How to Make the Most of an MBA Fair

There’s only so much time, energy and opportunity to make 1st impressions. Follow this guide to maximize yours.

One of the most efficient, effective ways to search for (and shortlist) MBA programs, isn’t your smartphone or a website. It’s a recruitment fair.

For the most successful experience, you’ll need to create a strategy for attending long before the day of the event. Plan ahead to explore your best options in the limited time you have. You don’t want to overlook your dream program.

I suggest considering these “4 P’s,” which we’ve adapted from the famous marketing framework, to make the most of your next MBA recruitment fair.

  1. PLAN your journey.

Planning a visit to an MBA fair is like planning a trip. (Incidentally, the University of South Carolina MBA enables you to spend EIGHT WEEKS in Paris — or another prominent international business hub — as part of our intensive international immersion.) But let’s say you only have five hours to spend in Paris. Would you arrive without an itinerary? Probably not. To make the most of a short visit, you need to consider the crowds at top attractions.

Plan for your MBA fair the same way. Examine the participating schools on the recruitment fair website. Select a cross-section of programs based on your professional and academic profile. Review admissions criteria, then pick some stretch schools, safety schools, and “probable” MBA programs where your admissions changes are strong.

Like the Louvre, some business schools attract herds of prospective students at MBA fairs. You can easily find yourself waiting in line when you could be learning about other programs. Don’t be afraid to modify your plans and pivot to another program when needed. I’ve seen time and again that a prospective student stops by a school table they hadn’t considered, discovers an ideal fit, and ends up attending — and loving — the program.

The time goes by fast. So if you expect to attend a recruitment fair where we’ll be, let us know so we can plan a time to meet or start discussing your plans now.

  1. PREPARE by researching complementary channels.

One of the smartest things you can do before a fair is to get familiar with programs you’re interested in. Go online to get key details like application deadlines and admissions criteria. Skim through program websites, social media posts and blogs written by students or admissions staff so you can focus on more substantial questions in person.

Use your time at the fair to discuss your short-term and long-term goals and how a particular program can help you achieve them. Your pre-fair research will inform meaningful conversations about program culture, career placement success, application tips, activities and clubs and other aspects of your MBA.

Prepare questions before you arrive and prioritize them, so you’ll get answers to your most important questions if you’re short on time. A one-on-one at a recruitment fair is a good place to discuss sensitive issues you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in a group webinar or information session.

Remember, an MBA fair isn’t your only opportunity to engage with a school. It’s one channel in your ongoing conversations.

  1. PRACTICE your elevator pitch.

The first words that come out of your mouth will set the tone of the conversation. Practice your “opening” line. Do you want to ask a question? Describe your career goals? Share a short story that shows a connection to the school or the campus location? For example, knowing the UofSC rankings in international business, can you share your global experiences?

If you’re seriously considering a school, be sure to show how you fit with the program’s core principles. For example, at UofSC, we believe our MBA experience sets the stage for an unstoppable career. The best examples of that approach? Our many alumni, who are putting their MBAs to work in international businesses across the United States and around the world.

Here’s a tip to help you prepare for these critical conversations. Picture yourself as the admissions officer on the other side of the table. How do you think you come across? Are you a compelling candidate? Are you memorable — in a good way?

  1. PRESENT your credentials on paper.

Even the best conversations benefit from additional context. For example, we can’t explore how we can help a candidate realize their dream — such as making a career pivot from international professional volleyball player to senior associate of strategy at a premier management consultancy in NYC or securing a plum position at Amazon in Seattle — without first knowing their professional work history.

While the elevator pitch is key, also be prepared to provide a more complete picture of your career to-date. An updated resume gives admissions officers like me an arc of your academic and professional background. Your resume doesn’t need to be fully polished; just crisp enough that you feel comfortable giving it to a school representative who may share it with the school’s full admissions team. Don’t forget to bring extra copies and business cards (if you have them) with you.

When it comes down to it, the goal of an MBA fair is to start a conversation — one that ideally continues.

If you’re ready to start a conversation with UofSC, we’ll be at MBA fairs through September in the following cities: Houston, Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, Boston, Denver, Salt Lake City, Austin, Dallas and Minneapolis. Let’s talk about elevating your professional pursuits today.

Jennifer Ninh
Managing Director, Full-time MBA Programs