Career Searching at B School

So, how should you think about what companies to recruit for in brand management / CPG? Let’s explore a handful of broad tracks and types of companies you can consider:

Brand manager as GM (CEO track). These companies train brand managers to act as the CEOs for their companies, and the focus is on a well-rounded GM skillset. Most CPG companies fall under this umbrella, and perception of their prestige is based on how big the company is, revenue-wise. The top tier of companies here are mainstays like Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, and Unilever. Other great, smaller companies include Nestlé, Colgate Palmolive, S.C. Johnson, Mars, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Kellogg, and Clorox.

Brand manager as marketer (CMO track). These companies put a lot of focus (and money) into advertising, and their brand managers pick up great brand strategy and creative / communications skills that serve them well in future marketing roles. Companies under this umbrella include PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Diageo.

Smaller consumer brands or start-ups with traditional retailer distribution. If you’re intrigued by the idea of working for a smaller company, take a look through the shelves of your local grocery store or Target and see what products you’re passionate about. Keep in mind that a lot of smaller brands have been bought up by larger firms – for example, KIND bars are part of Kellogg and Shea Moisture was bought by Unilever.

D2C (direct to consumer) companies and start-ups. These companies include Honest, Casper and Brooklinen – think of trendy companies selling you things directly through social media. Keep in mind that since these companies are structured differently from traditional (large) CPG companies, the roles they have might differ (for example, instead of a Brand Manager role, you might be looking at a Product Manager role that is responsible for the P&L of a set of products). It goes without saying that these start-ups probably don’t recruit on campus, and you’d need to do a networked search to find a position with them.

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Table of Contents

On-Campus Recruiting

On-campus recruiting starts almost immediately when you set foot on campus. Many schools have a moratorium on recruiting for the first month or so, but within the first few weeks, you will already need to tailor your resume, join clubs to signal your interest in specific industries and jobs, and make some key decisions about what summer internships you will recruit for.

Let that settle in for a second – contrary to popular belief, you don’t have plenty of time to explore your options and figure out what you want to recruit for. You actually only have a few weeks to make some key decisions about internship(s), so it’s important to have a plan going in!

On-campus recruiting generally happens in the same order: investment banking first; then consulting and non-banking financial services; then top tech firms, then consumer products, brand management / marketing, general management, and other tech. Companies from other industries (e.g., healthcare, manufacturing, retail, etc.) may recruit on campus as well, but likely with fewer internship / job openings.

The process for on-campus recruiting looks something like this:

  • Once you get to campus, you have to make some fast decisions about what job(s) you want to recruit for and which clubs you want to join / take a leadership role in. This is important because you’re going to tailor your resume for the school’s official resume book that will be shared with employers. 
  • Companies introduce themselves and get to know students through info sessions, lunch and learns, coffee chats, workshops, club events, and the like. They start to post job listings and internship opportunities on the school’s job board. At the same time, Career Services and industry-focused clubs will have events, workshops, and other support to help you learn about the industry and prepare for interviews.
  • Students apply to jobs, and companies invite a group of students to interview (this is called the “closed” interview list, since it’s invitation only). At some schools, students have the opportunity to bid for additional “open” interview spots with the company, using a set number of bidding points that each student is allotted that year.
  • Then, no surprise here, companies interview the students on the closed (and open) interview lists (usually on campus for the first interview) and eventually extend offers.

If you’re doing on-campus recruiting, you’ll have the privilege of having companies come to you with information and access. On-campus recruiting has a clear process and early results, so it might appeal to the side of you that loves certainty, predictability, and structure.

Off-Campus Recruiting

If you’re looking at a less conventional internship or post-MBA job, you will probably go through off-campus recruiting. Some of the most coveted post-MBA roles fall into this category. Where on-campus recruiting brings the companies and opportunities to you, off-campus recruiting will require you to hunt and network to get your target role.

Off-campus recruiting usually happens later in the year, for industries that are rarer exits for MBAs (e.g., venture capital, private equity, social impact, non-profit, entertainment, etc.). These companies recruit later because they are more likely to have in-time hiring needs, and some of them might not even have structured MBA internship programs.

So, how do you find jobs in off-campus recruiting?

  • Your school’s Career Services office will maintain a job board that lists internships and job postings – a lot of these will be for on-campus recruiting, but there will also be job postings for off-campus roles (for example, if an alum at Spotify wants to recruit an intern from your school)
  • Networking, networking, networking! Look to students above you and your school’s alums to see where folks have landed, and have informational interviews with them to learn more about how they got their jobs and if there are any opportunities that would be a good fit for you
  • Career Services and industry clubs will organize treks to explore companies in a certain industry (for example, technology in the Bay Area, entertainment in Los Angeles, or design consulting), and some of these companies will give you the option to drop your resume to be considered for an internship
  • You can also do cold outreach to companies that you’re interested in to network, learn more about what they do, and eventually see if there might be an opportunity for you to contribute as an MBA intern

What should you know before you start an off-campus job search?

