International Students: National Black MBA and NSHMBA tough for you?

It’s Friday and I am way delayed in getting this post out. National Black MBA – taking place in super cool New Orleans this year – ends tomorrow and this post was originally intended for the international students attending that event. Oh well, better late than never.

Every year international MBAs flock to MBA diversity job fairs such as NSHMBA and Black MBA. From my experience the majority of these students report that these conferences 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.

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 typically not the kind of candidate recruiters 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 do exist, these are rare 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 a small change of mindset and a different game plan any international student can get lots of value out of traditional MBA job fairs.

Despite the multitude of rejections you may collect at Black MBA and NSHMBA as an international student, for the most part I do feel there’s value in attending these IF you approach them with the right attitude and strategy.

So check out my 9 somewhat unusual suggestions below for you to consider implementing next time you attend an MBA career fair.

1. Connect with 10 international students from different schools and create 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. Chat with recruiters from 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?”

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.

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 Black MBA. I came to Black MBA 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 smart M&A transactions and feel I can make an impact in this area. 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. If you have worked with me recently, think about your ISEL profile and lead with value. 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.

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


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. Learn more at

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