probably won’t negatively affect your application, but asking unprofessional questions could keep you from reaping the full benefits of these interviews. These students only want to help applicants who they think will be a good fit for their schools, so keep your game tight.
- MBA Student Life Forums (Beat the GMAT): A big ol’ forum dedicated to MBA student life.
- Questions You Should Ask (Forté Foundation): A great, comprehensive list of questions to ask both students and adcom folks. (And questions NOT to ask!)
- 10 Essential Questions to Ask When You Visit a B School (Poets and Quants): The founder of Stratus Prep details ten questions to ask and why each is important (fun fact: he’s an HBS grad).
- Smart Questions to Ask MBA Alumni (Poets and Quants): The first page of this post is what you want — some questions to ask alumni about the way your target schools work.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.