International MBA Students: headed to Prospanica in Philly?

Have you packed your bags yet? Philly is a cool city. I hope you get to see a little bit of it during the conference.

Every year international MBAs flock to diversity job fairs such as Prospanica. This year the conference will be taking place in Philly from Sep. 26th through Sep. 30th and as customary, hopeful international MBAs will head there hoping to secure at least an interview or two at the conference.

Without the right mindset and strategy though, job fairs, in general, can end up being a BIG disappointment as the “sorry, we don’t sponsor” door gets shut on international students’ faces left and right at these conferences. This year, due to the uncertainty around the future of the H-1B program, firms attending Prospanica may be more reluctant than ever to speak with international students.

In some ways, diversity career fairs are the perfect environment for companies to turn international students away: it’s early in the hiring season and international students are not the kind of candidate recruiters tend to target at these fairs.

While stories of international students walking away from diversity MBA job fairs with an interview or two or maybe even an internship offer do exist, these are rare in my opinion and they are usually reserved for international MBAs with in-demand technical skills that are in short supply in the market. The good news is that with the right mindset and a creative “game plan” any international student can get LOTS of value out of career fairs. Despite the multitude of rejections you may collect at Prospanica this week as an international student, keep your chin up and consider implementing the suggestions below, which are meant to help you maximize the investment you have made by deciding to attend the conference.

  1. Connect with 10 international students from different schools. Start creating a strong network of international students outside of your program. Needless to say, find ways to keep in touch with these students during your MBA studies. Help each other out along the way.
  2. Introduce yourself to 5 career services professionals from universities other than your own. Ask these professionals how they feel the career fair is going for their international students and share with them any success stories or tips you feel have generated good results for you.
  3. While everyone will be in line to speak with Microsoft, talk with recruiters from lesser-known firms that might not be getting much foot traffic. These individuals might be able to spend a little bit more time with you and maybe even review your resume and give you a few tips. It does not matter if the company sponsors or not. Ask these recruiters: “what’s the # 1 mistake you see MBAs make when attending job fairs such as Prospanica?”
  4. Similarly, try to find out from recruiters what makes them offer someone an interview slot. In other words, find out what they are REALLY looking for. Get smart.
  5. When talking with recruiters that are open to listening to you, after discussing with them your qualifications, etc, ask yourself if you believe in what you were saying. Ask yourself if you would hire yourself.
  6. When it comes to making an impression, differentiation is the name of the game. Don’t introduce yourself to recruiters by saying: “Hi. My name is Marcelo Barros and I am a 1st year MBA student from the Oregon of Oregon studying finance. Your name is not relevant to the recruiter. The fact that you are getting an MBA is not that relevant either. If you have worked with me this year, think about your ISEL and lead with value.
  7. Related to item #6 above, skip all of the superfluous introductions and cut to the chase. Instead, try the following: “Hi. Thank you for supporting Prospanica. I came to this conference specifically hoping to speak with your firm because I am aware your company is expanding internationally by acquiring small firms in emerging markets and I am strong in putting together M&A deals. Do you think I could help someone in your finance department over the summer with these types of projects?”
  8. Be a problem solver for the companies you talk to instead of an MBA candidate who’s looking for a job or an internship. Needing a job or an internship is not attractive. And of course, speak with every company that sponsors if you believe you have an ISEL profile they may be interested in.
  9. Stand in line to talk to a company that does not sponsor. If you offer differentiated value to this firm, try to convince the recruiter why it might make sense for his or her firm to deviate from their “we don’t sponsor” policy and hire you because of the superior impact you will create for them. The odds will be against you, but give it shot. You have nothing to lose and along the way you will be getting fit for the job search race.
  10. Sell global mobility. Indicate to firms you’re talking to that you’re globally mobile and willing to go where the hot opportunity is. Make it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to want to work with you. Even if your desired goal is an H-1B job in the U.S, as a start, initially approach firms with a high degree of flexibility and take it from there.

Do you have any other interesting strategies international students should consider implementing at Prospanica? Please share your thoughts with us all. And of course, if you’re headed to Philly, best of luck and keep me posted on your progress.

Hopefully, by implementing some of these suggestions, you will come back home from Prospanica with a little more than the infamous “we don’t sponsor” line so many international students always hear at job fairs.


Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage Get Noticed Get Hired! As an international student, attending job fairs was never Marcelo’s favorite thing to do. With a little bit of courage and he slowly found ways to shift his focus from securing a job at a career fair to getting smarter and fit to continue to run the job search race. Today Marcelo partners with university career centers to give international students an edge when job searching.

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