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Plan B toilet roll. (iStockphoto)
Plan B toilet roll. (iStockphoto)

Why students need a backup plan for job search Add to ...

When entering business school, it is important to quickly establish the industries and firms you want to target for both summer and full-time employment. Early and diligent planning will help you more effectively juggle academic requirements and job interview preparation.

But when recruiting season comes around, what if you don't receive an offer for your dream job (your "Plan A")? Most students do a good job of developing a plan to obtain their dream job, but fall short of forming a plan to follow if things don't work out. Here is a healthy dose of recruiting reality that you need to be aware of that highlights the importance of not only preparing a solid Plan A, but also putting significant time and effort into a strong Plan B.

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The competition for top jobs is stronger than you may think

Many business students mistakenly assume that they are only competing for jobs with their classmates. The reality, however, is that the top firms in major industries, most notably investment banking and management consulting, recruit on a national and sometimes international level (a "global recruiting model"). This means that you are not only competing for jobs in local offices with students from your own and other universities in your province, but also with top students from business programs around the world. Your grades, profile and interviewing skills may set you apart from your classmates, but you may not be in the top quartile of overall global candidates applying for the same job.

Many firms do not have hiring quotas

A question I am often asked by students is "How many candidates will this company be hiring this year?" The reality is that firms will only hire candidates that meet and exceed high entry requirements. The answer, then, is that they may hire one, 10, or even none.

Let's consider a hypothetical example from a management consulting job posting targeted to your school. Fifty candidates may apply, and the firm may bring in 10 to 15 of your classmates for a first-round interview. Of those applicants, three to eight may receive a second-round interview. Of those, zero to five may receive an offer. This means that, under the best-case scenario, 10 per cent of total applicants from your school may ultimately receive an offer. While this is just an example, and actual numbers will vary from this scenario and industry, the key takeaway is that a high volume of applications may not result in a high number of job offers.

The recruiting cycle may not allow time for you to readjust your focus from one industry to another

For many industries that offer positions highly sought after by students - largely made up of finance/banking, management consulting, and consumer packaged goods - recruiting occurs on-campus over the key periods of January to March for summer positions (current students), and September to November for full-time positions (graduating students).

While finance/banking recruiting typically starts first, followed closely by management consulting, and then CPG, for all intents and purposes it should be assumed that they all recruit in parallel. And while these industries are all looking for a core set of skills (leadership, analytics, etc.), the highly technical and analytical nature of some jobs results in additional interview requirements and processes. This means that if you target an investment banking job and do not receive any interviews or offers, you will have little, if any, time to adjust your application and shift your focus to preparing for management consulting interviews.

Of course there are job opportunities outside of the industries mentioned above (often referred to as "just-in-time" recruiting), but a majority of students will find themselves applying to jobs in the industries listed above since they are "first movers" in the recruiting process.

You only have one chance to recruit for a full-time position at your target companies

When a candidate submits their application to a job posting, there are three logical outcomes: 1) They will not receive an interview; 2) They will receive an interview, go through the process and not get an offer; and 3) They will receive an interview, go through the process and get an offer.

Students who do not receive an interview don't usually expect that the firm will reconsider them again. However, I find that a lot of students who receive an interview, but do not get an offer, believe that they will be able to reapply to the same job at a later date. But they should know: Firms are not likely to reconsider these applicants, for two reasons.

First, since many firms do not hire a lot of candidates outside of the recruiting cycles listed above (so they do not hire "off cycle"), the first chance a candidate would have to reapply for the position would be one full year later, during the next recruiting period. At that point, firms are targeting students (and not alumni) since the job will not begin until post-graduation for current students.

Second, if you do not meet or exceed the firm's entry requirements as a result of experience or interview performance, there would have to be a material change in your profile for you to be reconsidered. This means you would have to obtain new and relevant work experience, which usually means at least two years of demonstrated excellence, progression and impact in your role at another job. At that point, you would be considered a "lateral" or "experienced" hire, which are much more competitive positions to recruit for.

So what does this mean for you, the candidate?

The goal here is not to scare you into thinking you will not get a job. Rather, the goal is to help you understand that a lot of time and dedication needs to be put into recruiting preparation. You can, and will, get a job if you prepare for and follow a Plan A and B approach. All of the hard work you put into developing your Plan A - the industry due diligence and résumé production, interview preparation and networking, etc. - needs to be replicated as part of your Plan B.

Good luck.

Darren Lafreniere is the founder of career advisory firm Final Round Prep, the Director of the Ivey Consulting Project, and a Lecturer in the MBA program at HEC Paris. He holds an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business.

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