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Business students: More tips on how to wow employers

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We're talking about five steps to success for business-school students embarking on a job search.

In Part 1, we discussed the first three steps.

Now, we'll get prepared for the job interviews and learn how to network.

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Step 4: Form mock interview groups with your classmates and colleagues, and practice interviewing

When I think about luck, I often consider a great quote: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Without knowing exactly what questions you are going to get in an interview, a little "luck" can go a long way. So get ready to work.

To start the process, ensure you understand the type of interview you will be having with your target firms. Most, if not all, firms will give you a behavioural interview, but some firms will put you through a more rigorous process. Management consulting firms will give you a behavioural and "case" interview; investment banks (and most other financial firms) will give you a behavioural interview, along with a series of challenging technical financial questions.

Next, get into small practice groups of four members (keeping the groups smaller will allow you to better manage busy schedules.) You will likely gravitate toward your friends, or those whom you sit close to in class. This is okay, as long as you "mix and match" later in the process.

When you perform mock interviews, do them together in your group - so two are conducting the interview, and the other two are observing. A good mock interview should last 20-30 minutes, and include questions that cover prior work experience, extracurricular activities, the three "Whys" and also test intellectual horsepower via questions about current business events (e.g. "Do you think GM's IPO was a success?").

Conduct the interview, and then, as a group, debrief and provide each other feedback. Next, the observers become the interviewer and interviewee, and the process is repeated. You will be amazed at how much you will learn from observing others.

Once you have performed a number of interviews in your group, mix and match with other groups and go through the same process. Your target should be to engage in 20 or more mock behavioural interviews. If you are preparing for consulting interviews, your target should be 60-plus cases. This is not an easy task, and practising requires a lot of time and dedication. Start well in advance of recruiting season - ideally, at least two months prior. I often tell my clients that they should consider interview preparation as an additional course, and to dedicate time each day for practise.

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When you feel as though you are performing well, you should consider reaching out to alumni to have them conduct a mock interview with you. Remember this, however: Even though alumni are helping, they are still evaluating you, so make sure you are prepared.

Step 5: Network, network, network - and then network some more

A lot of students become frustrated at campus networking events because 50-plus students and four or five company representatives typically result in a crowded scenario, with students jockeying for position and vying for airtime. How do you make an impression in this situation?

The reality is that you do not have to make an impression at these events (although it is great if you do). When you meet recruiters for the first time, your objective is to engage them in small talk and to obtain their business card and e-mail address and use the following approach (Note: if you are "cold-mailing" recruiters or alumni, the process for engaging them will be similar):

Draft a short e-mail (target: 150 words or less) reminding them of the interaction (or, in the case of a cold-mail, stating how you got their contact information and why you are e-mailing). Tell them a little about yourself, and state that you are interested in learning more about the company they work for, and specifically about their role. Ask to schedule a short call - 30 minutes (max) - to conduct an informational interview, and offer specific times you are available for this call. Your objective is to make it easy for the recruiter to make time for you. Getting together in person is an even better option, so you may want to offer to take them out for coffee.

Ensure you prepare for this meeting by developing an "interview guide." Come up with two or three categories for discussion and two or three leading questions per category. Avoid asking questions that can be answered on the company website. When you start the meeting, after you have broken the ice (i.e. made some small talk), share the areas you want to touch on, and then ask a leading question to get things started. Your objective here is to probe, so ensure you ask additional questions to dig deeper into the areas you are discussing. The leading questions help start things off, and keep things moving if there is an awkward silence.

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Coming out of this meeting, your objective is twofold: 1) to have collected information about the firm that you can use in a cover letter, a résumé and an interview, and 2) to have gained enough credibility with the individual that if you ask to speak to another person at the company, they will readily refer you to someone else. This person therefore can act as a "bridge" for you to connect with other people at the firm - ideally, more senior people.

To summarize the steps:

Steps 1-3: Figure out what makes your target industry tick (due diligence), answer why that industry, why that firm and why you (the three whys), summarize your work experience (Experience Matrix), improve your résumé (action-oriented impact statements).

Steps 4 & 5: Practise (mock group interviews) and get to know the firms and people that work there (networking).

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.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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