The MBA Job Search: The hidden benefits of deep research

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By Mark Gasche, Kellogg Career Management Center Managing Director

Interviewing, resume preparation, review of job listings – these are the topics many people think of as they engage in the job search process. But what about research? In an academic setting, the definition of research is established and easier to define. Career research is a whole different story.

Thoughtful and high-quality research plays a role in every stage of the MBA job search process. Exploring functions and industries help educate you about the trade publications in a certain sector and who the people are with successful careers. Researching industries and companies allow you to dive deeper in a specific area once you have decided on a sector. Following the latest trends, as well as identifying a target list is important. A target list can be devised by geographic location, size of company, company culture, etc.

We have an embedded team of information specialists in Kellogg’s Career Management Center focused on helping students navigate business information. These subject matter experts hold group and one-on-one sessions, as well as demonstrate methods for comparative market analysis, company research and managing information with RSS news feeds. Kellogg students become better versed in their industries and can assemble comprehensive company lists for individual searches.

Interview preparation is the most obvious area where research can help you. This is a fantastic way to demonstrate your passion for the industry/function by showing your knowledge of the company, its competitors and relevant trends. Framing your interview responses with deep organization and industry knowledge helps you differentiate from your competition.

When talking about prepping for an interview with research, we like to have students fill out a “company matrix” that contains a set of relevant data points and information. This is a form that contains a variety of criteria about a company and industry. The common question we receive is: How much time does it take to do the research? It all depends. The more knowledgeable you are about the tools, the more efficient you will be with filling out the company matrix.

The company matrix starts off with industry information. Among the key items to research deal with getting to know and understand the latest trends in the field. In the biotech space, it would be useful to know how the larger pharmaceutical companies with biotech R&D units are affecting the pure biotech firms. In the media space, understanding how the competition in the online video space is intensifying and colliding with the traditional model of cable and satellite TV providers.

“Framing your interview responses with deep organization and industry knowledge helps you differentiate from your competition.”

Knowing the key trends affecting your target company and the larger market will allow you to be able to demonstrate your knowledge of the space in the interview. It will also be helpful for you to ask informed questions of your interviewer.

The next step is to research the company. You’ll want to find the basic information about the company: number of employees, mission statement, portfolio of products/services, latest deals, etc. You’ll also want to dive deeper and do your own SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for the company. Once you do the research, it’s a smooth process to start synthesizing the information to be able to articulate why you like that company, what are products/services that you like, how you would market/offer services and products better, etc.

The items in your matrix will vary by industry and role. If you are interviewing with a VC firm, you want to understand their deal portfolio. What are their current investments? What niche sectors are they current providing funding to?

We meet with many students targeting VC that want to offer up a pitch of a new company for the firm to target and why it is a solid investment. We are able to use the tools to help them find the information they need to make formulate an idea to bring to the table.

If you are interviewing for a strategic role, you will want to understand the plans and strategies initiatives from the company and competitors in the space. We recently worked with a student who is targeting a niche food company in the US that is looking to expand to China. We were able to research the consumer behavior of that market, competitors in the space, and overall trends in the niche food sector. The information she was able to access gave her the opportunity to showcase her engagement with the company and potentially bring new insights to the team on this expansion.

Students realize the power of utilizing tools and arming themselves with the knowledge to make them stand out from the rest of the applicants. It’s not nearly enough to just review the company website — certainly don’t overlook this resource, though! But until you are able to see the value the resources can provide, you may be unaware of the hidden benefits of research.

Learn more about Mark Gasche.

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