Five Minutes with an MBA recruiter on how the ‘ideal candidate’ has changed.
Here’s what Smith School of Business is looking for now.
Teresa Pires is Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the full-time MBA program at Smith School of Business. She travels the globe, finding and recruiting the most promising business leaders of tomorrow. Teresa has helped hundreds of women take the next step in their careers by helping them see what they can be with an MBA. Teresa can often be found at Women of Influence events and she always has her eye out for the next MBA recruit.
By Hailey Eisen
What would you say has changed the most since you began recruiting for the MBA program?
When I started 10 years ago, we had more traditional candidates with practical skill sets and engineering backgrounds. Now, we have many unique applicant profiles; people who have done a lot more before entering the MBA program and are looking to pivot or transition their career. We see more focus on making an impact today, not just on earning six figures. We see a big focus on individuals wanting to find and follow their passion — and that’s been a big shift. We especially see this among women.
What’s an example of a non-traditional candidate? Any standout students who came to the MBA with a background you don’t often see to make a career pivot?
For sure, there are many. Nicole Magda, for example, graduated with the class of 2018 and came to Smith with an undergraduate degree in Biology and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Having worked as an RN for a few years, Nicole was looking to pivot her career into healthcare consulting. The applicants we get with medical backgrounds tell us they’re lacking the business fundamental skills and looking to obtain those through an MBA. Interestingly, Nicole got into consulting upon graduation, working with Deloitte in healthcare transformation, but decided to make a second pivot, and now works as an Associate in Portfolio Management with Imperial Capital Group.
Which other candidates stand out to you for their non-traditional backgrounds?
In 2017, Divya Tulapurkar graduated with a dual degree MBA and MMA (Master of Management Analytics). She came to Smith with an engineering background, which is great because the market is looking for more women with technical skills. Divya had been working as a performance engineer with an American multinational IT services provider and had a wealth of professional expertise. But she also had volunteer and other experience that differentiated her in the application process. For example, Divya was a professional dancer and volunteered with non-profit organizations as a dance trainer. She was smart, personable, and had technical skills — I remember thinking, she’s the whole package. Like many women, Divya hit the ground running, becoming the VP of the analytics club at Smith, completing both degrees, and landing a job upon graduation with Scotiabank. Today Divya is the Director of Advanced Analytics with the bank.
“What has always surprised me is how many women self-select out of the program before even beginning the application process. When they do take the time to have conversations with me, and others at Smith, they realize the value they’ll bring to the program, and often find the MBA is exactly where they belong.”
Do you find most women come to the MBA program knowing exactly what they want to get out of it, or are many surprised by the opportunities available to them upon graduation?
I often speak to women who know 100 per cent what they want to do with their careers. But you don’t have to have your whole career mapped out in order to be successful. In fact, you may not be aware of the opportunities available to you until you start the program. Chloe O’Brien came to us with a background in photography, art history, and travel — not a typical path to business school. She didn’t know if the MBA would be the right fit for her because she didn’t have the technical skills people often assume they need.
Chloe took advantage of every single opportunity that presented itself during the program. She went on two exchanges, she was named a Forté Fellow, and she served as President of the Women in Leadership Club (WIL). I use Chloe as an example of how the MBA really helps women become more well-rounded professionals, gain leadership, management, and networking experience, and realize skills and abilities they may not even have known they had. We create a safe space for students to grow and develop. The MBA is the only transferable degree that can really help someone pivot careers in such a short time frame. Upon graduation Chloe is heading to Deloitte where she’s secured a job in human-centric design and design thinking on a Human Capital team.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found over the past 10 years working in recruiting for the Smith MBA program?
I would say what has always surprised me is how many women self-select out of the program before even beginning the application process. When they do take the time to have conversations with me, and others at Smith, they realize the value they’ll bring to the program, and often find the MBA is exactly where they belong. I’m blown away by what women are able to manage once they’re in the program. Every year there are incredibly impressive success stories.
What do you look for when evaluating MBA candidates?
We consider the whole person and what they’ll bring to the program and the team they’re assigned to. This includes their work ethic, resiliency, and interpersonal skills, in addition to their academic and work experience. We’re also looking for what else they’ve done, beyond work, that makes them stand out — whether that’s volunteer work, a side hustle, or something else. We call this their “spike factor.”
We also look at what we call their “coachability” to understand how they’ll work in our team-based program. We evaluate the experience they’ve had working as parts of a team through work, sports, and volunteer roles. We also speak to their managers to see how they’ve been working as part of a team and how they’ve responded to feedback and coaching.