  • Doing off-campus recruiting is playing the long game – even though these companies hire later in the year, you’ll want to start exploring your options and networking early on to create opportunities down the road
  • Off-campus recruiting is not for the risk-averse! It is less predictable and later than conventional recruiting – so while your classmates will have offers in hand (and peace of mind!) in February and March, you might be searching until May to land your internship, and months after graduation to land your full-time job. (We suspect this is a big part of why Stanford alums have among the lowest placement rate 3-months post-MBA – they’re pursuing niche roles at companies that don’t hire in standard ways.)
  • Your internship might not be as structured or high-paying as conventional MBA internships; and where most conventional MBA internships lead to full-time offers at the end of the summer, you may not get that option at an unconventional internship (even if you crushed it!)
  • That said, some of the coolest and most exciting jobs come from off-campus searches! And you won’t be the only person in the off-campus boat, so you can build a support network with other folks who are also braving the exciting world of non-traditional jobs

How can I tell how much career support I’ll get at school?

Before we dig in, we should clarify the role of Career Services. Many MBA applicants have some vision that Career Services will solve all their career problems for them, but in reality, Career Services has three main functions:

  1. Creating and maintaining relationships with hiring companies
  2. Providing resources and high-level guidance to students
  3. Getting as close to 100% placement / job acceptances as possible

This means that they do everything their resources allow to ensure you graduate with a job offer in hand – not necessarily your dream job, but any job. Some schools have the capacity to give deeper support to students, but we want to give you a realistic expectation of how Career Services works. At the most basic level, you should think of them as no different from a website for job searching. They have resources, jobs, and lots of free information. But in most cases, there won’t be a human being to take you by the hand and guide you through the steps necessary to achieve your dreams. They’re less like career coaches and more like LinkedIn.

That said, there are differences among schools. So, how do you figure out what you can expect from each school’s Career Services office? Talk to students and alums from your target schools as you prepare your applications! When you do, throw in some questions to get a sense of how much support you can expect / depend on from the school. 

Here’s a starter list:

  • Was Career Services helpful in helping them figure out their goals? If they were looking at non-traditional industries or jobs, did they feel truly supported by Career Services in their search?
  • Did they rely on Career Services during their job search? What were the most useful services and resources that they got from Career Services?
  • Are there Career Services coaches at the school who are specialized in the industry you’re interested in?
  • Outside of Career Services, what were the most helpful resources that they used? (This could be clubs, treks, the alumni network, etc.)
  • How much on-campus recruiting was there for their chosen industry? Which companies were most prominent, and did they have any concerns about geography while recruiting?

Besides interviews, look at schools’ historical placement reports to get a sense of how students have fared over time. Another good tool is doing a LinkedIn search for students and alums of your target schools, to see what companies they have landed at and what types of roles they have gone to.

In the case of some schools, it will be good news. You will find that many people go for and get the jobs you want and get what they feel like is great support from Career Services. In other cases, you will discover that you will have to do a little more work to get the offer you want. Neither of these outcomes should be decisive in your school selection process: each option has its pros and cons.

In the former case, even at a school with “the better opportunities for you,” you will have to compete with your extraordinary classmates to get the final offer. In the latter case, you might be more of a standout candidate at jobs you are pursuing off campus and where you are not being compared against a lot of other MBAs.

So you may still decide that a school is a great fit for you, even if you need to do a little more legwork to garner that job you want. Pending the information you receive, you can construct a more targeted and specific personal statement for each school – outlining the specific resources you will engage to pursue the job you want in a way that fits the reality of that program. 

Separately from your MBA essays, regardless of how the answers shake out vis-à-vis the MBA program you choose, we recommend you take your destiny into your hands right now and determine that you will go for what you truly want in your post-MBA job (even if that means more work and an off-campus search). Our YOMO (You Only MBA Once) course was designed to help rising MBAs make the most of the MBA pivot and get the best internship and post-MBA job for them. It’s full of resources, tools, skill-building, and strategic guidance to help you make the most of whatever resources Career Services offers and to go beyond them to achieve your dreams.

You can join the YOMO waitlist right here if that sounds like a good idea to you!

For more information about recruiting at b school and even more juicy post-MBA career information, including popular industries and functions for MBA grads and top hirers, check out our career report – What’s the Best MBA Program for Your Career?

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