How to talk to current MBA students

It’s that time of the year again when most applicants are putting in finishing touches to their R1 applications. It might also be the time you’re reaching out to a lot of current students from your target business schools for informational interviews. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me asking about Kellogg, and over the course of many, many phone and email conversations, I’ve found that there were some who stood out for the right reasons and others…not so much. You know which bracket you want to be in.

Here are a few pointers to help you make a great first impression:

Reaching Out

Set a clear purpose for yourself – Why do you want to talk to current students? What particular aspects of a school do you want to get to know? Do you have questions about the curriculum, the faculty, the culture or something else? Is this information readily available on the website? Do your homework on the school before reaching out to current students.

Target Strategically: Don’t just go on LinkedIn, search for students attending a particular business school and send them all the same generic LinkedIn request. Choose wisely when it comes to picking a student to talk to. You want look for someone that has something in common with you: maybe you come from similar pre-MBA industries, you have the same country of origin (or are international students in general), you have the same post-MBA goals, the student is doing an internship in the industry/role that you’re super interested in, they are in the Wine Club so you know you are kindred spirits…… there has to be some reason why you choose a particular person. This depends on the purpose you have set: will this person be able to answer the questions you have with a perspective that will be useful to you?

Write short yet effective cold-emails: I received two messages on LinkedIn.

One: “Hi Vandana, I’m a prospective applicant to Kellogg for the Class of 2018, and I’d like to connect with you to talk about your experience at Kellogg. I won’t take too much of your time and I’d really appreciate it! Please let me know ”

Two: “Hey Vandana! How are you doing? I saw on your blog that you had admits from UCLA and Kellogg and you chose to join Kellogg. I’m interested in HighTech too, and I’d like to schedule a 30min call to get your thoughts on why you chose Kellogg and MMM.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the first one. But if I had limited time and could talk to only one person, can you see who that would be? Applicant Two made it extremely clear why he specifically wants to talk to me – we have HighTech in common. He knows UCLA is good for tech and that I got in, but chose Kellogg anyway, and also recognizes that I picked MMM. He also specifies a time so I know exactly how much time he wants from me. You can only do this if you were strategic in picking the student you want to talk to.

Worst thing you can do? Sending a LinkedIn request to someone without introducing yourself and mentioning why you want to connect with them. You will be ignored.

The Call

No BS: I can smell bullshit calls a mile away. Most of us can. We almost always know in the first 5mins of a call if you’re genuinely interested in talking to us or if you’re doing it to “check a box” and use our names in your essay. We were applicants too, and not too long ago, so we know what you’re thinking. If you think you know enough about the school already, and find this “talk to a current student” expectation cumbersome, I’d rather you ask me outright if I ever derived any value from speaking to current students when I was applying and have a lively conversation around the pros and cons of that than having you ask me some really random questions just to make conversation and pass time.

Communicate your purpose – Remember your purpose? Yeah, the one you set before you started reaching out to people. Communicate to the student you’re talking to exactly what you hope to get out of the conversation. Set the tone, and let the questions begin.

Caveat: Don’t send your bio/resume unless the person you’re talking to asks for it. In the call, don’t spend 10 mins talking about your work history and what you want to do post-MBA. Develop a 1-min elevator pitch.If we want to know more, we’ll ask.

What Happens Afterward

Thank You Note – Not always necessary, but if you had a good conversation with someone, thank them for their time. Business school is insane – there are so many things to do and so little time. Show that you appreciate the student taking time out to speak with you, especially highlighting what you found particularly useful/enlightening in the conversation.

Consistency – Don’t stop with one interview/conversation. It’s important to hear from different people to get different perspectives. Sometimes you can ask the person you had the conversation with to connect you to someone else who has similar interests in industry/role or from the same country of origin as you so that you can learn from their experiences. Multiple conversations with different people from the same school will help you understand underlying common themes that are characteristic of that school and also help you identify potential issues students face at particular schools.

Keep them Posted – It’s good to keep the people you’re talking to in the loop about your progress with that school’s application. If you’re shortlisted for an interview, or if you have an admit, write to them and let them know. If you have specific questions about the interview process, ask. More often than not, they’d be happy to talk to you further and help you through the process (if you’ve done this right!).

I hope these pointers were helpful. If you have any questions/comments, do reach out to me! I’m always happy to talk about Kellogg or the MMM program or the applications process in general.

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